Monday, 18 February 2019

I Don't Know What to Think

I have been very hesitant to post this entry, partly because I have not entirely made my mind up what I think, partly because I don't really see much value in fanning flames further than they are being fanned already, but also partly because I expect it will make some people angry. But I've decided to go ahead and do it anyway for a few reasons. First, I feel a strange sense of ownership over this issue for reasons we'll come to. Second, I expect there is a silent majority out there who will feel like I feel but are scared in the current climate to say it and/or are drowned out by the noise from a very vociferous minority. Third, I think our public discourse is being ruined by braying hordes of people who are obnoxiously sure that their own opinions are right and that to hold opposing views is not just wrong but evil. The only way to fight that is to actually fight it, and I can do my very small bit here on my blog. And fourth, while I am worried that putting this post up is going to alienate people and possibly very severely impact on the blog and my involvement in making RPG stuff, it is more important in the final analysis for me not to feel as though I am a moral coward, and being silent about this matter would be in my view moral cowardice on my part.

First, let's set the scene. I would call myself an online acquaintance of Zak. He played in a PBEM Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay campaign I ran a long time ago, I want to say in 2008-2009ish, and when he started his blog, James Malizewski and I were those he asked to let people know he had one, which is what gives me that odd sense of ownership I referred to earlier. Over the years we have occasionally commented on each other's blogs or G+ posts but not in a particularly regular way (I would say once a month on average if even that), and we played in a couple of online hangouts sessions together a long time ago (maybe 5 total?) but not since I think about 2011 at the latest. We did from time to time discuss working on something together in a very vague way, but nothing ever came from it. And I have to be absolutely honest and also say that, you know what? Zak did a lot to promote Yoon-Suin and in a sense I owe him for that - irrespective of what he has or hasn't done or what kind of person he is.

Since roughly 2013 or 2014, though, I made a deliberate decision that I would not get into debates with him online, because let's face it, he was an argumentative bastard and it was never worth getting involved in a debate with him, and also that I wouldn't pay much attention to all the online controversy surrounding him or "the OSR" in general, mainly because online controversy in general annoys me but especially in the context of discussing elf games. And it always amazed me when I saw other people complaining about him being a bully or being manipulative - I still can't quite understand why others can't do what I did and just take him with a pinch of salt and get on with their own business, but then again I was never really in the bubble, so to speak, and I tend to strictly separate my real life, which I care about, from the online world, which I do not take at all as seriously.

Second, and on that note, I don't really think of myself as part of any sort of "community" when it comes to OSR games; if there is a flock, then I am not exactly a black sheep, but some disinterested ram in the next field who occasionally bleats contributions but is mostly interested in what's going on in the hedges and pastures on the far side of his own enclosure. I am not wedded to this issue like others evidently are, and so I will freely accept that I am not as emotionally involved as I might be if I knew the parties personally.

So, with all that said, I have something to say about the Zak S controversy (and please make sure you actually read it all):

I genuinely don't know what I actually think about it. My work involves the law, and I understand what it means to say that the criminal standard of proof has to be "beyond all reasonable doubt" (although nowadays for dumbing-down reasons in English courts juries tend to be instructed that they have to be "sure"). We don't just have that principle merely by historical accident or because otherwise there would be miscarriages of justice (though there would be of course). We have it because if people are presumed guilty before it is proved, criminal justice moves outside the legal system altogether and the public begins to execute its own forms of sentencing without any concern for the trial process, and that is where madness lies. It's not that a criminal justice system based on the notion that you are "innocent until proven guilty" is perfect. There are plenty of problems with it. It's that the alternative is much worse: people then end up being convicted through public opinion alone, and then there's no reason for the public not to carry out its own very harsh and arbitrary forms of punishment and circumvent the justice system altogether. You can't actually have a functioning civilized criminal justice system which is not based on this principle. And it is critical that the public understands it and are committed to it.

And if you are of the view that this should be the case, there can't be half measures. The principle only works at all if it works for the most odious people and for all criminal accusations. So, I'm sorry, but I don't agree that "believing accusers" is the right way forward to solve the problem which I entirely accept exists and is awful: it's hard to secure successful convictions against sex offenders and lots of them get away with it. There has to be a better solution to the problem than that one and I am all in favour of finding it.

That's my general view, and it would lead to the conclusion that I am not, to use that crucial word, "sure". I am convinced from my own experience that Zak could be a complete prick to other people and, having seen recent posts from others, I am also convinced that he was manipulative and used his influence for malign ends at times. But as I said, having a history of being nasty isn't a smoking gun for having committed a given criminal offence or offence(s). The criminal standard of proof is the same whatever type of person you are. I don't really know Mandy Morbid from Eve - she was in those hangout games I played in with Zak but that was 8 or 9 years ago and was the only context in which I ever knew her. I have never exchanged two words with her outside of the context of those hangout games. She made some allegations which seem plausible but not enough to make me "sure". The matter is not beyond all reasonable doubt, for me, and I'm worried that so many people seem to think it is. I think that has more to do with the Zak's often-obnoxious online persona and the nature of the accusations rather than actual "sureness" in the technical sense.

But on the other hand, I have known Patrick Stuart for a long time and he is one of very few people who are involved in this online hobby who is actually a friend - as in, a person who I hang out with face-to-face and know properly and trust. And he, being much more knowledgeable about the key players than I am, thinks Mandy's account is credible, and paints a compelling picture of Zak which I take on face value because I take Patrick's word seriously. In that sense, then, I am "sure". I believe the account on a gut level because of that.

In other words: I am not not sure, and yet I am sure; I'm conflicted. And, perhaps because I'm conflicted, I don't want to live in a world in which people aren't allowed to feel conflicted and own up to it. I don't want to live in a world in which people are scared that if they are not sufficiently convinced that the prevailing opinion of the crowd is right, they will be mobbed and exiled for confessing it. I want to live in a world in which it is perfectly acceptable for people to say what they actually think and feel, if it comes from a position of good faith, and they are not then bullied or ostracised for doing so. And I think that, insofar as a "community" exists, the only communities worth being in are those in which people can express their views freely and get a fair hearing when they do. So I have gone ahead and said what I actually think and feel, from a position of good faith: I don't know what I think.

