The following narrative is a response to a recent post put up by Dr. Sanity. Her post, accusing me of blackmail, was preceded by several emails from me asking that she take down one of “The Sanity Squad” podcasts (from November 19th of this year).
I made this request because after the program, which had been billed as a discussion of the “family squabble” between our blog and that of Little Green Footballs, there followed a twenty-three minute open-microphone private discussion between two members of the podcast group. Pat Santy’s voice is the only one which can be heard, although it is obvious she is on the phone with one of the other members, Siggy, after a brief period in which Shrinkwrapped was also included in the call.
Her public observations during this open microphone session were unkind and unprofessional… and wrong. Mind-reading of another’s mental state without asking her is not a good idea. It violates both the ethics of good online journalism and psychiatric boundaries. Perhaps the problem arises because the good doctor cannot distinguish the roles. One cannot wear two hats at once and perform either job well.
Besides making remarks about my emotional state, she discussed my blog and European politics, and then gave a general overview in which she said that she wished to “attack” one of the other callers, who is a board member of CVF. She described this person as “rude.” All I heard was her asking to be permitted to finish her sentence without being interrupted.
I have formatted this experience as a descriptive narrative of a play, which may help make it clearer to our readers. Besides, it’s full of drama and best fits within the confines of the genre.
Blindsided, a play in three unnatural acts
This description of the events that evolved November 19th ff can be considered as a narrative of a theatre play. It is full of drama and conflict, and each person had his part to play. If you want to listen to the actual dialogue, it can be found here.
“Siggy”… a psychologist
“Dr. Sanity”… a psychiatrist
“Shrinkwrapped”… a psychoanalyst
“Neo-neocon”… a former therapist
“Dymphna”… a blogger
“That other person”… a board member of the Center for Vigilant Freedom
“Charles”… an off-stage performer who enters peripherally after the drama
The live podcast of the Sanity Squad on November 19th, 2007.
Various email environments
Dr. Sanity’s blog
The first notification I had that Gates of Vienna was going to be the subject of discussion on the weekly Sanity Squad podcast was when I read the news on a blog. This took me aback. As a common courtesy I’d have thought notification would be forthcoming that I was to be the topic of their case study. But no one contacted us, so I tuned in, curious as to what would transpire.
I already had some idea that there was a basic misunderstanding on their part, since the frame they gave the dispute between Gates of Vienna and Little Green Footballs was that of a “family squabble”. As much as I admire the work Charles has done in other areas, “family” is not the way I would have chosen to describe our strong differences of opinion.
When I did tune in, a few minutes late, I was amazed at the form the discussion had taken — or had descended to.
– – – – – – – – –
In a conversation or discussion of conflict, one looks for one of two things: the process of the conflict , or a discussion of the contents. The podcast had been posed as an analysis of a family conflict, thus it was to be about process, about the meta-conflict rather than the individual opinions involved. I thought there might be some value in listening to how they would parse this from a meta-view, since family dynamics are inherently interesting. We tend to bring to our differences out in the world the template of our family of origin. If they were going to discuss that, pointing out the meta-elements, I was sure to learn a lot. Thus, I was willing to put aside my reservations at not having been invited to the party at which I was to be on the menu.
But if this idea of a meta-view had ever been on the table, it was quickly tossed. When I tuned in there was no discussion of “a family dispute.” Instead, Siggy was giving his opinions on Vlaams Belang, the Flemish secessionist party in Belgium. I was surprised by the quick descent into content. Having missed the first minute, perhaps they had quickly dealt with what was proposed as the actual subject? [When I returned to listen later, I found that I was wrong. Process never made it to the public conversation].
Obviously, no one in the group was willing or able to pull this conversation back to its announced intent — i.e., an analysis of the process of interblog conflict. It had become an aimless wading around in opinion based on content about which the participants had only a glimmer of understanding. Some members of the group had the humility to say, “I don’t know.”
The discussion was not about the dynamics of family conflicts at all. It was about politics in Europe. And from what I could hear, the politics being described on the air didn’t seem to fit the facts on the ground.
So if one abandons the original program in order to bog down in subject matter, the minimum requirement for lucidity and continuity would be an agenda of some sort. An agenda allows everyone to stay on the same page and gives the participants some idea where the particularities of the discussion are headed. Agreed, the strength of the program — sticking to the process and avoiding opinion and conjecture — is lost, but at least there is some hope of coherence.
