For those still subscribed and waiting for something to happen, or those who’ve trundled on over from some blogroll or whatnot, Thinkers’ Podium is officially mothballed.
After a (needed) holiday from regular publishing online, and a bit of preparation, my new website Rousing Departures, is up and running. That’s where I’ll be planting my online presence from now on. If you have any queries about the archival status of Thinkers’ Podium, just contact me via the standard methods.
Cheers for dropping in, and hope to see you over there!
It’s trivial that all good things come to an end; so do all the bad and mediocre things. In little nibbles and great gulps, entropy consumes us all. We just mark the time with the comings and goings of each other’s company.
This poor blog of unintentionally grandiose title and unarticulated, vague, meagre aim, has had its time struggling to find a clear raison d’être. Ironically, now that the purpose is beginning to coalesce out of the smog, it’s become clear that this blog’s reason-to-be, entails its own end.
In the beginning I had urges – urges to rail against stupidity, dishonesty, snobbery, chauvinism, racism, xenophobia, over-privilege and piety. Urges and little more.
Like most people with the slightest pretension to writing, I screamed my voice up into a maelstrom above. Like one of a mass huddled in the basement, clawing up at the floorboards of a burning house – for the most part unobserved by the rest of the world. Most of us, you and I, have been trapped down here, or somewhere like it.
Either for yourself, or your peers, the aim is to break through to the surface so at least someone can climb up and out. Maybe someone will reach down and help. Maybe you and your cohort will conspire to escape.
The first instance of this struggle, and most of what follows, is often panic. I like to think I haven’t lost all dignity in the process, like some kind of failed, attention-seeking, pointlessly self-promoting, wanna-be reality-television personality, clawing at a suffocating ceiling of anonymity.
‘Get me out! Get me out! My sequins are melting!’
(Actually, I find the idea of the Big Brother house burning to the ground strangely comforting).
Not wanting to be this, it’s also not who I want for company.
I’ve been lucky in those I’ve shared time with in these almost-six-years. Those reading know who they are. Thankyou.
We’re all out now. Finally. Fingernails torn and ragged.
Yet here I’ve been for the past few months after the escape, sitting in and surveying the ruins, using the last embers to boil fair-trade coffee and toast vegan marshmallows. Even though he’s stuck it out with me, and I’d be alone otherwise, I’d still have roasted Rob Smith up all nice and crisp if I weren’t vegetarian.
(A moot point by the way. He’s dead. He got up one night thinking he’d seen the light, breaking camp to embrace what was actually an oncoming train; jettisoned in bite-sized chunks across a patch of soursobs, a pack of greyhounds scampering off with the assorted morsels. No more posts by Rob. So it goes.)
Staying behind in this ashen campsite to reflect has been educational. I’ve sorted through the ruins, and there’s much I value that I’ll be taking with me.
A number of salvageable articles, drafts I’m not ready to throw away, a growing love of prose, a hunger for the historical context surrounding the bare bones of an argument, and remorse at not getting my shit together sooner, but not regret. I’ve come to a strengthened realisation that I’m privileged as it is to be here where I am. Privileged, even if I don’t make it to my next destination. Most don’t get even that chance.
I could sit here in my underwear at Thinkers’ Podium, cooking creamed corn on the bonfire, letting the living walk on through a tour of the ruins. This would however, be taking my opportunities for granted. Even if I fail miserably at the next venture, a fair attempt will mean no regret or remorse to deal with. Not on this front at least.
As it is, in the past few months, Ophelia Benson has popped in to say hello, Russell Blackford has walked through with a nod, and it was only after Jerry Coyne pointed people in this direction that it was revealed Richard Dawkins had breezed briefly through town himself. The latter authors seeing me camped out in my own filth like a blogospheric hobo, no doubt.
It’s not a haunt, it’s a salvage mission!
I’m sure none of them are so judgemental, but looking back a part of me is saying ‘not a good look’. I guess I’m that judgemental. Or vain. Or both. Take your pick.
So now I’ve got new digs over in the next valley and the various bits and pieces of salvage are loaded up and ready to be moved. This morning was the last morning I’d wake up here. It’s done now.