To which I will of course add: this is not a post in defence of Zak, and certainly not a post in defence of abuse of women. Nor is it a post criticising anyone for saying they can't comfortably interact with Zak anymore or buy any of his products - I am also probably in that camp on balance. It's a post in defence of being honest and open, and being non-judgmental about others' opinions and beliefs and reactions to what they read and hear. And that is all.

[Comments are open but I will not be replying to them.]

82 comments:

  1. As someone even more distant from the situation (a ram in a pasture a
    few valleys over?) I greatly appreciate this post and your willingness
    to simply say "I don't know."

    I've followed the OSR from the start, but being rather anti-social,
    never "joined the community". I have never met any of the participants
    online or off, yet I am well aware of the multifaceted opinions of their
    public personas. And I am equally confused why others can not simply
    take what's given and move on if it is so distasteful to them.

    Avoiding a deeper discussion of current social trends is helpful here
    and the simplest response is "there's a commonly agreed upon standard we
    apply to these situations -- 'innocent until proven (beyond a legal
    doubt) guilty' -- so it should apply here." Better still: "it is a case
    of private actions outside the public sphere, with people who will have
    their own perspectives, which none of us are in a position to verify or
    judge, so, just stay out of it."

    It is sad that these kinds of things blow up in public, but it is sadder
    still that everyone outside the issue can not simply ignore the public
    outbursts and move on. If there is criminal behavior, it's a matter for
    the legal system, not the court of public opinion. Where does that leave
    the rest of us? Right where we were at the beginning: free to take or
    leave what is offered and go about our business.

    Will I throw out "anything Zak S. was ever involved in"? No. There are
    some very useful things there and plenty of potential.

    Will I make an effort to support him? Not especially -- any more than I
    would have before all of this.

    The world will continue to turn and I will continue to support people
    that make things I want to play (e.g. LotFP, etc.) regardless of what
    others think of their origins.

    Thanks again for being willing to post this and express your own doubts
    of the situation. I look forward to many more years of discussions.

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  2. Well said. I had a similar response when this controversy first broke out. Given the current information I side with Mandy but I am against the hate mob throwing their mob justice at Zak. To me it seems completely idiotic to boldy rashly act when the information available to me is testimony from either side on events that I never stand a chance to know the truth of.

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  3. Noisms,I agree with everything you said. I also believe that you are at the center that cannot hold. The online mob will condemn as sinners all who simply fail to agree with their mercurial obsessions as enthusiastically as required.

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  4. I am like Big Jay as well (I wonder how many of us there are?). A sheep from a neighboring province that produces nothing, BUT WANTS TO BE FED EVERY DAMN DAY. As such, I follow perhaps two dozen excellent D&D blogs.

    I communicate with Zak on occasion (along with several others), usually about a particular product/project they are working on. He is not a nice guy, but who cares...I am not either.

    What has been interesting to me has been witnessing all of his "friends" completely junk him based on the allegations by Mandy and others. I am sure it happened very close to the way she described, but the speed with which he has been castrated is nothing short of a Christmas miracle. That tells me that it was not the Mandy Morbid issue that got him eradicated from the OSR. His friends all believed her and hated him for it because long before February 10th, THEY ALREADY HATED HIM. That MM came forward was merely the excuse to finally be done with him.

    As that sheep from a distant pasture, I produce nothing, but I am a consumer of goods and a backer of projects. I am fortunate that money is not a problem when it comes to supporting this community. So, now I am left with, "Do you support a guy like Zak?" I am not sure yet. But were I the rest of you lot, I would be very concerned about how fast my "friends" turned on me.

    If nothing else, this has been an interesting look at human interaction.

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    Replies
    1. Because they know the abuse really happened, and are angry at having been used.

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    2. It's important to remember that core parts of defence of his behaviour rested on social proof, on the fact that people who knew him, in real life, said that he was not as bad as people on the internet presented him.

      When that description shifts to him being worse, and that social proof evaporates, then suddenly all those misgivings return, and the picture he presents as a counterweight to those accusations instead slips to the other side, causing it to drop like a stone, rendering all the clues from normal social media as something not at all confusing any more.

      From a sociological perspective, the model is simple, and the conclusion should be obvious.

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    3. That is a solid reply. Thanks for taking the time to write it.

      Delete
  5. One more thing...(this is the same anonymous sheep as above). This comment is merely designed to stimulate thought among producers of awesome gaming content.

    EVERY single product I have purchased (aside from Death Frost Doom, which was written up nicely by James Malezewski) from a "new" author, came with Zak's endorsement. Whether it was Fire on the Velvet Horizon from Scrap and Patrick, or Gardens of Ynn from Emmy, or (especially) Yoon Suin.

    Zak had a hand in promoting all of your works and did so privately with the same vigor that he publically promoted his own.

    Now once I got to know an author's work, I would only confer with him to discuss its merits. As an example, Fire on the Velvet Horizon was an unknown to me, but after that I will buy anything Patrick Stuart creates sight unseen. I have no idea WTF Silent Titans is, but I cannot wait to get mine, for example.

    Anyway, some input from a consuming sheep. I love all of you guys.

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  6. This is the first I’ve heard about any of these people, here are my thoughts:

    1) The dude is obviously a jerk, just look at his face and haircut
    2) Nothing polite can be said about the women
    3) They all seem to deserve each other
    4) I don’t care what happens to any of them, as long as it’s nothing good
    5) I’m tired of everything I like getting derailed to talk about drama between degenerate hipster creeps
    6) I’m not sure what actual abuse was even alleged?
    7) Don’t go to sex clubs or squat with weird poly couples, and especially don’t ask my sympathy when it works out predictably
    8) I am angry at having learned who these people are
    9) C’mon, just look at the dude’s face and haircut: can there be any question he’s terrible?

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  7. I'm posting anonymously because, as I found out on twitter, saying anything at all that even looks remotely like - or in the right light could be read as - a defense of Zak - even just in a "benefit of the doubt" type of way - in this situation will get you flayed.

    I despise Zak. I think he is an absolutely terrible person. He is who introduced me to the OSR (by nature of me accidentally coming across his blog), but other than that, I have no positive recollections of him. My first day posting on G+, I +1'd something he didn't think should have been +1'd, and for years after that, he and I would have private arguments about what the meaning of and value of a +1 was.

