Perhaps not what you’d think.

This is not about appeasement. It is about not being a racist slob.

Imagine a firing squad run by a relatively benevolent government (that happens to have not yet gotten rid of the death penalty). The squad consist of a dozen soldiers assigned to the duty. While most soldiers accept the assignment to the firing squad out of a sense of duty and a general cultural belief that it is appropriate, it is possible but unusual to object and get out of it. So there is a modicum of personal reflection involved. A soldier asked to join the firing squad considers the moral or ethical framework of the legal system, considers the legitimacy of the state’s claim as the sole purveyor of intentional death, considers the fact that an execution always follows a lengthy process of investigation, deliberation, appeal, and consideration of mitigating factors, and so on. When a given member of the firing squad pulls the trigger to participate in the killing of the condemned, he or she does so with a clear conscience, and a studied indifference to the particular case. In other words, the executioner does not feel differently about killing one condemned vs. another because in all cases the same process has been followed and there is never any moral or ethical ambiguity as to whether or not this should be done. Individuals prone to having such thoughts of ambiguity generally get off the firing squad. The rest, they just pull the trigger as a matter of duty, though certainly recognizing the great weight of the job they have to do.

Or do they?

What if a certain soldier happens to be assigned to take part in the execution of a person who happens to be the person who raped, tortured, and brutally murdered his wife. There are probably HR policy rules in place to avoid such a circumstance, but this is a thought experiment so let’s allow it. In this case, the person might feel something other than professional indifference when he pulls the trigger. He might feel a sense of revenge, or vengeance, or relief, or closure. Or it just might feel really good to put a chunk of lead in the brain of this particular condemned individual.

In a perfectly civilized society, the soldier should not feel this. The soldier should understand that a personal emotional reaction is inappropriate, and that justice is the civil replacement for revenge. But the humans that inhabit my thought experiment are just regular humans. It would be impossible for a normal person in this position to not have a reaction of some kind that is something other than professional indifference in this circumstance.

Now, suppose a more general case of a non-standard personal reaction. Suppose a regular member of this busy firing squad happens to really hate a certain kind of criminal. Now, all the soldiers feel the same indignation about people doing really bad things that everyone else feels, but I’m talking about someone with an obsession. This is a person who, if she did not have a job on the firing squad that allowed her to occasionally participate in the killing of, say, bank robbers who kill people during the course of robberies, or people who kill old people, or any other category of killer, that she would be out there on her own killing such individuals when she found them. But since she gets to do it legally and as part of her line of work, that never happens. She is satisfied that one in six or so of those she shoots in the line of duty happen to be her ideal victim. She is the serial killer’s version of a fox assigned to guard the hen house.

Now, shift the framework for a person’s homicidal desires. Imagine that the soldier on the firing squad simply despises a certain kind of person. Protestants. Blonds. Africans. Jews. People with freckles. There is an ethic/racial/physical category of person that our focal soldier hates, irrationally, and in private life would not give the time of day to, may harass on occasion, and if the person is a pathologically bad person, kill now and then. Recreationally, as opposed to professionally.

Obviously, I’ve tried to describe a spectrum of non-indifferent responses to killing in a legal and condoned, even necessary setting. Across this spectrum, the shooter has something else going on … the killing is valid, legal, and when he pulls the trigger there is nothing that separates what he is doing from what anyone else on the firing squad is doing. What he is doing is normal, even respected (somebody’s go to do it). But, the individual under consideration has something else going on. Consciously, or perhaps not entirely consciously.

A person could be a serial killer and not even know it. A person could develop a distaste for a certain kind of person, let it become quite pathological, psychopathic in fact, and since the desire is satisfied at work under legitimate circumstances, never actually become the kind of private serial killer he or she might otherwise become. One could even imagine that a person who would have never developed a taste for killing, or a specific dislike for a certain category of person, or a combined distaste and thus killing of a certain category, develops such a taste because of his or her job on the firing squad.

(There is actually a movie that seems to explore this effect, which I remember mainly because the main character manages to survive by using flintknapping skills learned during his special forces training, and thus is able to make a weapon out of some chunks of glass or rock he finds while hiding in the forest. In that case, a person is trained to kill killers and, in Bourne Identity fashion, shifts to killing deer hunters in the Northwest Woods of the U.S. But I digress.)

Now, imagine a hypothetical blog that is very popular among atheists. Let’s call it Blastula, because it is run by a developmental biologist at a small university campus in, say, Lake Wikiwookie Wisconsin. The conversations that make up the threads on Blastula are often about atheism, and tend to be down on religion. Over time, Blastual actually becomes one of the all too rare places on the internet where atheists can feel comfortable being atheists, criticizing religion and religiosity, and promoting ways of thinking that are explicit non-religious.

Now, if you asked Professor SP Simpson, the professor who runs Blastula, what he thought about killing religious people because of their religion, he’d tell you to buzz off. He does not condone violence of any kind. “Live and let live. Even though they are obviously wrong,” is the kind of thing he might say. He, and as far as one can tell by reading the blog, his commenters condemn violence generally and have very negative things to say about genocide, holocaust, that sort of thing.

