My ex-C friends are reeling–as they should be–at the news that a recent Republican scandal hit a little close to home this past week. To me, the story illustrates one of this blog’s primary messages: that deconversion doesn’t actually instantly confer enlightenment or wisdom upon anybody.
Everyone, Meet Robert Fisher.
Robert Fisher is a Republican state representative in New Hampshire. And he’s also the subject of a very lengthy recent article at The Daily Beast that exposes him as a longtime Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) and–even more astonishingly–as the creator and founder of a subreddit called The Red Pill (TRP), which is now arguably the internet’s biggest watering-hole for misogynists, creeps, and pickup artists.
The exposé on The Daily Beast expansively outlines Mr. Fisher’s extensive internet history. For years, he’s been creating sites and blogs developing his various ideas about how terrible women are and yet simultaneously how much he wants to bone us. He hasn’t gone to particular pains to hide his identity, either; it doesn’t sound like it took very long for the Beast to figure out exactly who he was from the posts. He kept mentioning his various blogs, his shitty one-man band (QOTW: “He sounds like a 12-year-old imitating a vampire”), his political aspirations, and his other identifying details, cross-referencing them all in various places and even frequently using his real name (or similar aliases) online.
Mr. Fisher at first went the deny-and-delete route in responding to journalists’ requests for comment, but later he insisted that some of his writing was simply taken out of context. (If you’re wondering, the quote he was referring to specifically was this: “I’m going to say it — Rape isn’t an absolute bad, because the rapist I think probably likes it a lot. I think he’d say it’s quite good, really.” Feel free to wonder what context he thinks makes that okay.)
Then he said that he refused to resign from office.
In an emailed statement to WMUR, a New Hampshire news outlet, he further hinted that a false rape accusation had spurred him “to try to seek out support” by going full MRA. Then he blamed “a bad breakup” for the “injudicious things” he’d written about.
Yes, you know, injudicious things like gender-based slurs and how he advocates the videotaping of women without their knowledge or consent during sex so they can’t accuse him of rape later, and how he can only put up with their “sub-par intelligence” and “lackluster and boring” personalities because sometimes they dispense sex to him when he manipulates them sufficiently.
I suppose “injudicious” is certainly one way someone could describe all that.
Despite these shocking revelations, it’s hard to say exactly what’ll become of his political career. Already the governor of the state has said he thinks Mr. Fisher should resign over his “horrendous and repulsive” comments, and even the guy’s own party is really unhappy with him. Everyone’s pissed at him (except, curiously, this guy). Unfortunately, because there’s no evidence of him committing any actual illegal actions, they can’t just throw him out on his ear. They could take special action to try to force him out of office, but it doesn’t look like they will at this point.
So this incident seems like it’s destined to become yet another Republican scandal to add to their “What War on Women?” and “Team Rape” files.
The Plot Twist.
What makes this story noteworthy to me is that Mr. Fisher isn’t actually a fundagelical. He isn’t even a Catholic.
Robert Fisher is the 31-year-old son of a Baptist minister; it sounds like he deconverted somewhere around college age.
That’s what shocked everyone in my little kaffeeklatsch. Nobody wants to think that someone could leave Christianity, especially that long ago, and still be awful, but this was a bigtime reminder of that truth.
In addition to his interests in MRA stuff, he also wrote often about his newfound atheism. He started some blogs on the topic as well as having an occasional presence on the main forum for ex-Christians and the subreddit /r/atheism. In fact, his two interests often ran concurrently with each other.
The religion blogs are, like this 2009 snippet indicates, somewhat dry but nothing in them would lead anyone to the conclusion that the author would soon create one of the deepest, stinkiest cesspits on the internet. He just sounds like an average super-analytical ex-Christian wrestling with life’s big questions after a devastating deconversion.
Most of the stuff I read of his focused on the moral and intellectual shortcomings in Christianity–or, like this 2010 snippet, explored free will and cosmology. I noticed that its first post compares his own expanding understanding to the Matrix movie–which is the same imagery he drew upon to create TRP in 2012. But I saw no hint of MRA bullshit on it. Hell, he even lists a feminist woman’s blog in his blogroll. (I’m also pretty sure that a 2011 blog, The Sentient Puddle, is also Robert Fisher’s work–it uses the same writing style and talks about much the same things we see in the other blogs we know are his.)
He never got a lot of traction on any of his religion blogs, though. Eventually he dropped religion as a topic (maybe he had just expressed everything he needed to?) and in Spring 2012 began writing Dating American, his cry-from-the-heart about how awful he thinks American women are. In this new blog, he tries to apply his analytical approach to relationships–not to seek support, as he would claim years later, but specifically with the intention of teaching other men to succeed in romance. Eventually he dropped the dating blog as well, pulling chocks to move to Reddit–where he was received far more enthusiastically. I didn’t see any blogs of his written past TRP’s creation.
His rationalization for creating TRP was that he wanted to share “mating strategies” with his fellow misogynists. It’s almost ironic that his homemade tribe eventually rejected him and his over-analytical navel-gazing and general assholery.
Much, much later he’d write a sort-of-apology for those days, saying that eventually he realized that his intricate rules didn’t actually protect him at all. He didn’t explicitly disavow his MRA days in that post, but it’s clear he was just beginning to get the merest flicker of an inkling that maybe, just possibly, he’d been a teensy bit off-base about perhaps just a few things.