    I despised the way he tore people up and down. I do not believe, for even an iota of a moment, that it could be upheld in the court of law that the way he pushed people out of the scene was "good," even though he defended his actions as not only good, but necessary.

    And quite frankly, I don't like the way he writes. I've never gotten how people are so enamored of him. I bought probably 5 of his works, and other than Blue Medusa, I've sold them all. And quite frankly, I consider Blue Medusa significantly more of a Patrick work than a Zak work, because reading the words, I don't hear Zak's patronizing tone, I just hear Patrick.

    So to me personally, he has contributed VERY LITTLE to the community, and has possibly caused more damage than good over the years. So all that being said, I think he is a terrible person, and is 100% horrible for the entire community.

    BUT

    This mob justice thing is terrible. The #MeToo movement was and is meant to support the opening up and realization and dealing with terrible abuses of power from within all industries. From my vantage point, it is mostly now just a way to hold social media kangaroo courts. Even if 99.99999% of the people coming forward are telling the truth, there's still that potential that, long before the actual legal systems get involved, someone's innocent life has been irreconcilably ruined.

    MAYBE Zak did it. I don't know. My personal belief is that, knowing what a terrible person he presented himself to be online, he could very easily be a terrible person IRL too. I think it's not only possible, but probable that he did these things, because a narcissistic worthless excuse of a non-human online is most likely the same thing with real people in the real world.

    BUT I'M NOT THE COURT, and I'M NOT THE JUDGE. Whatever my personal (or anyone else's) beliefs are regarding Zak, this is a shitty thing to persecute him for and will have repercussions for the rest of his life, *even if they are not true.* That's the thing - Mandy could come out tomorrow and admit that for whatever reason, it was all some sort of a scheme, but now the floodgates have opened, and no one will ever believe otherwise, especially those who already had a beef with Zak before Feb 10.

    So I'm saying, stay out of it. Unless you are literally a person who Zak has abused and can tell your own story, you have no place in the debate. You can make your choices that you believe the girls and never buy his products again, and even warn friends that "there's this situation you need to know about Zak before you give him money," or whatever. But don't pretend that we have all the facts, and don't pretend that the vast majority of this outpouring is related to other past actions of Zak's just as much or moreso than Mandy's & the other women's accounts.

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    Replies
    1. This is a very balanced - and mature and rational - take on the whole thing. The mob are behaving like religious lunatics.

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  8. You're brave. And I should, but I'm not. My excuse is that I publish RPG books made by others, and those others could be affected. But it's just that: an excuse.

    However, thanks to this post my courage goes so far as to comment on this blog and say that I wholeheartedly agree with what you express here.

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  9. There should be no shame in saying 'I don't have enough information to reach a solid conclusion'.
    Fence Sitting is only a bad thing if it's dishonest - if you have enough information but do not act on it for political or signalling reasons.

    There also has to be a point where we can say 'it's really nothing to do with me'. If there isn't, then everything is everyone's business. Which has not tended to end well, historically.

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    Replies
    1. I'm pretty annoyed at the modern trend of people who are out of the loop concerning some obscure social drama, and who wish to remain there, being drug into the loop on the grounds of so-called moral obligation.

      It may seem heartless to ignore their plight but as Robin Dunbar famously studied it's mostly out of cognitive limitation and pragmatism, not malice.

      Sometimes a couple of words of vague support, if that, is all somebody has the spare time/effort to give.

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  10. We live in a post-Anglosphere world where tribal identity and lurid accusations are enough to ruin people - if they are in the wrong tribe.

    It doesn’t actually matter what he did or what was said that he did. It only matters how many people like him and how many hate him.

    I can tell you this: if it was revealed he was an evangelical Christian and strident Trump supporter, he would be out 100%. But this? He might get away with this.

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  11. For what it's worth: I am "sure" - at least sure enough that I am chucking my copy of R&PL in the trash - but I don't think you are a terrible person for thinking otherwise.

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  12. The only problem with arguing that a social ostracizing is the problem, and a lack of a court of law to view the events, is that nothing actually brought up would merit attention in court (maybe civil court at best). Zak's only going to suffer in that he will n longer find it so easy to hang with the community he has used up his goodwill with. It looks weirds from an internet era, but if he were a creep who dated and abused my sister I wouldn't hang out with him in real life, so why would I expect the internet communities to do differently? This only feels like a big deal because a lot of people are very passionate about the situation....at least partially because Zak spent years making enemies and generally putting people off. For many, the only thing redeeming him was Mandy's assertions he was okay....and overnight it turned out those were just her being used as a sockpuppet.

    We can't complain about trolls and indecency and shitty behavior on the internet but then complain its mob justice when the crowd finally ousts one of those shitty people. Zak's worst penalty here is he doesn't hang with the usual crowds anymore and maybe he goes off in some other direction with his art, or gets a real job (unikely). I doubt any lesson is learned.

    That said, I applaud you for sticking up on your feelings about this. I deliberated a bit, but ultimately realized it wasn't worth the effort....a person who had tried so hard for so long to make so many enemies finally got his public ostracizing, long overdue....so what? Maybe the next Zak will think twice before being an ass on the internet (probably not). The only thing I worry about is how many people get damaged on the sidelines, including those who co-created with him. The part of today's social movement I don't like is this notion of guilt by association.

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  13. I appreciate the honestly and I find myself in a similar position. I don't really know and I don't want to rush to judgement but I don't feel like I can say anything because anything other than belief is reacted to in fairly harsh terms. Honestly I worry about losing friends to say so publicly. I really don't know and I think that should be ok to say.

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  14. I think you're right that this is how most of us who read these blogs but don't comment much feel. (Based purely on how /I/ feel)

    Very good points about the reason we have innocent until proven guilty. Often you hear people argue against that, saying that that only applies in the court and outside of that it shouldn't.

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  15. Thank you for posting this. I don't think your position is very controversial, or at least it shouldn't be. I think the vast majority of the attempts to empathize with Mandy and the other women who have come forward come from a place genuine goodwill. Unfortunately, there are also zealots who will prosecute lack of certainty or even lack of apparent concern as though it is some sort of crime against the revolution.