Nonetheless, the commenters on this hypothetical blog are in some ways like the members of the firing squad. They are busily blasting the religious, creationist, holier than thou, annoying trolls who show up on Blastula, or other blogs, or who run absurd web sites, and so on. They are uniform and consistent in their disdain for religion. They dislike Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, all of it, equally and see no need for any of it. It is the desire of the Blastulistas to see religion … all religion … just dry up and blow away.

One of the things we learn as progressive liberal rational people is that there are certain language constructs that have specific meaning or side effects that some people feel should be avoided. We may argue over whether the term “shrew” or “hysterical” is sexist, or if calling Barack Obama “articulate” is racist, but we have a sense of the fact that certain language constructs just may be better avoided lest they offend.

Even the hard nosed Blastulistas recognize this and many of them even recognize this in relation to religion. Seriously offensive terms like “kyke” or “raghead” are not used on Blastula, or if they are, the users are corrected or admonished, and if they persist, they are thrown off the site.

My question for you is this, dear reader: Is it possible for a certain kind of reaction to religion to be inappropriate but to blend into the background of a Blastula-like context, like the hidden intentions and thoughts of a serial killer on a firing squad, perhaps to become visible when the conversation shifts to a different context? Again, like the serial killer taking his work home with him.

All religions are suspect, most of the rhetoric that comes from religious sources is bullshit. We all know this. But are there cases where people of a given religion/ethic group, like Muslims or Jews, are denigrated in a way that amounts to inappropriate prejudiced action or verbiage, where atheists should actually stand with them rather than against them? Is the ultimate atheist activism … anti religious activism … a genocide of all members of some religion? No, of course not. But are there shades of prejudice that are inappropriate that reside hidden in the atheist rhetoric that only appear when that rhetoric is taken out of context but not adjusted for that new context?

I expect an atheist activist to question all of the rhetoric that comes from religious sources. But when the information is about violence done to members of a particular religious group, that questioning starts to look a lot like anti-Xism. If the group is a Jewish support organization cataloging anti-Jewish activities, the automatic questioning of the validity of what the group says may very well be antisemitism. Jews are widely attacked and denigrated as a culture. Organizations have sprung up in defense of Jews who are attacked, and many of these organizations have established reasonable reputations and provide a valuable service to mitigate the effects of prejudice. An antisemite would try to discredit such an organization. An atheist activist would question any religious source of information.

And there is an area of overlap between the two that is a little uncomfortable. Isn’t there?

Comments

  1. #1 D. C. Sessions
    February 8, 2010

    It’s profound questions like this that lead people to theodicy.

  2. #2 Jim Austin
    February 8, 2010

    Do you have any idea how badly atheists are stigmatized and dehumanized by religious people? If so, why pick on the atheists? There really is no comparison: To many, many religious folk, atheists are subhuman. You know this is true. So, once again, why pick on atheists?

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2010

    Please expand.

  4. #4 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2010

    Jim, I am painfully aware of that and I am not picking on atheists.

  5. #5 Jim Austin
    February 8, 2010

    Greg,

    Then why write such a (long) post without even mentioning that the persecution of atheists — what you’re criticizing but far worse — is heaped an atheists all the time? You’ve framed the issue poorly; as a result, your post is misleading.

    Jim

  6. #6 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2010

    Jim, my post was not about the persecution of atheists. Therefore, I didn’t mention it.

    My post is about something very specific.

  7. #7 R2D2
    February 8, 2010

    Jim, why would he have to mention a topic not related directly to the post?

  8. #8 R2D2
    February 8, 2010

    Oh, sorry, question already asked. Never mind.

  9. #9 Kristine
    February 8, 2010

    You’ve hit on something I’ve suspected for some time now. In fact I have in one instance accused a fellow atheist of taking things too far when he made a comment which basically stated that he would have no qualms in killing certain members of a religious sect simply because they were outspoken about being religious. When called on it he blustered a bit, told me that I was speaking nonsense, however, as it was an online forum I was able to refer directly to his words and show them to him exactly. His bigotry was as strong as that of the people he opposed, and just like them, he was unable to see how he could be wrong in any way.

  10. #10 Irene
    February 8, 2010

    This is interesting. You might have described “cultural baggage” in an entirely new and possibly useful way.

  11. #11 JerryM
    February 8, 2010

    Greg, have a look at the Channel4 Dispatches program Defamation (2010) – you can find it ‘online’.

    It’s about when the very organisations set up to document and fight the discrimination are themselves increasingly crossing the line.

  12. #12 Jim Ausitn
    February 8, 2010

    I think I’m suffering the effects of not being a regular reader. I guess this is obvious to members of the community. To me, R2D2, the topic is completely, directly related, but that’s probably because I don’t know Greg’s blog as well as you do.

    I guess I should leave it at this: It’s commendable — and completely unsurprising — for atheists to be tuned in to such things. To be careful. To hold themselves to a higher standard. But please do be aware that this post will be read in isolation, out of context.

    Next time I’ll be careful to read back a few posts before I comment.

