Kickstarter apologises for publishing "seduction guide", donates $25,000 to charity

"This material encourages misogynistic behavior and is inconsistent with our mission of funding creative works."

Update, 16:35 21/06/13

Kickstarter has published a blog post, headlined "We were wrong", apologising for failing to remove Hoinsky's project in time, and laying out what they're going to do to make amends. An excerpt:

Where does this leave us?

First, there is no taking back money from the project or canceling funding after the fact. When the project was funded the backers’ money went directly from them to the creator. We missed the window.

Second, the project page has been removed from Kickstarter. The project has no place on our site. For transparency’s sake, a record of the page is cached here.

Third, we are prohibiting “seduction guides,” or anything similar, effective immediately. This material encourages misogynistic behavior and is inconsistent with our mission of funding creative works. These things do not belong on Kickstarter.

Fourth, today Kickstarter will donate $25,000 to an anti-sexual violence organization calledRAINN. It’s an excellent organization that combats exactly the sort of problems our inaction may have encouraged.

Original post

"Pick-up artists" are kinda skeevy. This is a fact: when you develop an entire subculture around treating women like machines which can be reprogrammed to give sex, you are unlikely to come off as classy, well-adjusted guys.

In case you've missed out, the pick-up artist culture – which sprang out of online forums in the early 90s – hit the mainstream following the release of the book The Game, in which journalist Neil Strauss threw himself into the community with glee. It's become particularly associated with one particular technique, called "negging", where an insult is paired with a compliment. The idea, apparently, is to undermine someone's confidence with the snide remarks, while masking it with the complements; your interlocutor finds herself craving your approval without realising it, and then it's just a short hop to the bedroom.

Our own Nicky Woolf wrote a feature on the trend last year, highlighting a few of the worst:

Here are a few lines that women I interview have had used on them. “You look amazing. What have you done?” “If your face was as good as your legs I'd have to marry you.” “Nice eyes – even though one is bigger than the other.” “How brave of you to wear an outfit like that,” and even: “You have a great body. Are you bulimic?” (The last interviewee adds that she was, at the time, bulimic.)

The whole thing is rather ghastly. But the community behind it is making it worse.

The Reddit PUA community, on the subreddit r/seduction (or "Seddit"), meet to exchange tips and tricks for manipulating women into sleeping with them. You can find questions about the best way to pull at a festival ("Rave bracelets are a great opener"), advice on how to engineer a break in the conversation when you can kiss her (Say "wait", then make the move – "Field tested at least a dozen of times"), and ideas on how to pick up women who are working ("Picture this, you see a good looking girl at a bank, you walk up to her, she says 'Hello, how are you', you say 'What's your number?' She's shocked, her world is turned upside down.").

One user, TofuTofu, has spent the last three years posting articles on the subreddit, and is now asking Kickstarter for $2,000 to print them up as a book, Above the Game: A Guide to Getting Awesome with Women. He's already raised well above that total, which is rather concerning, because the book goes further than just exchanging creepily-phrased tips about what to say to women.

TofuTofu – real name Ken Hoinsky – has been posting extracts on the Seddit forum; and chapter seven, on "physical escalation and sex", is horrible. Apparently sensing the growing backlash, he's taken it down, but it lives on as a google cache. Here are some selections, emphasis his:

Never, ever, ever, wait for a SIGN before you escalate! You will miss out on the vast majority of chances if you sit around waiting for SIGNS. Men are notoriously bad at reading women's minds and body language. Don't think that you're any different. From now on you must ASSUME that she is attracted to you and wants to be ravished. It's a difference in mindset that makes champs champs and chumps chumps…

Decide that you're going to sit in a position where you can rub her leg and back. Physically pick her up and sit her on your lap. Don't ask for permission. Be dominant. Force her to rebuff your advances.

The secret to good kissing is using your body and not just your tongue. Don't slobber all over her like a dog, but don't peck her lips over and over either. As with everything, it's a balance. While you're doing this, grab her by the hips and pull her into you. Press your groin right into hers. Make her feel your erection.…

Grab her hair on the back of her head, by the base of her neck, and pull it back aggressively. Pause and stare her in the eye before going back in.…

Sex

Pull out your cock and put her hand on it. Remember, she is letting you do this because you have established yourself as a LEADER. Don't ask for permission, GRAB HER HAND, and put it right on your dick.

Tell her to suck your dick. Be dominant. Tell her how fucking hot she looks with your dick in her mouth.

That reads like a manual for sexual assault. Which 681 people are currently paying for, and from which Kickstarter will earn around $750. Is it just me, or is that slightly concerning?