The campfire is put out. Nothing needs to be secured. A greyhound darts from shadow to shadow with what looks like a hand in its mouth, probably needing to be buried for later.
It’s time to head off to my new home, the old Podium smoldering in the rear-vision mirror, a little Fear Factory and Gary Numan on the radio. I’ll try to let you all know when I reach my destination.
Update: Those wanting to follow my post-Thinkers’ Podium writings will find further details at the Facebook page dedicated to my next project, Rousing Departures.
(Picture Source: Andreas Brugger, Great Fire of Salem, 1697)
As things here at Thinkers’ Podium approach The Crucial Moment, so many things I’ve been wanting to say have been running up against an editorial wall. For everything I’ve published in the past few months, there are at least three or four other posts sitting there almost finished – things left unsaid. Contrary to the ethic that informed the earlier years of writing here, I’ve been thinking more and more about tone, connotation and above all, emphasis.
(That emphasised final word of the sentence I’ve been using is possibly wearing a little thin for some readers).
Oh, I’ll get on with things at some point. It’s not been a waste.
On more than one occasion a thread I’ve been picking at has turned out to actually contain two or more concepts tightly woven together. Having waited, I’ve been able to tease them apart, threading one or more through subsequent published writings to greater effect.
Reflection, coupled with happenstance, has enabled me to see with more clarity, the difference between the equivalence of method or logic, and vapid moral equivalence. The former required for solution building, the later for empty posturing. These and other realisations were never made as clear in the older, more impulsive mode of writing.
I don’t regret the apparent slow-down. The decreased turn-out has come with quite a few benefits, the above mentioned and many more – I won’t summarize here.
Perhaps with goals more altruistic than just for myself, or for a small circle of readers, this is why I started Thinkers’ Podium. Selfish perhaps, but perhaps without too much equivocation I can call it mission accomplished?
At any rate this isn’t about self-satisfaction.
There are other moments when as an aspiring writer, you’re just dropped stone cold to your knees. I’ll apologise now if my prose seems labored; I’m writing while on said knees.
The use of ‘I’ in any exposition, or retelling, can itself be a long winding tale, and I had such a story ready to unfurl from the tangled dendrites in my skull. From writing in the style of Austral Ecology, to experiments in autobiography and back, my insecurities with the use of ‘I’ could have furnished an extended essay or three. But now Hitchens has come along with half a sentence that to me seems to reach into my grey matter, turning the nest of confusion upside-down, replacing confusion with clarity; crushing an array of concerns down to size.
‘…but in time I appreciated that my fear of self-indulgence and the personal pronoun was its own form of indulgence.’
(Christopher Hitchens, 2011)
This does sum things up quite nicely. I was on the verge of realising this myself, the last step now expedited.
It probably says a lot for his quiet influence on my writing, but I have this image of Mr Neil Whitfield, if he’s reading this, sitting there and musing at how I’m finally working this out, as if he’s known all along. (About time, Neil?)
I can’t articulate to my own satisfaction quite yet, what it is that’s changing in me with respect to the values I bring to writing. Something is stirring and has been for quite some time.
I now know I need to write, that a previous expedition to the bounds of sanity and a subsequent poverty of prose, were in part the result of my not regularly writing; between a bad poem in 1998, and my initial blogging in 2005. The onward march of the word count has seen the poison mostly exhaled.
But more than this, it’s becoming a reason to live, rather than just a means of survival. More a potential contribution to culture (with all the responsibilities and considerations this brings) than just a means to deliver a missive.
Inevitably, these unfurling sensibilities alter the way I view the literary landscape. The march of the words goes on and on, but now the sound of water running over rocks, or the fold of a nook, or the way the sun pierces the clouds is experienced in a manner more Epicurean than stoic. The ethical missive may still be the message, but any poverty of language that accompanies its passage is an ethical concern in its own right.
This looking upon the landscape with new eyes does have the effect of leaving one open to surprise. But if it’s Hitchens’ article in Vanity Fair that’s brought me to my knees, it’s done so only to punctuate a humbling delivered directly before.
I’m still on my knees right now, figuratively speaking.