    Mandy is a person, so is Zak, so are Hannah and Vivka, and you and everyone who is around. We should treat people as people and not as collections of desirable or undesirable behaviors.

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  16. I have no desire to tell you what to think, but your point re ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is mistaken in a way that undermines your argument (and I say this not as part of a mob, but as someone whose work also involves English criminal law).

    ‘Innocent until proven guilty’ is a right and standard of proof that applies specifically to the defendant in a criminal trial (see for example Article 11 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights). This is because the state enforces very severe penalties against you if you are convicted, including imprisonment (and occasionally death) - so you have to be sure that the accused is guilty.

    It’s not a standard that applies outside that context. In England, it’s not even used when deciding whether to prosecute someone (the test is balance of probabilities AKA ‘more likely than not’) or arrest someone (the test is reasonable grounds to suspect), despite the serious and state-enforced consequences of both.

    This isn’t an actual prosecution or trial, and there’s no reason to treat it like one, because nothing anyone does here is being enforced by the state (let alone remotely equivalent to a criminal sentence). You seem to be mistakenly eliding accusations made by individuals, informally, with formal criminal accusations by the state (AKA prosecution), which are in any case subject to a lower standard of proof than the one you are applying.

    If you nevertheless prefer to hold yourself to the standard of proof required for a conviction when deciding how to act, you can of course do so. But don’t mistake that for anything other than a personal preference, and one that has no particular moral or logical superiority over others’ decision to believe the accusers. Particularly given the amount of what would be referred to as bad character evidence (if this were a trial, which it isn’t) about Zak.

    Apologies for the length, but the milk of human kindness curdles a little more in me every time I see this mistake, and at this point I’m practically Brie.

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    Replies
    1. "We don't just have that principle merely by historical accident or because otherwise there would be miscarriages of justice (though there would be of course). We have it because if people are presumed guilty before it is proved, criminal justice moves outside the legal system altogether and the public begins to execute its own forms of sentencing without any concern for the trial process, and that is where madness lies."

      Anyway, I don't think the point of this post was "Being unsure is the morally superior position". I think it was "you should be allowed to be unsure if there isn't enough evidence to make you sure, without feeling like people are going to rip into you for that."

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    2. The bit you quoted is the mistaken bit - that is not why we have the standard of ‘innocent until proven guilty’.

      I don’t disagree with your view re noisms’ point - I disagree with his argument that being ‘sure’ to the criminal standard of proof is relevant to this situation, because that argument is based on a mistake. And it’s one that has the effect, in practice, of suggesting that those who believe the accuser (or the four accusers in this case) and act on that belief, are taking the wrong approach or not thinking things through properly or don’t understand how the criminal law works - in short, that they shouldn’t be doing what they’re doing. Not noisms’ intention, clearly (per his last paragraph), but that’s the necessary implication of his argument.

      And it’s wrong. And while he shouldn’t be bullied or ostracised for it, he should expect to be criticised, possibly In intemperate tones given the nature of the accusations and the fact that his argument is (through no fault of his) similar to one often made, much less articulately, by total bellends.

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    3. So we're to pretend that since he's not literally on trial, nothing is at stake? That it's okay to ruin someone's life based on evidenceless accusations, as long as it's not happening in court?

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    4. When that person has ruined someone's life, YES.
      Also? like, three corroborating reports and at least a dozen corroborating character testimonies is evidence what are you talking about.

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    5. Hearsay is evidence now? I was not aware of that.

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    6. Lord save me from ignorant people who bandy around legal terms on elf game blogs. I include myself in this.

      Hearsay refers to a statement not made as oral evidence in court during trial. It can be evidence in some circumstances.

      More importantly, if this situation is being treated as a criminal trial (as you seem to prefer), the statements by Mandy and co should be treated as being made in the course of the trial, i.e. as oral evidence, which is admissible without any of the caveats that apply to hearsay.

      You can’t have it both ways - requiring people to apply the standard of proof that only applies during a criminal trial, while treating the accusers’ statements as being made wholly outside any legal process.

      Delete
    7. Like, I don’t know whether people have just watched too much CSI and think that ‘evidence’ only refers to CCTV and forensics and all that exciting HARD PHYSICAL EVIDENCE in little plastic bags, because they’re in for a rude surprise if they ever end up in court.

      Statements made by people are evidence. That’s what a witness statement is. Multiple statements that corroborate each other are generally pretty good evidence, and can certainly be sufficient for conviction. People get sentenced to prison (actual prison, not ‘no one will buy my books or art and now I have to work a normal job’) every day on the basis of oral evidence. All this bleating about hearsay and evidenceless accusations and people’s lives being ruined is based on ignorance about what’s actually involved in the criminal process - which, again, this is not, so you would be perfectly justified in not requiring the same standards of proof, evidence, etc.

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    8. There's a strong tendency in American culture to devalue and trivialize accusations made by women. It's (imo) a social control mechanism and the recent rupturing of this tradition is sending a lot of our hairy corners of male American society into a tailspin.

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    9. Do we need "innocent until proven guilty" for decisions like "do I want to buy this guy's books"? Not really.

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    10. I think you are being disingenuous here for the sake of arguing. Because if I were to conclude that you were a misogynist pig by virtue of your merely consuming this or that media, and I then ran around telling everyone this, and people just assumed it were true of you without an ounce of evidence, you would not like that one bit. And I wager your response would not be to argue how you do not deserve to be considered innocent otherwise. Which is to say you a hypocrite and a coward.

      Delete
  17. Hey, I may have missed the email on this so I apologize in advance, but is there a rule that every OSR blog has to make a post about this, or are we allowed to just keep talking about abusing henchmen and using your Necklace of Fireballs in a confined space? Because I haven’t even started my post about this yet

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    1. Boo! For making me think henchmen abuse might have had a new post!

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    2. I have an unwritten but hard rule that I never talk about anything on my blog other than gaming....I do all that other talking on other people's blogs ;-)

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  18. This is false humility and it is cowardice.

    If you truly had no information, you would be very justified in saying "i don't know". But that isn't the case. What you DO know is that everyone in gaming that was actually close to this situation: Scrap, Patrick, at least a dozen other people, have come forward and said: Yes, this is true. What Mandy and the others have said is true and there is no doubt in my mind. And also, he is very manipulative. He makes people who only barely know him speak for him."

