This is just the second edition of my mailing list.
Every week, my team and I mark interesting stories or interesting content for ourselves, after which I briefly comment on them and send them to my readers. At least that was our plan.
Unfortunately, things did not immediately go according to plan.
Last week, the story of the conflict between Upswing, Doug Polk, and JNandez87 took precedence. However, it was too difficult to comment on these events in my usual polite style, so I chose to ignore them.
Doug Polk, Matt Burkey, Charlie Carrel, and more have been in the spotlight in the poker community this week.
Everyone is talking about it, and it is no longer possible to ignore a sensitive topic.
As I thought about what I could say about this and read the opinions of my colleagues, I began to ask myself the hard questions. I suddenly felt guilty.
Can't talk about it in a few words...
What is it like to be a good person? Is it necessary to be polite to everyone? Is it necessary to do charity work? Or is it enough not to harm anyone?
Perhaps everyone has their own opinion on this matter. During my brief college stint, I studied moral relativism, which can be summarized as saying that different cultures have different morals. The professor gave an example of a community in which it was considered immoral not to eat your loved ones after their death. If this example seems too crazy to someone, here are a couple of more familiar ones:
– less than a century ago, in some countries, it was considered normal to kill all Jews;
– a hundred years before, most Americans supported slavery.
I did not live in those years, but for some reason, it seems to me that most people did not classify these practices as good, but did not consider them evil enough. Agreeing with them did not violate the integrity of their "armor of virtue." It is also possible that no one has thought about it.
This is how it usually happens: everything goes on as usual until one fine day the world suddenly realizes the injustice of what has long been considered normal. Often in the forefront of condemnation are a few noisy radicals who manage to convince 5-10% of the community. Then the next 20% are connected to them, who, in general, thought so for a long time, they simply preferred to remain silent. Then the next 20% begin to reconsider their old beliefs, the domino effect kicks in, and very soon the new view begins to be shared by most people. Some have to change habits against their will, out of shame. The retrogrades who remained in the minority are subjected to universal ridicule and even sometimes outlaws.
I'm not saying new is always good. It happens in every way; but shaming murderers or slave owners, in my opinion, is quite permissible. Well, in my opinion.
Something like this is how large-scale changes in public opinion occur – through a change in the scope of the Overton window. The Overton window is a sociological concept of the existence of a framework for the acceptable range of opinions in the public statements of politicians and activists from the point of view of the current public discourse. The scope expands or narrows depending on the situation in society. The situation is changing, and people are no longer eating their dead loved ones – or maybe returning to this practice.
One thing is clear about kindness: almost all of us consider ourselves kind. The belief in this is so fundamental that the attempt to question our goodness causes a strong emotional response. The ego effectively protects us from doubting our own goodness, even if this requires resorting to rather irrational tricks.
I started writing about the good because I doubted myself.
My idea of how to be a good person has always been quite simple: I strive to make the day of everyone who interacts with me better or at least as good. (This does not apply to those I beat at the poker table, but poker is a fair game, and adults have the right to decide whether they are ready to play or not.) I say “my idea” because I believe that there are many ways to achieve a goal. And my path is not perfect.
Another non-ideal path can be described as a version of utilitarianism: 1) to maximize the joy or pleasure of as many people as possible and 2) to strive to improve the life of society as much as possible. The problems with this path are that those who follow it often begin to believe that the end justifies the means.
My approach results in me being always very polite and pleasant. Lack of courtesy undeniably violates my code. The disadvantage of politeness, however, is that sometimes it interferes with doing good.
The day before yesterday I read a short thread in which Justin Bonomo speaks vigorously in support of Charlie Carrel, and then listened to the recording of the conversation with Will Jaffe – and I could not believe my ears.
I heard Charlie Carrel rise up against the one who brought him great pain. I don't think I've experienced even a tenth of Charlie's suffering in my life, but when I tried to imagine myself in his place, I realized that I could not carry myself like him.
I saw Justin, who did not hesitate to stand up for his principles, despite the high probability of a violent backlash.
Justin and Charlie take different positions on many political issues, but in one they are similar – both are bold, open-minded, and independent-minded. Because of this, each of them is often called an extremist.
I don't always agree with them (always agreeing with both is theoretically impossible), but I think both are kind and caring. Most importantly, they enter into disputes with the best of intentions. The last one I put especially high. It's obvious to me that they both try very hard to be good people.
Their version of the right life is different from mine. It is based on a constant readiness to speak out against injustice, to express views that differ from the generally accepted ones, and to criticize those who, in their opinion, do evil.