A focus on process would have been enlightening, but the decision to delve immediately into content was a fatal mistake. The Squad covered no new ground; it was a rehash of what had already been bouncing around the blogosphere for a month.
Interestingly, not only did Siggy keep referring to Vlaams Belang as a person, but it was obvious he didn’t care for this person at all. He said that he was making alliances – “getting in bed with” – repugnant people. The latter are the usual bogeymen that appear when uninformed Americans talk about Europeans: the racists, Nazis, etc.
And guess who always comes to dinner?
That’s right: Hitler. With good reason, some history professors take points off if you feel compelled to bring Adolf into the room to discuss current events. As one of mine said, “when you hear references to Hitler, you know that any reasonable discussion has vanished.” She was right.
Hitler references are dead ends, and they derail any substantive dialogue.
Shrinkwrapped and Neo-neocon brought up legitimate issues and questions. At one point one of them asked, “are we talking about the [family] dispute or European groups?”
But that question never got addressed. Further on, Shrinkwrapped returned to that theme, saying he did not understand why Charles’ response was so extreme. But that was never addressed either.
About ten minutes into this conversation between Siggy and Sanity, I decided to call in. I wasn’t learning anything except some erroneous political opinion about Europe (and beginning to understand why Europeans tend to dismiss our hubris as less than useful). So I dialed and waited to talk.
But “that other person” (see Dramatis Personae, above) had already called in so she was ahead of me. You can listen to the podcast for yourself, to see how her information was received. As the dialogue was mired in content, it did not go well. In fact, it was interpreted later, in the “private conversation” as an “attack” on the participants. I saw her attempts to complete her sentences as the normal request to be allowed to speak. Which simply demonstrates that who owns the show owns the floor, and is not inhibited by any rules of courtesy about interrupting.
A few days later, I read the opinion a commenter left on Neo-neocon’s post regarding the podcast:
that was very hard for me to listen to. I had to stop after appr. 15 minutes cause I couldn’t muster the patience for this total mix-up of facts, factoids, beliefs, assumptions and downright disinformation.
The spat in the blogosphere was definitely about two groups that participated in the Brussels anti-jihad conference in October. These groups were Vlaams Belang from Flanders, Belgium and the Sweden Democrats. Both groups are no different from classic US conservatives and there are no statutes, programs or people in these parties that you could reasonably call fascists or nazis. The European socialist politicians, media and academia call everybody a nazi who speaks up against the islamization of Europe. That means, that people like Charles Johnson do the dirty work for the European Left by denouncing European conservatives as Nazis. To the European left, everybody is a nazi that does not embrace the most foolish political correctness and multiculturalism.
Let me tell you that Bush and Cheney are being called fascists and Nazis too. So, there you go, prove them wrong …
The groups that have been mentioned in that radio show, like the BNP or LePen’s Front National EMBRACE ISLAMISM in Europe, BECAUSE IT IS ANTI-JEWISH!
Vlaams Belang and the Sweden Democrats are the most pro Jewish and pro Israel parties you will find in all of Europe. As opposed to all the mainstream parties in all of Western Europe.
I have created my own blog just yesterday and just for the purpose of creating a new marketplace of ideas for a better understanding of Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic. I would love to participate in this debate and to bring some knowledge and facts to the table.
I have left Europe just after 9/11, after spending decades of my life there. Europe will need the US and the US will need Europe. We have a culture in common and a common enemy. This is an important discussion that has to happen.
and he responds to another commenter here:
… honestly don’t understand how you can equate Paul’s writing with the mud slinging of CJ. What’s wrong with what Paul wrote?
And I never said that “LGF called Vlaams Belang or the Sweden Dems “neo-Nazis” because they spoke out against radical Islam”.
I presume you are American. Let me tell you that your political templates do not work for the present situation in Europe. That’s what I tried to make clear in my comment above.
VB and Sweden Democrats are neither anti-Semites nor are they racists. There are parties in Europe, like the German NPD that are op[en]ly anti-Semite and attract huge followings of skinheads and original nazis. These parties are also openly pro islam because islam is anti jewish. That is a very old alliance. Hitler already allied with the Great Mufti of Jerusalem and there were thousands of muslim SS.
Parties like the NPD have nothing in common with the European Anti Jihad movement and VB or SD. And BNP and the FN seem to be well on their way to exclude all their admittedly black sheep.
So after fifteen minutes of listening, someone who had real background and expertise in European politics because he’d actually lived there, turned off the program rather than listen to the “factoids, beliefs, assumptions and downright disinformation.”