    Given that - that those who know BETTER than you are all in agreement, HOW can you act as if you have no information at all to use? It's a lie, a lie to get around the icky, gross feeling that someone you talked to is a predator. But you must sit and deal with that feeling, you don't get to undermine the sanity and credibility of survivors who are putting themselves in harm's way to make a soap-box for yourself.

    The fact that so many of you are wringing your hands about how this predator's 'life is ruined' - you know, just because he got outed for abusing his wife for *eleven years* is so telling. I invite you to go to the women in your life and say this to them. "Look, all he did was abuse his wife and three other women. That is no reason to ruin his life" What the FUCK do you think he did to HER life? Take a sit-down, just a moment, and really think about what you are saying. Think about what you are telling the women of this hobby to think that the ability of one person's ability to write dnd books matters MORE than them feeling like their friends, their gms, their fellow gamers care about their safety.

    Here's another thing you're all ignoring: This is no mob. I have SEEN internet mobs. I have. As far as the actual OSR? The people that were there at the very beginning, playing FLAILSNAILS games and forming these conventions that formed this scene? There was NO anger and howling mob. There was a series of meetings. All very clear-eyed and calm. And it was discussed, and the jury reached a verdict, and this predator was cast out.

    There was no mob. There was a meeting. And with the absolute impossibility of TRUE justice for the victims, this is what we were left: that he be exiled from the hobby. Believe me, compared to what he has done? The only thing shameful about ANY of this is how terribly lightly he got off.

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    1. Holy shit, man. You need to take this incontrovertible proof you're sitting on to the police!

      Delete
    2. In the days when the OSR decided how to handle this? Yes. I'm not going to argue or prove this. I'm letting you know you guys are making yourselves look like asses by acting like this wasn't a calm, rational decision about how the community needs to react, which is 100% was.

      Have any of you considered WHY people are so emotional about the idea that you are doubting the survivors (despite all their risk in speaking publicly) and worrying about the abuser? Have you considered what it says to survivors, and to women? It might be a good idea to. Because as a woman I can attest that reading these comments made me say "well, now I know all these men would never believe me, and I cannot trust them."

      Delete
    3. I don't "believe women." Nor do I "believe men." I believe evidence. Provide some, and I'll believe you. The burden of proof is on the accuser. It's as simple as that.

      Zak is a massive asshole, but being an asshole is not against the law. So I'll treat him like any other asshole (by avoiding him) but I'm not going to treat him like a criminal unless he's proven guilty of a crime.

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    4. Nobody is treating him like a criminal. The community as a whole, however, is finally sick of his shit, and have decided to exclude him from the conversation going forward.
      Considering how much of a frightening narcisistic manipulator the guy was, I can't say that's unreasonable even *before* you consider the abuse allegations.

      Delete
    5. "The community as a whole, however, is finally sick of his shit," ==> the community as a whole? Or just a small but vocal group well-versed in the art of online witch hunting?

      The vocabulary says it all really. "the community", "exclude him from the conversation going forward"... This is SJW activist speak. Whatever happened, it's clear that Zak's long time online enemies have joined in for another round of that stupid conflict they've been having since forever. This isn't about justice, it's a bunch of assholes & self-righteous narcissists doing what they enjoy most. And yes, Zak's also one.

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    6. The point of saying "I don't know" isn't about this situation, though. It's about the application of a general principle.

      Zak spend his whole career hounding after people that he disagreed with. Now that the moment came when shit came out about him, nobody is willing to defend him: And rightfully so. He gave up that right with his previous behavior. But the problem is, are we obligated to given an affirmative guilty verdict just because Zak is a cunt? And the answer is no - Because otherwise, we would also have to accept that anyone else in the same situation was guilty. That's the same sort of shit that he always wanted to be the case, and it wasn't right then, nor is it now.

      Do I think he's innocent? Hell no. He's a horrible person who got what was coming. But casting a definitive "he did this" is none the better.

      Delete
    7. Feel free to educate yourself on what the criminal justice process involves, what counts as evidence, and what kind of evidence is needed to prove someone guilty before pontificating further, Anon(s). It’s not difficult to understand, even for a layman.

      Delete
    8. No reasonable person should be surprised (or upset) that some hipster trash ‘artist’ wasn’t always nice to the gaggle of degenerate women throwing themselves at him.

      None of the women involved will sleep with you because you, “Believe Women”. They will continue to sleep with men like Zak. For years. Often two or three or more at a time.

      If you don’t like a dude, don’t talk to him. You don’t need any other reason. Latching on to vague claims from women who have sex for money isn’t necessary to justify yourself.

      Delete
    9. Anyone who has had a close friend or loved one who was abused understands what is going on here. This isn't about social justice, it's about victims being heard. A lot of people are heavily conditioned not to hear victims, as victims generally upset the status quo. Having been through this in a manner that was deeply revelatory within my family, the parallels are sad and shocking. People don't want to believe the victim. It's too much to accept. Better, they think, to imagine one person a liar than another person a monster. It's sickening, frankly.

      Delete
    10. "None of the women involved will sleep with you because you, “Believe Women”."
      ... in what way is is this relevant?

      Delete
    11. I can’t think of a better reason to get yourself into a tizzy over some literal prostitutes being talked to in a way they don’t like by the dude they all banged together for years.

      It’s still a sad reason, but the least sad.

      Delete
    12. Acting like a sanctimonious religious twit only to be the kind of person who hates and ridicules sanctimonious religious twits when they offend your liberal sensibilities is irony - and stupidity - at its most spectacular.

      Delete
  19. Great post. I'm a law professional too (in Brazil, look that) and i don't make judgments without knowing properly the facts. Unfortunately internet jacobinism is the new fashion these days.

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  20. Thanks for writing this. Can't be easy to stick your head above the parapet. I know no one needs another take on this, but I have some thoughts.

    1) I think it is a mistake to conflate the justice system with the way accusations of abuse play out online. They are not similar. Both have the potential to fundamentally affect the lives of those involved (both accusers and the accused), but one is a formal mechanism of the state with set laws, rules and principles, and the other is an amorphous social/cultural behaviour thing functionally free of rules, principles, oversight etc.