As I’ve explained before, I don’t like to make ostentatious displays of respect – it devalues the currency. This may make me an arse in the eyes of some, but now I’m more sure than ever I’ve nothing to regret in this approach.
Do yourself a privilege, and read Bully by Ross Sharp. This is what brought the march to a halt. This is why I’m on my knees.
It’s in these occasions I can offer all the respect I’ve withheld from wasting on nicety. I’d hate to ever have a falling out with Mr Sharp because now my respect is his, seemingly intractably; I can’t take it back. Not after this.
Such unassuming sincerity! So open! And it’s just so rare to see anything so obviously difficult, authored with such apparent ease!
His heart, and the truth, just pours out and he’s sharing it!
The prose; I can’t fathom how he managed to get it out in a form like this. It’s humbling.
The march has come to a halt in Sharp Town, and the landscape is to be envied. No dead-ends, no wasted sentences leading you around in cul-de-sacs. Every intersection is punctuated perfectly, leading from dot to dash with just the right cadence to exhibit the architecture without lingering too long. There are no tightly clustered McMansions to spoil the view in Sharp Town, and not a single fucking facade.
If you’ve got any designs for anything similar; to be honest with your readers about anything so difficult, and to project your voice while doing it, Bully is an object lesson in how it’s done.
You don’t need me to tell you this though. I’m just some guy who’s trying to fathom the significance of what he’s just witnessed. I’m flailing at words really.
Mr Sharp has my respect and gratitude for the experience. I’ll try to be a better writer for it.
Rob Smith has been an irregular, if not popular addition to the small stable here at Thinkers’ Podium. He started out writing as a young man studying liberal theology in the Adelaide Hills, rescuing neglected greyhounds and hugging trees. Now apparently, he’s a conservative, sub-creationist pundit. (Surely this is satirical? Rob?)
Sadly, you’ll never get the full explanation of his alleged political transition here at the podium, because alas, this is Rob’s final contribution to the site. I wish him well in his future projects.
In his final article, ‘Slutwalk enslaves women’, Rob explains to us why he thinks the upcoming ‘slutwalk’ marches are a bad thing.
I’ve never liked the Pyrrhic victories that end pyric friendships, even less now than ever if I ever did. These kinds of things were at one point a staple of my social life, when I was more adolescent, and my company far more questionable. But even then….
Yet some partings have been swift and easy in as far as avoiding needless posturing.
Consider the young-adult-nerd-acquaintance-of-a-friend who informs you that ‘secretly, women really like being raped’, to whom a simple ‘fuck you’, and a ‘fuck off’, isn’t too hard to manage. Those knife-wielding acquaintances you neglect to tell you’re leaving town, aren’t really that hard to leave behind without your getting on a soapbox.
Once you’ve shrugged off these kinds of people, and with more difficulty, the enablers they rely upon, you’re in a position to take a break from pronouncing swift judgement. You’ll even put up with lesser stupidities for a while, begrudgingly, if it’ll buy you enough peace.
You err on the side of fairness, which you value, but you take it just a little further. All for what seem like pragmatic reasons at the time; you can’t fight endlessly; you can’t cut yourself off from everyone and whatever it is you may be putting up with, perfectionism is unrealistic.
It doesn’t take long though, that with your need for a bit of peace, and the fact you haven’t entirely abandoned your principles, that you’ll need to make an extra effort to get along with some people. And if it’s the borderline psychotics that you’ve managed to expunge already, it’s the higher functioning histrionics, passive-aggressives and narcissists you’re left accommodating.
It’s not their fault, you tell yourself. They’re not self-aware, you tell yourself. And you’re their friend. What are friends for?
This friend, you help them with things they can’t do for themselves.
Say you’re in the midst of doing what you do, when a stranger comes along and your friend, needing to save face, talks to you or about you, as if they’re your boss. They can’t afford to come across as so needy.
You play along so they can save face. What do you care, right? It’s a stranger and you’re helping your friend.
But things have a way of graduating.
Maybe you’d have seen it coming if you weren’t trying to be so fair; there were no outward signs, so you didn’t jump to conclusions. It was all circumstantial.