It was a welcome affirmation of how the podcast appeared to me, but I wasn’t to discover Transatlantic Conservative’s blog for several days.
During the podcast I was given time to explain my point of view. You can listen
and decide for yourself if I was “scared” or “angry” in describing what I thought the European situation was. Put aside their mind-reading comments: I can tell you myself about the nature of my feeling state during the program. I felt both frustrated at not being listened to and betrayed by what had been promised as a discussion… but instead ended up as opinion bogged down in mistaken minutiae. The whole issue was trivialized.
Read the full transcript of the program’s Afterword here (reading is quicker, but listening gives you a more immediate effect).
You see, the program didn’t end after half an hour. Instead, the microphone was left on by “accident” past the end of the actual program. As Freud (demoted as he may be) said, “there are no accidents.” I think he meant that our unconscious makes decisions for us, overriding our conscious actions or words. Thus, the term “Freudian slip” has entered the lexicon. On the other hand, perhaps this open mike mistake happens often with Dr. Sanity, so it is just standard operating procedure. Or maybe it was a one-time embarrassing mistake.
Whatever the reason, that was a long, uncomfortable twenty-three minutes. And totally unexpected. If I had been blindsided by a program “of factoids and disinformation”, the twenty-three minute dissection of what “that other person” and I had said was truly stunning.
Have you ever listened to anyone deliver mind-reading declarations about your feeling state? I was described as “scared” at one point, and “angry” at another. Simple integrity would have indicated that such opinions be checked out with the person under discussion. But they weren’t.
Had Dr. Sanity bothered to ask, I would have told her: I was frustrated at what I perceived to be the refusal or inability to listen to what was being said. It was dehumanizing to be treated as an object rather than a real person…
From the transcript – Pat Santy speaking:
I wonder if that other person that called in was the Christine, from the… Well, both hers and Dymphna’s voice were quivering with outrage. [pause] And they were ready to attack us, they were ready to attack us. When they should have just wanted to attack you. [laughs, pause] Yeah.
Well, I was surprised she stayed on the line pretty long to wait for me to answer the phone there, but… I think it would have been impolite for us to attack her on our show. But I wanted to attack that first person, who I thought was very rude.
That “first person” was a member of of the board at CVF, and she was rude for what? Because she asked to be allowed to finish her sentence? Hosts are not required to let callers finish a thought? A psychiatrist wants to attack her caller???
It is instructive that our frustration at the lack of content in the discussion of this family squabble was seen as an “attack.” What happened in the twenty-three minute Afterword was most definitely an attack. I wasn’t “outraged.” Pat Santy’s judgment here is simply that: her judgment while in attack mode. It could be termed mind-reading, since she never asked.
In addition, she got the object of my frustration wrong: I was annoyed with her lack of understanding about European politics and how different they are from that of America. To listen to the Afterword, as she continued, still uncomprehending, only increased my frustration. I had been unable to communicate with someone who seemed to have her mind made up before the show started, and at the same time didn’t know the subject to begin with. Here is Dr. Sanity again:
Well, I – what would it take to have another party? I mean, why can’t these people start their own party? The Counterjihad party… You know, I don’t understand – I think – I agree with you. I think Charles’ position is morally correct… All right – I – But what makes me kind of surprised is his vehemence about… wh… Why? [pause] How does he know that? [pause] How does he know that, though? How do you think he knows that?
[an aside – obviously, Siggy, her interlocutor on the phone knows something that Charles knows… more mind-reading or did Siggy talk to Charles?…we’ll never know]
It was in the Afterword that Santy’s ignorance about Europe was most evident. Europe is not America. People don’t just “start their own party.” If the government doesn’t approve your “party”, you don’t get funding or recognition. In fact, for conservatives to begin to coalesce around some basic convictions and then attempt to legitimize their concerns is a very arduous process. It was the courts and the Walloons who were able to force the disbanding of Vlaams Blok in Flanders. The party had to regroup as Vlaams Belang. Yet it remains the largest party in Flanders and includes many immigrants who see the party as their hope for order and advancement away from the unruly, criminal elements of the immigrant population who have a permanent grievance and refuse to assimilate. It is also the only philo-Semitic political group. The EU Parliament and the Walloons and Santy/Siggy to the contrary, VB is not neither marginal nor neo-Nazi.