    2) Our society (I'm speaking for the UK, but the same seems true for the US etc) appears to have a problem with the handling of abuse, and especially the psychological abuse of women by men. I do believe in the principle of "innocent until proven guilty" in a court of law, but that principle has (more or less) been in effect for 100's of years in the UK, and yet here we are. I am sceptical that we can make society fairer (in this case give all people an equal chance to voice accusations and be treated equally and respectfully) without testing everything, including what we consider to be our most fundamental principles. What if we're wrong? What if "innocent until proven guilty" is flawed? I don't know. What we have now doesn't work well enough for enough people, and nothing should be off-limits when trying to address these inequalities.

    3) #metoo was a bit of a watershed for me. I hadn't really come to terms with just how privileged I am as a reasonably-well educated white male, but reading accounts of abuse, including many edge cases where strictly-speaking no obvious crime was committed, made me reappraise a lot of what I assumed to be the case about how equal modern society was.

    4) As a white guy, post-#metoo, post-#blacklivesmatter, I am much more aware of how unaware I am of what it's like to be on the receiving end of a powerful and/or manipulative personality's attentions. It's probably very difficult for someone who hasn't been bullied or abused in this fashion to know how difficult it is to a) break free, or b) speak up, particularly in this blessed age of doxxing, trolls and Twitter mobs. It must often be very scary.

    I don't have anything close to a working theory, solution or answer, but with each new account that comes out, I am more tempted to think that we need an approach that breaks free of (or at least adds nuance to) conventions like "innocent until proven guilty", particularly when we're not talking about an actual criminal case. Whatever these conventions intend to achieve in theory, in practice, it still seems that white guys ultimately benefit more than anyone else. Not least because guilty white guy and his allies can shout "but what about innocent until proven guilty" until it goes away.

    Gaslighting, emotional abuse etc can inflict such pernicious, life-ruining injuries that we should consider which is worse, a world where innocent people fear being labelled an emotional abuser, or a world where innocent people are emotionally abused. I know that's maybe spurious, and that RL is somewhere on the spectrum between the two extremes, but where on the spectrum?

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    1. The man said he was a law professional. So I think he could have done without your little lesson. Or your implying you know better. Also. Your admitted embrace of lazy inadequate narratives about race and gender, which are all-too often insular - and, ironically, racist - American-centric garbage/dogma, is more than telling. Unlike you, I am not a spoiled, university-educated white man. I do, however, have the wisdom and intelligence to see through the poisonous religiosity of the movements you mentioned.

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  21. I shouldn't wade into this. But this is definitely an odd, confused post.

    (a) As others have noted, why would you apply the "reasonable doubt" standard to your views in this case? Expounding on the historic reasons for the reasonable doubt standard is a bit silly when our legal system historically explicitly *does not* use that standard unless a case involves criminal sanctions. Nobody is talking about throwing Zak in jail.

    (b) I can understand that you might not want to default to "believe victims" regardless of the circumstances, but surely it makes sense at a minimum to apply the legal standard used in a civil trial. Balance of probabilities. Preponderance of the evidence. I don't know Zak or any of the parties involved. But jeez, multiple women have come forward and say they were assaulted. People you trust say that the stories are credible. I don't know that there's any honest reason not to conclude (at least on a personal, non-criminal-justice basis) that Zak did these things.

    You're a legal scholar (I'm an attorney). It is very surprising to me that you would confuse this issue by bringing up our historic criminal justice standard. The only purpose it seems to serve is to provide a fig-leaf for people who fervently want some basis for excusing Zak.

    (c) You've posted many times about "defaulting to openness" and your unwillingness to throw out good art simply because the artist is a bad person.

    "And you are going to have to find a way to deal with the issue, because if it matters to you that people whose work you admire also be good people who think the right things, your life will end up being greatly impoverished because - it turns out - extremely creative and capable people tend not to be perfectly nice all the time."

    http://monstersandmanuals.blogspot.com/2018/07/harlan-ellison-cognitive-dissonance-and.html

    Is this post not a very clear attempt to avoid engaging with this issue on your part? Zak is very probably a very bad guy. Now is your opportunity to show us that you walk the walk and live by your principles. You don't have to make this weak protestation that you "don't know" so that you can avoid having to actually deal with the substance.

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    1. David does offer a balance of probabilities conclusion, including what his own very specific take going forward will probably be. I think a number of people have managed to get get caught up on the presumption of innocence concept - which I didn't read as being *directly* applied, but rather offered as a principle - and therefore missed David's conclusion.

      Delete
    2. "which I didn't read as being *directly* applied, but rather offered as a principle"

      First, I'm not so sure about that. I read noism as saying he is conflicted because on some level he really does think that the reasonable doubt standard directly applies to this case.

      "The matter is not beyond all reasonable doubt, for me, and I'm worried that so many people seem to think it is."

      Why does he think *anybody* is evaluating Zak under this standard? Why would, or should, anyone do that?

      But even if you're right, it's not even relevant as a principle in this case. Historically and currently we do not apply a reasonable doubt standard to anything except criminal trials. Courts routinely enter binding civil judgments that destroy a person's reputation or cost them millions or billions of dollars on a lesser evidentiary standard. Certainly our personal views of a person's moral worth do not apply the "reasonable doubt" standard.

      In other words, there's no reason to bring up that standard at all. It can only serve to (a) cause confusion (b) as I say, offer a fig leaf to those who want to excuse Zak.

      Delete
    3. People are caught up on it because it’s central to one half of his argument and it is, in that context, directly applied to his thinking and his conclusion. The fact that it’s ultimately outweighed (on balance) by his gut level reaction doesn’t make his reasoning around presumption of innocence any less flawed.

      Delete
  22. Who alleged that they were assaulted? All the allegations I saw were that he was a jerk with his words.

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    Replies
    1. There is a good recap here: https://dragonsgonnadrag.blogspot.com/2019/02/on-zak-smith-and-lotfp.html

      Delete
    2. I’ve now read all the links on that page; I do not see a claim of assault, just mean words.

      Delete
    3. You missed the part where Mandy - and others - clearly stated that Zak coerced people into sex acts that they didn't want, and on at least one occasion grabbed a woman, pushed her into a wall, and choked her because she said she was "into kinky stuff."