Then the tipping point comes; the event that allows you to view your relationship in hindsight and tell yourself ‘this is fucked’.
Say your friend starts to talk to you as if they’re your boss, while nobody else is around. It’s not just the image they present to others they need to manage.
They’ll talk to you the way they imagine a subservient employee should be talked to – not that they’ve ever had an employee. They’ll cede you have context specific knowledge, but that they have a greater understanding of ‘The Bigger Picture’ – somehow born of a life spent with fingers well and truly cemented into ears, and without any relevant experience to inform this ‘Bigger Picture’.
It could be any sick fantasy you’re being recruited into, really.
Perhaps they need you to play a part in an edifice they’ve erected to prevent them having to confront their own racism, sexism or whateverotherism. Perhaps on account of your simply being assertive, you’re cast as a potentially violent threat they can to talk down to – this to take the edge off of guilt spawned from their own aggressive fantasies or an inability to stand up to real aggression. (‘End of a fist’, don’t you know!)
Perhaps someone will walk in on the pair of you while your voice is raised, your ‘friend’ instantly taking advantage of first impressions by pretending to want to protect you from criticism; that under pressure they’re hiding some secret that you should be ashamed of. This done to obscure the very reason your voice was raised in the first place – that they’ve done something wrong.
Whatever the delusion, whatever the deception, the essential detail is that it’s easier for them to cast you as a defect to be dealt with, than address what’s really going on, because what’s really going on isn’t flattering to them.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like they haven’t helped you before (and oh how you’ll hear this over-emphasized to all fuck if they think you’re leaving them). The problem is that they’re extracting a lot more than just help from you in return.
Soon after the explicit manifestation of their delusion, a point will come when you realize you can’t operate under these conditions and that it’s not just in immediate proximity to their bad behavior where you’re compromised.
Responding never helps. They never acknowledge the existence of the problem to begin with. And you leave each and every one of these confrontations exhausted, tendrils broken off from their ego, yet still burrowing into you as invasively as ever.
It’s taken time getting this far, and you’ve tried patiently (and on occasion not so patiently) to bring things to a head, as if by chance one of these exchanges just may strike home – you’re fair.
But always direct opposition results in stubbornness, and always patience results in them taking things as far as they possibly can. Like some kind of interpersonal Brownian motor, things move inexorably in one direction.
The best you can hope for, not that it’s adequate, is overcompensation in some other respect. They’ll lavish you with unwelcome praise and gifts sooner than say ‘sorry’. This solves nothing, and if anything only protracts the problem.
Fairness doesn’t fair well against this incorrigible an opponent. So you admit you can see, even if they can’t, that it’s only going to get worse – that it’s best you end things.
But some people just won’t let you go without a fight. They expect you’ll ‘prove’ to their satisfaction what they did wrong before you can go, pretending they’re interested in facts, and that they decide who you associate with. The abuse of your fairness becomes altogether obvious when after all the arguments, they pretend this culmination has blindsided them, that they’ve had no warning.
Even the act of walking away they’ll turn into a battle; one in which if you don’t surrender, you’ll have to win through Pyrrhic victory. You’ll be forced to treat all the better memories you share as sunk costs. They’ll only leave you alone as long as they’re utterly sure you’ll be back, or until they’ve satisfied themselves that you’re the unreasonable one after your telling them to fuck off for the umpteenth time.
And the precedent of your fairness will be called upon, for you to entertain more of this special pleading. You’ve still in part been kind to them right up until the end; you’ve been sending mixed messages. How unreasonable for you to call things off like this!
Which to be fair to yourself, is bullshit.
You were there for them, keeping company when other people would edge around, suspecting your ‘friend’ was a bit off. You didn’t let first appearances lead to hasty judgments.
The fact that the ending has you affected, that you’re still even dwelling on any of this, shows you’ve been inclined towards fairness all the way through and the implications otherwise are just a further extension of the original imposture.
But fair doesn’t mean gullible, and this, with the onward-marching ego of your acquaintance, is why it’s come to an end.
You pull the arrow out, letting the barbs take some of your flesh, waiting afterward for the healing to begin. There’s no healthy prospect in leaving this thing biting in your side.