Update, 10:50 20/06/13: Kickstarter responds

New York-based reporter Maha Rafi Atal has got a statement from Kickstarter

Kickstarter reviews projects based on our guidelines and the information creators share on their project pages. It’s a process we’ve refined over four years and continue to refine daily. We strive for fair and thoughtful policies that maintain the health of the Kickstarter ecosystem.

This morning, material that a project creator posted on Reddit earlier this year was brought to our and the public’s attention just hours before the project’s deadline. Some of this material is abhorrent and inconsistent with our values as people and as an organization. Based on our current guidelines, however, the material on Reddit did not warrant the irreversible action of canceling the project.

As stewards of Kickstarter we sometimes have to make difficult decisions. We followed the discussion around the web today very closely. It led to a lot of internal discussion and will lead to a further review of our policies.

In other words, the "abhorrent" material wasn't actually posted on Kickstarter, so the company doesn't feel empowered to act. It is linked to from Kickstarter, and described as a "snippet"of the book; but that is not enough for the company to make the "irreversible" action of cancelling it.

It's a tricky position for the company to be in. It is clearly aware of the risk of setting a precident of cancelling projects based on material tangentially relevent. At the same time, however, limiting their decision to only what is shared on the project pages is a policy which could easily backfire, and may have backfired here.

 

Update, 11:50 20/06/13: The author responds

Hoinsky has posted a statement responding to the criticism, reproduced (in full, to avoid further accusations of cherry-picking) below:

I am devastated and troubled by the allegations that my book, Above The Game: A Guide to Getting Awesome with Women, promotes rape. That couldn't be further from the truth. A handful of quotes were taken out of context and posted on Tumblr which steamrolled in a game of telephone where hardly anyone bothered to read the original version. 

People took advice from a section on "Physical Escalation & Sex" and posted them online. Devoid of context, they appeared to be promoting sexually assaulting women when that wasn't the case at all.

The gist of the controversial advice is "Don't wait for signs before you make your move. Let her be the one who rejects your advances. If she says no, stop immediately and tell her you don't want to do anything that would make her uncomfortable. Try again at a later time if appropriate or cease entirely if she is absolutely not interested."

The thing that the commenters on social media are leaving out is that the advice was taken from a section in the guide offering advice on what to do AFTER a man has met a cute girl, gotten her phone number, gone on dates, spent time getting to know her, and now are alone behind closed doors fooling around. If "Don't wait for signs, make the first move" promotes sexual assault, then "Kiss the Girl" from The Little Mermaid was a song about rape.

That cherry-picked advice, without that important context, makes it sound like I am advocating non-consensual sexual advances on strangers. I would absolutely never do such a thing. 

In fact there is an entire section on consent that the bloggers conveniently left out to paint me in a poor light:

These are copied verbatim from Above The Game:

IMPORTANT NOTE ON RESISTANCE:

If at any point a girl wants you to stop, she will let you know. If she says "STOP," or "GET AWAY FROM ME," or shoves you away, you know she is not interested. It happens. Stop escalating immediately and say this line:

"No problem. I don't want you to do anything you aren't comfortable with."

Memorize that line. It is your go-to when faced with resistance. Say it genuinely, without presumption. All master seducers are also masters at making women feel comfortable. You'll be no different. If a woman isn't comfortable, take a break and try again later.

Of course if you're really unclear, back off. Better safe than sorry.

---

You understand that honesty is the greatest aphrodisiac.

With great power comes great responsibility. You understand to your core that her heart will be broken if she ever feels manipulated by you. You literally have the power to color all her future interactions with men. As such, you demonstrate supreme desire without a drop of presumption. You make your intentions clear. She will never put you in the friend zone. You approach authentically. You leave her better than when you find her.

---

Additionally, the book contains an entire chapter on sexual assault & rape, preaching men what not to do. Of course no one has seen those parts yet because the book hasn't been released yet.

I realize these are delicate issues, but I ask people to lower their pitchforks until they take the time to hear the full story.

Thank you.

Complaining that "hardly anyone bothered to read the original version" is a bit rich, given Hoinsky rapidly took down the original version (it has now been replaced, with a link to this statement at the top). Even so, amongst most people objecting to the comments, a link to a cache of the original was being passed around not to provide mitigating context, but to point out that there was even more bad stuff which hadn't been excerpted. I heartily recommend anyone who was shocked by the original piece and who hadn't heard of the "seduction" community before to read all nine snippets posted by the author on Reddit. None of them show a particuarly pleasant view of women.