The Crowdsourced Child.
As we grow into an internet-native society, we find ourselves maturing in public in a way that no previous generations have.
Personally, I’m glad that social media didn’t even exist until I was way past my fundagelical days! But younger people don’t have the luxury of having their early struggles with big concepts like identity, religion, sexuality, and politics be almost totally private. They’re used to sharing every detail about themselves–and they don’t get why older people find that tendency shocking, tiresome, or even scary. Here I think it’s bad enough that I have to maintain an email address and a cell phone, and they’re posting Instagram pictures of themselves in their underwear holding toy lightsabers in Jedi poses–or, it seems, creating an extensive online presence devoted to a level of sexism that must be seen to be believed.
Robert Fisher wrote toward the end of his secret second life that this sort of over-disclosure was “therapeutic for me, and I just love posting private things in public places.” I’m sure a lot of folks his age can identify with that sentiment. And I’m sure more than a few have already come to regret that openness, as he probably does now.
I’m also sure that nobody’s going to learn caution from his example.
A lot of people’s maturation happens now in realtime, with an audience of possibly millions watching and listening.
A lot can change in ten years, or five, or even one.
But distressingly often, almost nothing actually does.
There’s a reason for why so many terrible people can remain exactly the same for years.
When someone’s that eager for admiration, there’s a danger that they’ll start playing to their audience to get it–and the more that’s done, the more the performing-self deviates from the real-self. In the digital world, that danger magnifies because now that person’s isolated away from any real-world checks and balances that would normally stop embryonic bad ideas (like “men’s rights activism”) from gestating–in a similar way to how the Christian bubble tends to magnify and multiply Christians’ bad ideas.
We need other people’s feedback to grow and learn, yes, and we also need private time in our own heads to do the hard work of changing and improving ourselves. And it is hard. Nobody likes to admit even to themselves that they were drastically wrong about something they believed wholeheartedly, or to recognize a pattern of dysfunction in themselves.
If it was easy, everyone would be doing it.
Tyrion said it; that settles it.
When I run into an MRA, there’s a 50/50 chance that he’ll be either a ultra-conservative Christian or else one of those really asshatty atheists. It never seems to go any other way.
It’s no news to anybody who’s hung around the atheist crowd for long that there are rather a lot of sexist (and racist, for that matter) asshats in the ranks of atheism. The very people congratulating themselves the most on being oh-so-evolved and oh-so-enlightened seem to be the people who suffer from the worst blind spots about their own biases. Some groups, like the Minnesota Atheists, are making great progress in getting past that pervasive, entrenched sexism that movement atheism suffers from, but many other groups vehemently reject any notion of reform.
And there’s a reason for that, too. Toxic religion and misogyny feed off of each other to the point that it’s almost impossible to tell which came first, if either did. Once someone’s been deeply indoctrinated into a toxic group’s ideas, those thinking patterns get internalized so effectively that they change everything about how the indoctrinated person views reality. The group’s members only get worse now that they think their ideas are blessed from on high by whoever they respect, and these members shape their group’s ideology for the worse as they deteriorate. And then the next generation of converts comes in to learn that ideology and make it worse still.
That’s why someone can deconvert from one of these really bad groups and still totally think like a fundagelical and have those same opinions, especially about culture-war topics like gender roles, relationships, sexual orientation, and women’s rights, and why someone like me literally has no idea if I’m talking to a Christian or an atheist when I hear an MRA spewing talking points. Except for where they think their talking points initially came from and are blessed by–that window dressing of either “God” or evolutionary psychology–there’s no functional difference in interacting with the two of them, to be sure.
When we deconvert from Christianity, nothing else happens unless we make it happen. We came to a conclusion about one thing: that our religion’s supernatural claims are flat wrong. Okay, great! Good for us! But that doesn’t mean we’ll also conclude that anything else our religion says is wrong, much less that pretty much everything it says is wrong. If we smugly settle on our laurels at that point and think we’re all done examining ourselves and fixing the damage done to us, then chances are we’re going to make the same old mistakes–just with a new crowd and using new jargon to cover up the same biases. In reality, we’re only just barely setting our feet on the path to freedom.
Robert Fisher’s case demonstrates this point perfectly. For a while I’ve thought that a lot of these older die-hard MRAs were motivated by really bad relationships and breakups, like they were super-entitled sexists who got some stunning and irrefutable evidence thrown at them that no, actually, they don’t own their female partners, and then went on the offensive to try to regain that power that they felt rightly belonged to them–the power they felt had been stolen from them by women.
Mr. Fisher’s statements definitely seem to fit into that mold. It’s very telling that he sees his attitude as one of rational self-protection. Like any fundagelical would, he thought that the way to keep himself safe from future harm was to clamp down harder and harder on control and to violate women’s boundaries further and further. His anger and fear continue to rule him long after he left the religion that initially instilled those ideas in him.
It took me years to see those blind spots in myself and start unpacking and resolving them. I’m probably not finished yet. Some of the stuff I’m learning even now, it feels like “normal” people learned in grade school–but now the fight to learn it is that much harder and the costs of failing to learn it are that much dearer.
Still, I’d rather learn those lessons late than never learn ’em at all. See you next time, as we continue onward in that quest!