The false appeals to fairness, along with everything else you couldn’t care for, eventually fading into the backdrop of your memories, leaving just a lingering suspicion you’ve been too hard-hearted.
I should probably be putting my head down at the moment, but there’s something that’s popped up in discussion that explains quite well, a repeated line of non-reasoning that’s been troubling me; not in any one instance severe enough to warrant a reply, but collectively worthy of attention. Patrick, in commenting at Butterflies & Wheels, gives us a means of tying these instances together.
It works like this. Your opponent makes an analogy between one thing and another thing, purportedly showing how they are the same in a particular way. You then find a different trait one of the things possesses, and declare that it is utterly horrible to analogize a thing with that trait to the other thing.
It almost always works because it’s not actually an argument, it’s just an attack. If it were an argument it would be a text-book fallacy, because it’s claiming that your analogy is offensive and therefore wrong. But it’s really just an attack. And since things are multifaceted, you can usually find at least one way in which it would be offensive to compare any two pairs of things. - [Punctuation added.]
Patrick nails it, and although he’s called it the ‘”How Dare You” game’, I’m going to call it ‘Patrick’s fallacy’ in honor of his articulation – and because it needn’t always entail confected moral outrage.
The context this discussion has arisen from is not surprisingly about godlessness, and while I’m going to use examples from this context, in principle I can’t see how Patrick’s articulation couldn’t be applied in similar circumstances where there is no issue of godlessness at all; either interdenominationally between the religious, or exclusively involving groupings other than religious ones (race, gender, sexuality, nationality, sports teams etc). Because of this, and because ‘things are multifaceted’, the potential utility of recognizing Patrick’s fallacy seems universal.
Sadly, intelligence seems to have nothing to do with people’s susceptibility to Patrick’s fallacy – people being emotive creatures. Which I guess is why I’m not happy to let this go by unchallenged.
Last year, in a private discussion amongst perfectly intelligent people I’d hoped could have been friendlier (for my part I went with ‘friendly punch in the arm’, but I guess I botched it by delivering my message at the ‘end of a fist’), I argued that ‘militant atheist’ was a pejorative term used in much the same manner as ‘greedy Jew’, or ‘harridan feminist’.
Almost immediately there was outrage at my supposed comparison between the suffering of people labelled with ‘militant atheist’, and that of holocaust victims and the entire history of women’s suffering. Broadly speaking, all I had in mind in terms of proportion was the anti-Semitism and misogyny of the proverbial bigot-uncle most families seem to have locked away somewhere in a backyard shed. More specifically, the issue of suffering wasn’t even on my mind and was in fact excluded by definition of the terms I had used – explicitly referring only to the respects in which these terms were similar.
My meaning should have been clear. ‘Militant atheist’ is used widely as a shut-up term to harangue atheists into silence, much like ‘harridan feminist’ is deployed against women for the crime of merely being assertive or affirmative.
Not that I could get this across. My apoplectic, apologetically agnostic interlocutor, was far too busy putting words in my mouth and revising the history of what he’d said, to notice what I was actually saying very specifically from the very start. After painting himself into a corner, it was all confabulation.
Part of the reason I don’t adopt Patrick’s ‘How dare you’, is because it doesn’t always come in this form. The above mentioned apoplectic agnostic, in a prior, much friendlier discussion, attempted a consoling approach by telling me that perhaps ‘it just feels that way’, despite my pointing out that no, I don’t actually feel that way.
I went to the effort of pointing to a couple of instances of anti-atheist bigotry I’ve been subjected to, but only explicitly as exceptions to the rule that actually, I think I’m doing alright, thanks! Yet this didn’t even manage to dislodge him from his bugbear – he just went on to point out how these things I’d brought up as exceptions to the rule, didn’t adequately demonstrate that I was some poor oppressed person which in fact I’d never claimed to be!
This glaring inability to see what’s in front of one’s face shows there’s other motives behind the doggedness of assuming false equivalence, considerations other than proportion, accuracy and equity.