That's not surprising, given even the quotes which Hoinsky thinks exculpate him are themselves pretty damn creepy. Dude: if someone shouts "GET AWAY FROM ME", you probably shouldn't "take a break and try again later". Also, people probably had less issue with "make the first move" and more with "assume… she wants to be ravished" and "[p]ull out your cock and put her hand on it".

More broadly, though Hoinsky accidentaly makes a good point. In many ways, his advice is barely different from what you see in the wider world. A woman having gone on a couple of dates with a man does not necessarily mean that it's OK for him to pick her up and put her on his lap, and a woman kissing a man does not automatically consent to him shoving his cock in her hand; but many people really do think that is the case. Insofar as wider culture contributes to that impression, wider culture is wrong.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Aid in whose interest?

The government appears to be raiding the aid budget to subsidise big business and the security state.

In March 1988, Scottish aristocrat and Defence Minister to Margaret Thatcher, George Younger visited was part of a controversial offer of £200m of the UK aid budget in exchange for Malaysia signing a £1bn arms deal.

The government promised public money to subsidise UK construction giant Balfour Beatty to build a hydroelectric dam named Pergau in Malaysia’s mountainous north east.

Malaysia’s national utility, the World Bank and auditors at the Overseas Development Administration, the UK aid ministry, questioned the human development value of the project for the middle-income country, finding its costs to be “markedly uneconomic" compared to other options then available.

But these warnings were summarily dismissed.

Thatcher, who I believe saw aid not as a vehicle for eradicating poverty but as a means to advance Britain's commercial and geostrategic interests, wanted the arms deal.

In Malaysia, Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad wanted an infrastructure project in Kelantan state, which was held by a rival party, which he wanted to wrest votes from.

But the National Audit Office soon got wind of the deal and parliamentary committees started to ask awkward questions of those involved.

The press published dozens of articles and the Pergau scandal was born.

Newspapers soon unearthed other white elephant development  projects resulting from the tying of aid to private British interests that did little for reducing poverty but were a boon for the contractors involved.

The Permanent Secretary to the ODA (Overseas Development Administration, now Dfid – the Department for International Development), Tim Lankester, said that Pergau was “unequivocally a bad buy”, “an abuse of the aid system” and “not a sound development project”.

The World Development Movement (renamed Global Justice Now) won a judicial review in 1994 against the government in the High Court which ruled the payment of aid “for unsound development purposes” illegal.

The Tories reacted, not by untying aid from UK vested interests, but by slashing the aid budget as punishment for the bad press – it seems that Thatcher saw little use for aid that could not be used to subsidise private interests.

Labour came to power in 1997 with an agenda to reform how Britain did development. It established a better-funded and politically-stronger aid department, the Department for International Development (DFID), with a seat in cabinet.

It scrapped the Aid and Trade Provision, the official mechanism by which aid was used to subsidise British company contracts, and in 2001 untied aid from UK commercial interests. The International Development Act of 2002 for the first time legally committed the UK to spending aid only on poverty reduction.

But since the Conservatives won a clear majority in last year’s general election, the government has been wilfully unlearning the lessons of Pergau.

Out of the hobbling coalition with the Liberal Democrats, Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne have unpicked Labour’s reforms by effectively retying aid to the interests of the private sector and its perceived security interests.

They appear to have deprioritised poverty reduction as the principal purpose of the aid budget. “There is a real risk of the budget being recaptured by commercial interests as it was in the 1980s,” Sir Tim Lankester told me recently. “[International Development Secretary] Justine Greening has been making sure British commercial interests get more and more of the cake.

“What’s remarkable these days is the huge contracts going to the big consultancies to advise government and manage projects – The Adam Smith Internationals. The Crown Agents and others.”

November’s aid strategy “tackling global challenges in the national interest”, written largely by the Treasury rather than by Dfid, announced that aid would be a tool to “strengthen UK trade and investment opportunities around the world”.

The retying of aid spend is sold in the strategy in the same way the Conservatives sell austerity and privatisation at home.

Using the language of “prosperity” and “economic opportunity” (“inequality” was not mentioned once in the 22-page document), the government spins the dubious argument that communities in the world’s poorest nations share the interests of both UK business and the UK security state.

This “what’s good for us is good for you” aid strategy’s promotion of the UK interest over those of the poor grossly undermines the government’s legal duty under the International Development Act.

The aid strategy leaves it to the concurrently published National Security Strategy to enumerate what these imaginative interests are: to “protect our people”, to “project our global influence” and to “promote our prosperity”.

To achieve these ends, the government has allotted half of the aid budget to conflict-hit states, which are expected to be the states Britain has helped destabilise in recent years: Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya Syria and Yemen.