And the Swedish Democrats have had an equally rocky road, though they, too, remain a rapidly growing party in that country. They have been harassed, ridiculed as racists, threatened, physically attacked, and the post office has refused to mail out their materials. Recently, the national unions threatened to dismiss anyone who joined SD.
Yet, according to Dr. Sanity, Europeans should “just start their own party.”
And she says at three different points in the Afterword:
… I have no strong feelings one way or the other…
… I think Charles’ position is morally correct…
… I stand exactly where Charles does…
So much for objectivity.
Read the whole Afterword transcript or listen it to it at the link provided and make up your own mind as to how you thought the issues and people involved were treated. Do you think it’s ethical to leave up for public consumption what we presume was supposed to be a private dissection by two mental health workers? Unfortunately, public dissections don’t come with anesthesia. And it later turned out that Dr. Sanity wasn’t interested in the fact that her public vivisection of my mental contents made me uncomfortable. But I didn’t know that then.
After listening to Pat Santy’s unwarranted conclusions about Gates of Vienna needing help to find an exit with “dignity” and various conclusions regarding my purported state of mind, I wrote her an email, asking for an apology so this could come to an end. I also asked that the offensive material be removed.
I was amazed – and still am – that someone in the mental health field could so dismissively discuss others in a public setting without any compunction regarding the effect it might have on the people involved. How ethical or compassionate is that? And how ethical was her silence regarding my request?
I heard nothing from her, though we did get two emails from Siggy containing those meaningless and inept “I’m sorry if your feelings were hurt” messages. But why would he be the one delegated to email me? His voice was not the one at the microphone; it was Dr. Sanity’s. Obviously, she felt it was ethical to share my private email with him, but ethics weren’t involved in maintaining a silence regarding my requests.
So I waited till after the holidays and wrote her, again asking for an apology. I said that I would put the transcript up and ask people to assess her opinions for themselves if she didn’t delete these allegations and judgments.
She never replied. Instead, she says on her blog, she decided to let it slide, “foolishly thinking that friends could reasonably disagree on this issue.”
But how can people “reasonably disagree” if one side’s requests are simply met with silence? I am not a mind-reader, as Dr. Sanity seems to be. Her assertion that “friends could reasonably disagree on an issue” –when one “friend” is never even informed of her decision — is a definition of friendship I fail to understand. “Friends” communicate, and Dr. Sanity communicated only by silence. Simple courtesy would suggest that either the twenty-three minutes be removed or that the person passing judgments in public would offer the opportunity to those whom she judges to respond. That wasn’t done, nor was any apology forthcoming.
Was I supposed to guess all of this?
Obviously, my second email, with its stated consequence regarding putting up a transcript of the twenty-three minutes, had an effect. While she could refuse unilaterally to take down the offensive material, my decision to write it up was construed as some form of blackmail.
Evidently Dr. Sanity doesn’t have a firm grip on what constitutes blackmail. Here is the Heritage Dictionary’s definition of the word:
1a. Extortion of money or something else of value from a person by the threat of exposing a criminal act or discreditable information. b. Something of value extorted in this manner. 2. Tribute formerly paid to freebooters along the Scottish border for protection from pillage.
The following is a legal definition of blackmail:
blackmail n. the crime of threatening to reveal embarrassing, disgraceful or damaging facts (or rumors) about a person to the public, family, spouse or associates unless paid off to not carry out the threat. It is one form of extortion (which may include other threats such as physical harm or damage to property).
What I have put up is already a matter of public record. In fact, it was a public record I asked her to remove. When she not only failed to remove this public record but charged me with attempting blackmail, then I simply put up the transcript of her own very public words. How could that be blackmail? I can imagine a scenario in which she removed the Afterword, or deleted the program, but then I published it – that would be pushing the envelope a bit.
But I didn’t do that. What you read in the transcript can still be heard in the 11/19 podcast.
And you can read my emails to her at her blog.
I hope this experience leads to more sensitivity on the part of those doing podcasts. If we complain about the MSM’s standards, and yet violate them ourselves, how can we expect this medium to move past its adolescent phase?
Here is a link to cyberjounalism’s Code of Ethics. It’s a good place to start thinking about how to change the level of discourse in the medium we have chosen.
I will be addressing ethics in blogging at a later date. For example, is it ethical to make an email public without checking with the sender? There will be a number of responses to that. Thus, compiling a code of ethics is time-consuming and requires input from others. Such endeavors are best done by consensus rather than reactively.