If the poker community were to poll which of the three of us was more deserving of the title of a good person, I would no doubt take first place by a wide margin. Harsh judgments, so different from my soft judgment, make Charlie and Justin unpopular.
However, when I ask myself which of the three of us would be more likely to rise up against the murders, persecution, and enslavement of people along national or religious lines, the answer is obvious – Charlie and Justin would surely beat me to it.
(I want to clarify that I am not equating the recent poker scandals with genocide and slavery, but merely repeating a thought that made me question my own moral code.)
As the Overton window shifts, radical ideas take over. (Not all ideas, of course, and not all radicals; some, on the contrary, leave the discourse completely.) The poker world is now in the process of revising its views on gang-baiting in general and Doug Polk in particular.
In our community, bullying has long been perfectly acceptable. But then Doug's victims spoke: first Charlie and Matt Berkey, then Nandez.
Several people cautiously voiced their support. Be careful, because they have something to fear.
Doug Polk is one of the most influential people in the poker world. He has a huge fan base. He owns several poker-related companies. He is exceptionally cunning and prudent. And most importantly, he, in my opinion, is a vindictive person and ready to do a lot to take revenge on those who stand in his way.
Compared to many others, I have far less cause for concern. My fan base is smaller, but not much inferior. I have never done and do not plan to do business with Doug. Many influential people will willingly stand up for me if Doug decides to go to war with me.
Still, I chose not to confront him. Not out of fear of consequences, but because I don't like conflict and drama. I love being nice and being liked by everyone—everyone, including assholes.
And so I sat and was silent while people spread rot with impunity.
Meanwhile, others, despite high reputational risks and guaranteed ridicule, rushed to defend them and made it easier for people like me to enter into dialogue. And they not only simplified it – it became difficult for people like me to remain silent.
How can I release poker content while avoiding the hottest topic? Can I not look like a coward by pretending not to notice the elephant in the poker room?
And so I enter into an argument along with other people who previously kept their beliefs to themselves. There is nothing to be proud of here, but you can be ashamed. But to remain silent would be even more shameful.
The purpose of my speech is simple: I want to make the poker community kinder. It is impossible not to mention Doug Polk – he is at the center of events and is the personification of the problem that needs to be solved. However, I don't want to fight him personally. I really hope that my words do not make Doug suffer and do not harm him economically. I do not support those who want revenge. It is important to me that his practice of bullying, which for many years was considered normal, is a thing of the past. Well, so that people like me, look at themselves in the mirror, wondering what it means for them to be on the side of good.
Doug Polk is a world-class poker player, born businessman, hugely popular poker content creator, and a bit of a bad boy. Sticking to this narrative is easy and enjoyable. Outside the public space, everyone, it seemed to me, well understood that he was a cruel person. Bad, according to most.
I thought that Doug's fans and some of the professionals close to him knew about his cruelty and simply did not attach any importance to it. It seemed to me that most other professionals also knew that they did not like it, but they did not want to become his enemies.
When I listened to the heartbreaking dialogue between Charlie and Doug, I could not imagine that after him someone would be able to side with Doug. However, many did just that. This tells me that many simply do not see the whole picture of what is happening.
Let's start with the story of the Twitter space that blew up the poker world.
A few years ago, Charlie Carrel posted a tweet with "unpopular opinions", which included the following: "The best way to beat pedophilia is to show a little empathy for pedophiles."
It is important to add that Charlie has been openly talking about childhood abuse for many years, and this topic obviously occupies an extremely important place in his life. He knows the problem and the scientific consensus much better than the average layman.
Doug Polk responded on Twitter that there should be no empathy for pedophiles (generally a reasonable point of view) and recorded a YouTube video in which he portrayed Charlie as a supporter of pedophilia. Like many of Polk's other videos, it has amassed hundreds of thousands of views. And now Charlie, he says, is called a pedophile hundreds, if not thousands, of times a year. The whole story had him unsettled for a long time.
Doug continued to exploit the theme of pedophile Charlie for many years. About a week ago, he joked about it in front of half a million or even a million viewers on a poker show.
In discussions on Twitter Space, Doug urged Berkey to do a joint podcast, as he prefers open debate to conversations in closed rooms. Charlie asked why Doug had not accepted any of his countless offers to have an open debate on a controversial issue.