      She didn't say she was interested in doing kinky stuff *at that moment*, or *with him*, mind you. Just that she did it at times. And he didn't ask whether she was interested in doing anything kinky at that moment, much less an act that involved grabbing, pushing, or choking.

      So, yeah - assault.

      I mean, even Zak himself has reportedly justified his refusal to apologize or admit even an iota of wrongdoing because, in his own words, he's allegedly guilty of "jail stuff." So in his own mind he's being accused of at the very least assault, and possibly rape etc.

      Your anonymous attempt to reduce his physical violence and sexual coercion to "mean words" is disingenuous and disheartening. As long as we're on a post on the dangers of judgment without hard evidence, it's also worth keeping in mind that leaping to an assumption that the accusations are overblown is no more logical than leaping to an assumption that they're all precisely true as stated.

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    4. I did miss the slapping and choking accusation. But I guess I care as much about it as the woman did when she proceeded to bang the dude for years: not much.

      As for ‘coercion’: that’s words. That’s literally just words. I don’t know why you brought it up as an example of not-words.

      I believe everything everyone said, I’m not assuming it’s overblown. I think everyone involved is a gross degenerate, everything worked out for everyone exactly as I would’ve predicted, and I feel no sympathy for any of them so long as they continue to defend the life choices that inevitably brought them here.

      Delete
    5. What an ugly victim-blaming attitude. Nobody's demanding that you put porn stars on a pedestal, but it would be nice if you acknowledged that "even" women who work in porn are human, that they have human rights too, and that like all humans they should be shielded from (and have recourse against) abuse, assault, and manipulation.

      For you to smear victims of manipulation shows, at the very *best*, a tragic naivete about how psychological abuse works.

      Please learn more and think more carefully in the future.

      Delete
    6. Confanity,

      While I agree it is indefensible to dehumanise these women, let's not pretend that the producers and consumers alike of their trade are not among the most misogynist pigs on the planet who live their lives dehumanising women. When you march on that industry, then perhaps I will believe you care and are not just being self-righteous about this whole thing.

      Delete
    7. Thank you for the point of agreement! I really appreciate it. :)

      That said, what you say next is nothing but goalpost-shifting, and I do *not* appreciate that.

      A previous anonymous comment argued that a victim of manipulation and abuse had no right to complain because 1. they didn't somehow immediately recognize the manipulation and abuse as soon as it appeared and escape, and 2. the victims themselves are "degenerates."

      And now your stance seems to boil down to "You're only allowed to believe, and act on, accusations against Zak if you also 'march on' the entire porn industry." This has almost nothing to do with the above discussion.

      On top of that, I reject this argument. Joining a generalized crusade against an entire industry should never be a prerequisite for speaking or acting against an individual act of evil. I can have an intervention for my alcoholic buddy without supporting a return to Prohibition, for example.

      Finally, the arguments you make here display ignorance about the porn industry. First, while I would agree that "traditionally" it has been home to huge amounts of misogyny and abuse, it is not universally so. In fact, nowadays there are specifically porn studios run (often by women) with the goal of producing "ethically-sourced" porn by treating all the actors well. Second, contemporary porn consumption includes huge swaths of the population, including nontrivial numbers of women. The obvious conclusion is that to fight against the industry as a whole, indiscriminately, would be to attack the good as well as the bad.

      But in the end, that's neither here nor there. The issue at hand is how to respond to the allegations against Zak. What it boils down to, for me, is that the allegations against him are coherent and believable and correspond well with my personal experience of him. I am forced to conclude that no matter what industry he or his victims are associated with, that the only moral and ethical choice is to refuse to support or associate with him in any way. This isn't "self-righteousness," it's just plain wisdom: don't let the scorpion ride on your back; it doesn't turn out well.

      Delete
    8. It’s “live by the sword, die by the sword”. Some things are the inevitable consequence of free choice.

      I don’t have a lot of sympathy for a guy with lung cancer if he’s still trying to sell cigarettes. Same principle here: stop going to European BDSM orgy clubs or stop complaining that you keep meeting the kind of dude who hangs out at European BDSM orgy clubs, you can’t have it both ways.

      Delete
    9. Your implied premise that working in porn automatically and inevitably leads to psychological and sexual abuse is cynical and false, as I have already pointed out. If the only things you have to contribute to the discussion are victim-blaming and lies, please just stop.

      Delete
    10. You’ve stated without evidence that sex work is not risky while simultaneously arguing that lots of sex workers were abused by members of that community. You’ll forgive me if I don’t take your assertion as gospel.

      Some people get lung cancer without smoking; some smokers don’t get lung cancer. It does not follow that the choice to smoke has no effect on an individual’s likelihood of getting lung cancer.

      If a woman insists on banging obvious scumbags, for free and for pay, there are likely consequences. If these women had not chosen a dangerous path, none of this would have happened to them.

      Delete
    11. Now you're deliberately misreading what I said; shame on you again.

      I didn't say that "sex work is not risky"; I said that ethical porn producers do exist. In other words, "sex work does not automatically, inherently lead to abuse."

      Second, I never said that "lots of sex workers were abused by members of that community." I was talking about abuse victims in a more general way.

      Third, Zak's abuse is only tangentially related to their having worked in porn. Lots of people have been abused in similar ways without being anywhere near any kind of "sex work."

      Fourth, literally everything about this discussion should be highlighting that Zak is a relatively charismatic and intelligent guy who knows how to manipulate those around him and put a spin or positive face on his own evils. Calling him an "obvious" scumbag ignores the fact that he showed different faces to different people.

      Fifth, I've already pointed out that your victim-blaming is ugly and wrong. If the only arguments you can come up with are repetitions of the same thing, coupled with lying to me about my own words, then please just stop.

      Delete
    12. 1) Maybe there are ethical producers of pornography, but these women didn’t seek them out. Because they were, apparently, abused by one. That you claim (again: without evidence) that there exists an ethical porn community is irrelevant: these women were not part of it and were “abused” as a consequence. Your justification of your own masturbratory habits is irrelevant to the topic at hand.

      2) Lots of industry women are accusing Zak of something you (bizarrely) consider serious. If you believe them then you’re talking about lots of sex workers being abused as a result of working and socializing in the industry. It doesn’t get more clear-cut than that.