The government also successfully lobbied the OECD to widen the official definition of “Official Development Assistance” (aid) to include military spend on counter-terrorism and expand the use of aid subsidies for private – and inevitably British – projects in the developing world.

Over the course of this Parliament, the Tories will triple to around £5bn the amount of aid to be spent outside of Dfid. The main beneficiaries of this diversion of aid are the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the foreign office (FCO) and the business department (BIS). These departments are considerably less transparent than Dfid and, according to the National Audit office, spend most of their aid on middle income countries, rather than low-income countries.

This slide towards using aid to subsidise British business and as a slush fund top up its military and security budgets means that development projects devoted to public health, education and countering the agricultural and ecological destruction wrought by climate change, will suffer.

***

Take the growing spend by Dfid on private consultants and accountancy firms.

Under the Tory austerity programme Dfid’s staff has been slashed, which means there is less public capacity to allocate, monitor aid projects.

To compensate for this under capacity the government has farmed out the aid budget in bigger and bigger parcels to private contractors and accountancy firms to do the work for a profit.

Dfid spends some £1.4bn directly through private contractors and several times more than that through its payments to multilateral development banks that recycle British aid back through the private sector.

In 2014, Dfid said 90 per cent of its contracts are awarded to British companies, strange for a department that claims to have untied aid. Almost no contracts are signed directly with NGOs or contractors in the Global South.

In 2014 alone, it spent £90m through a single private consultancy, Adam Smith International (ASI), which that year declared £14m in profits, a profit that doubled in two years on the back of Dfid and British taxpayers.

ASI, which was spun off from the neoliberal think tank Adam Smith Institute, is in the business of privatising public works in the Global South from Nigeria to Afghanistan and deregulating the Nigerian economy under its “Business Environment” stream of Dfid’s £180m Growth and Empowerment in States scheme.

In 2014, Dfid spent £42.9m on the services of one accountancy firm alone (PwC), in spite of its part in the LuxLeaks tax avoidance scandal. It is this tacitly sanctioned flight of wealth that costs poor nations (non-OECD) three times more each year in tax avoidance to tax havens than they receive in aid from rich nations (OECD) according to the OECD itself.

Contrary to the public perception, aid is for the most part not “given” to poor countries. At present, only 0.2 per cent of the world’s humanitarian aid goes directly to local and national non-government agencies and civil society organisations. This is despite a consensus that these groups are the most effective engines for development.

The increasing use of private contractors and large bilateral financial institutions to get aid out of the door constitutes nothing less than a capture of the aid budget by corporate interests, which also advise the government on where to direct future aid flows.

Under this government, aid has become less a tool for development but a rent for a veritable industry that concentrates the knowledge, skills and finance in the companies and institutions of rich nations.

***

Take the amount of British aid that subsidises the fossil fuel industry and therefore promotes global warming, which affects the poor considerably more than the rich because they lack the resources to adapt.

The effects of climate change are already biting. The rising frequency of drought on the world’s semi-arid regions of the world, including the Middle East constitutes, to borrow a term from Professor Rob Nixon, a “slow violence” enacted by industrialised nations on the poor.

Our refusal to take commensurate action on climate change means that water stress is rising across the world, which impairs development and has even been linked to conflict in Nigeria and Syria.

In April, I visited Somaliland, which is experiencing the worst drought in living memory along with the rest of east and southern Africa. Agriculture has collapsed, the animals are dying and migration is rising fast.

Many of these climate refugees are washing up on the shores of Italy and Greece. Survivors in are being sent back to Turkey because there is no international protection available to a subsistence farmer without water or a parent who cannot afford to feed their children.

In 2009, the UK pledged at the G20 to phase out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies but instead it has been using public funds to increase them, according to the Overseas Development Institute.

Using aid money to give the fossil fuel industry a leg up and imperil us all to the onslaught of global warming entrenches inequality and hampers sustainable development.

***

Last year the EU signed a €1.8bn aid package with the governments of 20 African nations, including Eritrea, a totalitarian state financed by slave labour, to keep Eritreans in their country and to accept planes filled with their citizens who are denied asylum in Europe.

Clearly, this aid money is being spent principally the interests of the donors and not the world’s poor.

But aside from using aid to forcibly return people at risk of human rights abuses, this aid holds development back in other ways. Migration is the biggest driver of development because economic migrants from poor countries who work in rich countries back remittances that amount to three times the international aid spend.

“Migrants are the original agents of development,” William Lacy Swing, director of the International Organization for Migration, told the World Humanitarian Summit in May.

In effect we are spending public money legally allocated for reducing poverty on keeping the world’s poor mired in it.