Charlie and Berkey's arguments were thoughtful and well thought out, and Doug countered with an uncharacteristically poor response for his level. Here is a summary of this part of the dialogue – not a direct quote, but, it seems to me, gives a rough idea of the arguments of the parties:
Charlie: You deliberately caused me incredible pain. When I was a child, I was raped by my grandfather, you knew about it and still continued to tell your viewers that I support pedophiles. Why do you think it's normal?
Doug: You said you need to feel empathy for pedophiles. I don't believe in supporting pedophiles. I think they are terrible people.
All: Okay! Everyone thinks they are terrible people. It's not about that. Why do you keep calling Charlie a supporter of pedophilia, even though you know very well that he is a victim and, by definition, cannot support them? Stop avoiding the answer, hiding behind platitudes like "pedophilia is bad."
Doug: Pedophiles are bad. I don't think we should sympathize with them. I found his tweet very strange. Wait a minute, I'm going to quote some more of Charlie's weird tweets.
I highly recommend listening to the entire recording to form your own opinion about it. A conversation on a topic of interest to us takes 27 minutes, I advise you to listen at double speed.
And what do you think about it?
Among other impressions that I will share below, I was disappointed that Doug ignored Joe Ingram's question: should content creators with a large audience carefully check the facts they are talking about? Does Doug consider it a mistake that he did not contact Charlie at the time and asked him to clarify the meaning and context of the tweet before recording him as a supporter of pedophiles in his video?
Most of the conversations on Twitter Spaces are not saved, but this conversation was recorded. Melissa Schubert posted the audio on her YouTube channel. If not for her, the dominoes would not have fallen so quickly.
After the publication of the recording, Doug received an unprecedented wave of criticism. In response, he apologized for the "lack of empathy" during the conversation (but not for his years of accusations against Charlie) and removed the related videos from his channel.
I rarely criticize for an apology, but Doug deliberately did not apologize for the suffering he caused, and the fact that he took down controversial videos, although Charlie did not ask to do so, helps Doug cover up the damage he caused.
Your "Charlie Supports Pedophiles" Youtbe video had hundreds of thousands of views. A fraction of that amount are going to see this apology – It doesn't come close to righting the wrong.
When I made that video, I was not aware of Charlie's past. Now that I have, all I can do is apologize and remove the content. I recognize I can not change the past, but that is not ogoing to stop me from doing my best to fix the future.
I don't know if Doug was aware of Charlie's past at the time of the first video, but there is not the slightest doubt that he soon found out about it. Nevertheless, he did not remove the video then. Moreover, for many years, until the last days, he continued to remind in new videos and tweets that Charlie supports pedophiles.
I see no reason to share my opinion on this topic. If you still don't think Doug did something wrong after you've learned all the facts, I don't think I can change your mind. You may not read further.
Berkey noticed that Doug's behavior showed a certain pattern:
If Doug doesn't respect you, he won't waste time thinking about what you're saying. Instead, he will seize on the first conclusion that comes to his mind that can be turned into a meme, and begin to drag you in any way he wants.
In other words, he will look for ways to harm you.
Fernando Habegger has partnered with Doug's training site Upswing Poker to create Pot Limit Omaha content. I will not delve into this story, because I do not know all the details, but Fernando considered the payment for his work unfair and decided to leave the project. Doug considered that Fernando left at the wrong time, although there was indeed a clause in the contract according to which the relationship could be interrupted by either party within 90 days.
As a business owner, I also made mistakes when drafting contracts. It happened that verbal agreements with business partners were not included in the contracts. Although Fernando did everything right according to the law, I cannot completely rule out that his departure could violate some verbal agreements with Doug.
Upswing sued Fernando. Fernando counterclaimed. Fernando won.
(We recently wrote about the details of the case.)
Doug and Upswing created and posted on their server an article that included Fernando's full name and poker alias, titled "The Dirty Deeds of Fernando Habegger (Jnandez87)" and called him an unethical man, a fraud, and a thief. The Upswing team is strong in SEO, and soon "Dirty Deeds" rose to the top spot in Google's search results for "Fernando Habegger" and "Jnandez87".
According to Fernando, it went way beyond the poker world. He had to explain the story to friends, family members, business associates, etc. The page kept hanging until Fernando filed a counterclaim for defamation, at which point Upswing bothered to take it down.
Do not agree on business issues – it happens, it's okay. Sue the person who, as you think, has treated you unfairly and caused you financial loss – you are within your rights. But Doug went much further and crossed the line.
Fernando did not accuse Upswing of being unethical after the breakup. The company did not need to whitewash its reputation. Their actions are pure personal revenge. Doug sought to punish Fernando.