(Is it just me, or is it the case with many ‘agnostics’ and ‘nice/civil/polite atheists’, that they tend towards passive-aggression whenever the confidence of another godless individual risks reflecting poorly upon their own timidity?)
At the end of it all, I walked away from the hysterics and the apoplectic agnostic in question, somewhat naively thinking I’d get a bit of a break from all this rubbish. What was I thinking?
In December of last year, may gaze passed across this (deliberately?) execrable garbage.
‘While it would (and will) take me a vast amount of time to correct the litany of errors written by my fellow atheists, the first essay struck me as particularly stupid and odious. Written by Chrys Stevenson — ‘Historian, writer, blogger’ — it (again) compares the ‘suffering’ of atheists to the suffering of African-Americans.’
(Mark Fletcher, 2010)
Now either Mark Fletcher is to use his words, particularly stupid or odious (just take a more recent offering that makes the ludicrous claim that the ‘New Atheists’ are opposed to the study of religion in public schools*), or he’s undertaking a brilliant project lampooning the stereotypical, bumbling, envious, aspiring fool-author.
(I suggest the possibility of satire, as often parody makes the error of being perfect. The envy and poor comprehension seem a little too pervasive in Mr Fletcher’s writings, through all of the above, to a bizarre criticism of Jeremy Sear’s supposed sense of entitlement re: the blocked Chaser coverage of the Royal Wedding. Couple this with an ability to write prose, a faculty Mr Fletcher clearly does possess, and it all ends up looking like a bit of an act.)
Anyone bothering to read The Australian Book of Atheism with any appreciable level of comprehension will notice that in no way does Stevenson compare ‘suffering’. She’s comparing the similar tactics used by majorities in two different contexts, and you can even see this for yourself in the portion quoted in Fletcher’s own post.
(If the misleading nature of the criticism is still ambiguous, you need only read on until Fletcher claims that Stevenson celebrates the social Darwinism of H. K. Rusden, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Stevenson raises Rusden’s nastiness as part of a deliberate warts-and-all approach, Rusden’s social Darwinism being an example of such a wart on the history of Australian freethought.)
I hope for Mr Fletcher’s sake that he’s just a brilliant satirist, although I guess if not he could still apply for a Templeton grant.
It probably needs pointing out, if only because of the doggedness with which these straw-man arguments are deployed and defended, that I’m not saying there aren’t relatively privileged, self-absorbed, self-pitying, white atheists out there who fatuously pretend they have it just as bad as have African-Americans over the years. If you don’t mind hearing the ‘n-bomb’ being dropped, and you can put up with poorly thought-out YouTube polemics, there’s The Cult of Dusty’s contribution to the debate which serves as such example.
(Call me a cruel snob, but Dusty’s channel seems to be just one long non-sequitur interspersed with dueling banjos.)
Which brings me to the latest round of silliness that got me started on this post.
At the end of a long polemic, oddly condemning the use of polemic, making unreferenced and flatly wrong accusations of moral absolutism by Dawkins et al.** (amidst a mangled advocacy of a mangled parody of a dialectic, weird allusions to fisting and vagaries that lead nowhere), Karla McLaren manages to tell us in signing off that…
‘I could write a whole ‘nother post about how interesting it is for atheists to imagine that their struggle is similar to that of African Americans.’
(Karla McLaren, 2011)
This on the grounds of her pal Chris Stedman being called an ‘accommodationist’. Even if the phrase ‘accommodationist’ were historically confined to African-American civil rights struggles as McLaren claims (it isn’t – the phase has a long history across many conflicts), its use in a new context still wouldn’t magically infer equivalence between all aspects of any given pairing of struggles.
As Patrick says, ‘…since things are multifaceted, you can usually find at least one way in which it would be offensive to compare any two pairs of things’. But honest criticism just isn’t this easy, so lazy critics like McLaren and Stedman need to get their heads around the idea that they don’t get to be so lax without inviting criticism upon themselves. This is why they are being criticized.
(Do you really have to wonder, when The Party of Nice act all shocked and offended that Gnu-atheists have the temerity to respond to these kinds of allegations, who’s really mired in self-pity?)