***

Take the UK’s “preventing violent extremism” agenda – borrowed, of course, from the Americans – under whose banner projects can be now funded with UK aid.

Britain’s successful lobbying of the OECD – in opposition to other large donor states, including Sweden – to include some counter-terrorism military spend in the definition of aid is of deep concern.

The OECD already allowed for the provision of aid to prevent conflict and promote peace but this new extremist lens, as opposed to the purely conflict lens, allows the aid spend to become politicised.

After all, governments across the world call their political enemies “extremists” or “terrorists”, but the term is rarely ascribed to governments themselves, even when they brutalise their populations.

The government seems ready to exploit to this change, having set up its new £1bn aid-funded Conflict Stability and Security Fund (rising to £1.3bn in 2020), of which 90p of every pound is spent by the FCO and the MoD.

The stage has been set for Britain’s security state to raid the aid budget to pursue the ill-conceived and expensive military strategy du jour.

The government’s agenda to spend aid in conflict-hit and fragile states on counter-terrorism projects has a bad precedent. The US development agency USAID spent billions in post-2001 Afghanistan, which was embezzled or spirited out of the country.

Even worse, the aid was destabilising. “Instead of rescuing the [political] transition process, aid contributed to its failings,” said the NGO Saferworld in a report this year on the lessons learned from the American state-building strategy in Afghanistan. “Large aid volumes overwhelmed local absorptive capacity and sustained a rentier state . . . The influx of aid funds and the competition over the illegal economy strengthened predatory and opportunistic elites that the US and its allies tried to reform.”

The British government risks falling into the American trap of using counter-terrorism aid to remake conflict-hit fragile states into democracies.

The Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI), the government’s own aid watchdog, has criticized the government’s failure to learn lessons from the past, adding that its security initiatives are “naïve” and perform “poorly” in terms of both effectiveness and value for money.

***

In another dangerous case of aid not being used in the interests of development, the Tories are using it to establish private healthcare and education across the Global South.

Publically provided, free and universal health and education of the type we enjoy in Britain should be pursued across the Global South because it reduces inequality and strengthens democratic accountability.

Private provision of these services in the words of turns these basic needs into commodities whose price variable and unaffordable to poor and marginalised sections of society.

In Britain we should be internationalising the principle of free-at-the-point-of-use health and education, a privilege hard fought for by a generation of Labour politicians interested in social justice and the condition of the poor.

Instead, Dfid’s Education Position Paper calls for “developing new partnerships across the public-private spectrum” and commits Dfid to promoting low-cost private schools “in at least four countries”.

Its flagship education programme of the Department of International Development, in partnership with Coca Cola and PwC, is the £355m Girl’s Education Challenge, which rolls out private education across 18 countries, including 15 African nations.

In signing up to last year’s Sustainable Development Goals last year, Britain committed to “achieve universal health coverage”, which is directly undermined by a development agenda which favours fees.

***

The privatisation of our aid budget alongside its entrapment by enormous multilateral financial institutions is symptomatic of the wider erosion neoliberalism is enacting on the British – and global – economy.

In 2016, aid should be about empowering the losers of neoliberalism across the Global South to cut poverty and reduce inequality. This means placing more emphasis on working directly with the poor, colonised and, more-often, the women of the Global South.

Aid should not be spent on the five and often six figure salaries of the global financial elite, nor should it be tied to Britain’s commercial interests to provide public subsidy for private interests. If we wish to subsidise our private sector, that’s fine, but should do it using export credit and not disguise it as aid.

I can already hear the outcry from development experts that spending money at the grassroots is harder to track and the shrill headlines that taxpayers’ money is being wasted on bee-keepers in Kyrgyzstan or on a Somali radio drama that gave tips to illegal immigrants (all real headlines from the Murdoch press).

But I would accept more “waste” by employing more Dfid civil servants to monitor a greater number of smaller grassroots aid projects on a trial-and-error basis than I would accept the other now ubiquitous form of waste that we do not call waste: the subsidising poverty barons, who enrich themselves off the aid ‘industry’.

This is not a particularly radical agenda. Aid under Labour’s Clare Short, Dfid’s first head, targeted the grassroots and there is a growing consensus among the establishment that we must return to this model to make development more effective and give poor people ownership over projects rather than imposing them from above.

More power and capital needs to go into the hands of grassroots groups.

We must recall the lessons of Pergau and redesign our aid system so that it is not captured by industry or distant elites for their own profitability but a means by which the poor can bring about transformative social change for themselves. 

Diane Abbott is Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, and shadow secretary of state for international development.