There are many similar stories about Doug. He went after Ben Tollerene because of a business disagreement. He destroyed Alec Torelli's reputation. For years, he insulted Daniel Negreanu, causing him a lot of suffering. There are other people who talk about being attacked by Doug as the worst days of their lives. He constantly attacks Matt Berkey, and indeed, it seems, anyone. When he sees an easy target, he is always ready to pull the trigger. Dozens, if not hundreds of people from the world of poker became victims of his ridicule, just to entertain subscribers.
What do you call a person who attacks everyone he doesn't like, who persecutes and poisons the lives of those who broke off relations with him, and who deliberately hurts the innocent? Most would call him a bully.
I do not use such words, because they pour water on the mill of such people: the one who calls me a bully is obviously a weak and pathetic person, and strength is on my side.
Many poker players I've talked to about this topic consider Doug to be a sociopath. They think that he is ready for anything for the sake of his fans and business growth and does not worry if someone gets hurt in the process.
I think they are wrong.
Doug was in the poker world long before he started creating content. He was violent when cruelty was not yet rewarded by views. However, as far as I know, he never cheated at the poker table or took money by fraud. A real sociopath would not miss a single chance. But Doug was the epitome of ethics in poker. Playing with him, I would not worry about the fairness of the game, and would easily lend him money. It's obvious to me that Doug has a moral compass, it's just that it's very different from mine.
Many believe that he does it for clicks. Perhaps Doug convinces himself of this too. In my opinion, he is motivated by something else: for some unknown to me and probably complex reason, he likes to hurt people.
As I listened to the recording of the conversation on Twitter Spaces, I caught myself thinking that Doug's cold, banal, flat words are the voice of his ego, desperately clinging to its armor of virtue. An exceptionally rational and logically thinking person reasoned incredibly illogically. He could not present himself in a good light, despite his cunning intelligence and ability to find a way out of any situation. All he could do was search for old tweets as if Charlie's words were the only reason for his attack.
His ego was saying, “Wait a minute! If I blamed the victim of the abuse and hurt him without understanding the situation, it could mean that I am a bad person. Not good. Let's better try to prove that I understood the situation correctly.
I'm not trying to let Doug off the hook. I think most of us are wired that way. It is hard to evaluate our actions from the outside, especially when we do evil. We get nervous and defensive.
I don't think Doug is evil. I don't think there are absolutely evil or absolutely good people among us. We are imperfect, and everyone suffers to some extent because of their past.
I won't call Doug a bully or a sociopath. I will say that he, like any of us, has his shortcomings.
If Doug is capable of empathy, if he wants to be a good person (I suspect he does), I hope he rethinks his definition of a good person. I hope that the readers of these lines will do the same.
I want to share a quote from Fred Rogers that I really like:
Those who try to make you feel less than you are – I think this is the greatest evil.
Of course, taunting someone is not nearly as evil as murder or sexual assault. However, this little evil is much more widespread. And therefore, almost everyone who allows himself ridicule does not consider that he is doing something bad. And all because such behavior is clearly not condemned enough.
To commit murder, you need a combination of circumstances and psychological problems. But to mock a person because of his appearance, careless words, or lifestyle, ruin his day, and sometimes doom him to years of mental suffering? No problem!
I don't think Mr. Rogers considered humiliating ridicule the worst sin of all. I think his words should be interpreted in such a way that ridicule leads in the amount of suffering – because of the cumulative effect. I think both the utilitarian and the “pleasant in every way” would agree with this.
What to do?
The atmosphere in our community has become more friendly and positive this week. People who agreed little with each other united and showed unparalleled sympathy.
Unfortunately, this too shall pass.
I hope it will pass because people change their behavior. I hope the poker world doesn't unite in the pursuit of a common enemy.
I think we should agree on what actions are considered unacceptable. Let's stop taking cruelty for granted, whether it's from Doug or anyone else.
If you are also in the “cute” camp, you do not need to attack the aggressor. It is not worth insulting and disgracing a person until all other possibilities have been exhausted. Too often, in the pursuit of high ideals, people attack those who do not deserve it. The “villain” could simply have made a mistake; in other cases, the punishment is disproportionate to the crime.
You don't need to attack. First, let's explain why their words hurt and ask why they felt they had the right to say them.
Or you can just support the victims. After all, if devaluing their feelings is the greatest evil, perhaps sympathy and support is the greatest good.
Let's shift the scope of the Overton window in such a way that the intentional infliction of suffering on innocent people is considered bad form. I don't think it's too radical.