Consider phrases like ‘quisling’, named after the Nazi collaborator Vidkun Quisling. Consider various epithets invoking the surname ‘Chamberlain’ (Britain’s Hitler appeasing Prime Minister). For decades terms like these have been commonly used without any intended comparison to the suffering experienced during World War Two. Language as it just happens, changes over time!
Yet despite this obvious truth, some gormless twonk will come along and take a literalistic approach complete with sixty-year-old dictionary in mind, pretending that there’s only one meaning and that quite conveniently, a given comparison must reflect this definition in every facet. Rubbish. Comparisons don’t work like this. (And it’s hypocritical when the person making this kind of accusation tends to whine about others practicing literalism).
McLaren, likewise, is being shamelessly literal, and it seems to me more out of concern for her tribal affiliation with Stedman or a need to be seen as pious, than anything else.
Which brings us back full circle to the post in which Patrick made gave the seminal description of this fallacy, where Ophelia Benson goes on to point out after arguing with Stedman, that no, just because the contexts are not identical in every respect, there’s no reason to assume nothing meaningfully similar is going on. Quite so.
The kind of argument you have here that Ophelia is objecting to, beyond the veneer of Patrick’s fallacy, is this…
‘Atheists are a disliked minority in America.’
‘Yeah, but it’s not as bad as African-Americans have had it, so you shouldn’t be concerned. Really, it’s unspeakable.’
There’s something else in all of this that bothers me to bits, totally aside from the friendly fire, atheist-bashing, or the disgraceful mental gymnastics of slighted interfaith activists.
Slipping under the radar, assumed in the terms of the discussion and obscured by Patrick’s fallacy, is the assumption that we’re talking about discrete groups. Whatever the suffering of atheists in America actually turns out to be, it is safe to say that a good deal of it is experienced by many GBLTs, women, African Americans, Latinos and others, because members of these groups can be atheists every bit as as well as whites can be!
If anything, the compounded effects upon these groups, this potential for collected otherings to be worse than the sum of their parts, should be amongst the foremost concerns of anyone claiming to be serious about any of this.
To my mind, being uncritical about the kind of rhetoric embodied in Patrick’ fallacy reinforces, or at least permits the view that African-Americans and other groups are somehow intractably, automatically, by-definition, devout theists; that in this respect, they’re all alike. (With the insidious corollary being that anyone from these groups not conforming is somehow deviant.)
Since when was out-group homogeneity bias a desired part of the humanist modus operandi?
I can’t say I’m comfortable with this kind of implicit othering getting in under the radar, and I’m not at all happy with how easy it is for genuine concerns of this nature to be pushed aside as if an afterthought, just because some poorly thought out accusations drag us down a long winding path.
The upshot in all of this, at least from where I’m sitting, is that after articulation and a bit of rumination, it’s even easier to see past this empty posturing, in future leaving more time to get on with genuine concerns. Thanks Patrick.
(Picture Source: Gustave Doré, 1863.)
[Update: An edit for the sake of brevity introduced a little syntactic confusion. HT: Eggs Maledict.]
* See Dawkins on QANDA last year answering this very question, or read Daniel Dennett’s Breaking The Spell, which makes a singular policy proposal – that comparative religion should be mandatory in schools. Kicking the study of religion out indeed!
** Again, Dawkins on QANDA last year, again answering the very question, and in The God Delusion, where Dawkins argues against absolutism in favor of some form of consequentialism.
I’m going to head back to more subterranean parts of the blogosphere for the time being, down with the gnomes who tinker with the cogs and daemons that keep things working on the surface. This blog however, will continue in my absence for at least one post.
Rob Smith has returned!
I haven’t seen Rob for a few months, and he hasn’t submitted a post to Thinkers’ Podium since 2009, apparently due to personal/spiritual reasons (which he tells me he’ll blog about in future).
If I wasn’t so preoccupied I’d be writing something about Michael Ruse’s latest, wisest effulgence yet. (Why does effulgence, being such a nice word, conjure imagery of extruded effluent?)
Rob has agreed to write something on the topic, in a manner he promises, will be different to what I may expect. A curious promise.
Enough of my blather, here he is.