      3) Lots of non-smokers get lung cancer. Doesn’t mean smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer, and you don’t have an excuse for smoking unless you care more about being cool than you care about cancer.

      4) I took one look at him when the story broke and thought, “Yeah, he probably rapes people.” It was abundantly and immediately obvious to me that he’s a scumbag. Lots of “cool” people are scumbags, you can suss them out easily unless you care more about the “cool” than the “scumbag”.

      5) Whatever shall I do now that some sad, moralizing internet stranger has called my views “ugly” and “wrong”!

      In conclusion:
      Leave your jackin’ out of the discussion. We’re talking about a bunch of sex workers being “abused” as a direct consequence of working in that industry. Maybe there is “ethical porn”, but every time you’ve gotten off to Mandy Morbid, you were getting off to “unethical porn”. We know that, because she was (according to you) abused as a direct consequence.

      Delete
    13. Trolls gotta troll, I guess.

      Delete
  23. Let's be honest here, I know that social media moves fast, but come back when you've had a month to think about this. People can take months, years to digest weird shit that friends or acquaintances did.

    Doesn't mean they didn't do it, doesn't mean that accusations aren't credible, but it just means that you need time to work through the emotions of that.

    A hell of a lot of other people didn't feel like that, because they already had a bad reaction to the guy, they had no positive feelings to reassess, but that doesn't mean that you have to work at their speed.

    At the same time, there's a separate issue of the unsubtle positions of "innocent until proven guilty" vs "believe (those who call themselves) victims". Neither are accurate reflections of a responsible reaction to this, which (as has been said earlier) refer more to making an assessment as an intelligent being about the plausibility of accusations based on the consistency and credibility of witness accounts, outside factors etc. This is both a private personal judgement and a public one based on the same facts available to everyone else.

    You seem to already have made such a judgement, and I would say that though your explicit argument pushes for a different approach, your actual reasoned judgement is on a better foundation.

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  24. Going to re-post this from elsewhere:

    For those of you who are wondering how to reconcile what's happened with your enjoyment of stuff that Zak worked on, just remember what I always say:

    The art is not the artist.

    Many good artists are terrible people. I've had the (mis?)fortune to float around the edges of Hollywood (My wife was a TV producer. I walked the red carpet at the Emmys as her +1.), and I can tell you there a A LOT of awful human beings in that business. That doesn't make the movies and shows bad. Harvey Weinstein is at least as much the abusive misogynist that Zak is; the Lord of the Rings movies are still awesome. Roman Polanski is a convicted fugitive rapist; Chinatown is still one of the best movies ever made. Do you like anything with a child actor in it? There's a pretty good chance that kid was sexually abused by someone involved in making the show. Pablo Picasso: terrible person; Guernica: amazing painting.

    If you are unwilling to enjoy something based on it's own merits rather than those of it's creators, you aren't going to be able to enjoy much. That's an ugly truth but we live in an ugly world.

    I won't be following Zak anymore, and I'd like to punch him in the face for mistreating Mandy, who always seemed like an awesome person. But I wouldn't refuse to buy something that looked cool just because Zak was involved with it.

    Finally, I hate the puritanical driving people from the public square for wrongthink that is so popular today. But it is shamefully satisfying to see it happening to someone who was such a big proponent of it.

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  25. Here's what this boils down to, for me: we all knew Zak was doing toxic things long, long ago. We shouldn't have let things get this far before the community came together to call him on it.

    From the day of his very first ugly online squabble, people should have been firmly telling Zak, "Hey, that's not cool, you can and should do better." Every time he called someone crazy, or evil, or demanded abject one-sided apologies, everybody should have leaned on him about it.

    And everybody should have been willing to back up this warning with a simple refusal to engage with him in any way until he learned how to be better. Not as "punishment," but as simple wisdom: "Somebody who refuses to acknowledge or correct their mistakes is a danger, and regardless of their intentions, it is safer for me not to have any contact with them."

    Maybe if had discovered early on that "If you talk or act like an abusive asshole, everybody will get upset with you," he might have learned not to talk or act like an abusive asshole, and a lot of the harm that he's caused would have been prevented.

    Or maybe he wouldn't have learned. Maybe he's so horribly broken inside that literally every person who ever called him out would get put on his enemies list, and subjected to verbal abuse or attempts at manipulation until they took steps to actively block him off. In a sense that'd be a shame and a waste, but it would also have led to him cutting himself off from everyone and blocking his own ability to cause more harm.

    I feel like that's the lesson: don't be an apologist for assholery. Call it out. Hold yourself and your friends / allies / business partners / casual gaming buddies / etc. to high standards. If somebody does or say something toxic, there's no need to be judgmental about it: just point out that they crossed a line, and then be firm about that line. The people who are worth knowing will learn to recognize the line themselves, and get better, and everybody wins.

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    1. This is sound counsel, and a positive separation of the matter from specific relational accusations (which can be disputed). If a guy is universally considered difficult, there should in my view be personal charity and warmth - but clear guidelines and parameters. A problem like this, 8 years in the making or whatever, is as much about the complete non-enforcement of standards as anything else.

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  26. For what is worth, I wholeheartedly agree with everything said in the post.

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  27. I found this take on the issue to be pretty helpful:

    "Believing that I need to know the facts of somebody else's life before I can trust my own intuition is learned helplessness.

    For me, this isn't about a societal decision about 'what to do with Zak because of what he did to Mandy', this is about who I want near me in my online communities."

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  28. Well said, Noisms. I agree with you completely.

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  29. His work sucks. It's all imitative of earlier artists and his writing is juvenile at its best, like a teenager trying to shock his parents. Why anyone mistook his work for original or well made is a mystery. He's a phony all the way to his bones. Glad he's being ruined. Remember he called for the same destruction of anyone he disagreed with. If he has any principles he will go work anonymously at a Taco Bell and hang it up.

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    1. I am 100-percent sure if you listed the authors, bands, and directors whose work you enjoy, I could find among them people whose work sucks. Reach for the closest dictionary and consult the entry for the word "subjective."

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  30. I’m 90% of the way there with you. My take is, you can feel sympathy without feeling a duty to act.

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