    Best,
    Jim

  13. #13 Stephanie Z
    February 8, 2010

    It isn’t as though Greg left the subject out altogether.

    Over time, Blastual actually becomes one of the all too rare places on the internet where atheists can feel comfortable being atheists, criticizing religion and religiosity, and promoting ways of thinking that are explicit non-religious.

    Good post, and it doesn’t even get into the other problems with capital punishment and investment of justice in the hands of a certain number of individuals.

  14. #14 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2010

    Irene, that’s a good way of putting it. When the context shifts, embedded components are exposed. I almost titled this post “Embedded antisemitism among the Pharyngulistas” but I didn’t want the Pharyngulistas to know I was thinking this about them. Because I may not be. I’m asking a question here, not making a pronouncement.

  15. #15 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2010

    Kristine: There must be a Star Trek episode that explores this. It seems very familiar.

    And, of course, I’m speaking generally of situations that are even much less overt and problematic than the case you mention. I’m speaking even of people using terminology or rhetorical devices that the would probably not use if they got how they were generally perceived.

  16. #16 DMinor
    February 8, 2010

    Greg, I get your point, but isn’t it likely that insidious haters lurk in the shadows of both sides of any passionate debate?

  17. #17 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2010

    Good post,

    Thanks. I only wrote the first half. I expect the commenters to write the second half.

  18. #18 JerryM
    February 8, 2010

    Sorry, not Dispatches, but True Stories.

    http://pulsemedia.org/2010/01/26/yoav-shamirs-defamation/

  19. #19 Ellie
    February 8, 2010

    There is always a minority of people who hold the more extreme view in any group. Atheists are no different.

    Oh, hang on, yes we are.

    As a group of people generally more influenced by ideas such as evidence and logic than the general population, we tend to be less tolerant of such extreme views. I’m sure there are one or two, there always are, but compared to the %age found in the general population I would expect the number to be low.

  20. #20 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2010

    DMinor, yes, but I’m not only talking about that. In fact, probably not mainly talking about insidious haters. I’m talking about non-haters slipping into a hate mode that is not what they would ever have engaged in otherwise.

    It might be that my analogy is to severe (serial killers) but it was juicy and hard to resist.

    But yes, that haters can hide or even form like frogs in mud is part of this as well.

  21. #21 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2010

    Ellie: Exactly!!!!!!

    And thus, with this being somewhat true AND being widely believed even beyond the extent to which it may be true in the atheist community, you can see where it is easy to slip.

    And, I assume that atheist activists, being all for rational thinking and stuff, would want to talk about this.

    Which we are. So far so good.

  22. #22 Paul Murray
    February 8, 2010

    Oh, right. So the atheists are actually anti-semotes in disguise. Or might possibly be. After all, you never know. Uncomfortable to think about, isnit it?

    Is this posting about people who dare draw attention to the zionist genocide of the semites who lived in palestine prior to it’s annexation by white europeans pretending to be jewish?

  23. #23 JerryM
    February 8, 2010

    Can one be an equal opportunist bigot?

  24. #24 Kristine
    February 8, 2010

    Greg, I don’t know about a Star Trek episode, having not seen them all (I’ll have to fix that ;D) but this particular one started on a Myspace forum, where I asked the simple question of “Why can’t we all just get along?” I think the conversation ran to about 64 pages, with one main respondant, who seemed at first to be fairly benign in his arguments, but who started showing cracks the further into the discussion we went. If it had been a conversation not nearly so rooted in discovering why people feel the way they do, perhaps I’d never have seen that side of him.

  25. #25 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2010

    Jerry [18] I’ll see you one Defamation and raise you an Engage:

    http://www.engageonline.org.uk/home/

  26. #26 Dwayne Litzenberger
    February 8, 2010

    I’m not sure that a thought experiment built around killing people is a useful analog for web forums, where the worst thing anyone can do is to write something nasty.

    Also, it’s a logical fallacy (affirming the consequent) to conclude that automatically questioning what, say, the Anti-Defamation League says is anti-semitic. Anti-semitic people often do that, but that doesn’t mean all people who the same are anti-semitic. P=>Q does not imply Q=>P.

    That said, I sometimes wonder what’s happening I make fun of minority religious beliefs (Scientology, Biblical literalism, Falun Gong, anti-vax, accupuncture, etc.) in front of some of my acquaintances who follow more mainstream religions. I might be leading them to think more critically, but sometimes I worry that I’m just nurturing bigotry.

  27. #27 Gyeong Hwa Pak
    February 8, 2010

    I didn’t want the Pharyngulistas to know I was thinking this about them.

    Well, you’ve failed at that.

  28. #28 PZ Myers
    February 8, 2010

    Well, Greg, if your post was about something specific, wouldn’t it have been helpful to say so with some specificity?

  29. #29 Ellie
    February 8, 2010

    I just had another thought which I’m sure is in no way original and think I should have thought of sooner:

    The biggest difference between atheists and pretty much every other group in the entire world is that we aren’t promoting a any particular thing or idea, instead, we are promoting a way of looking at the world. That is, we don’t say “you should believe this”, we say “you should explore all the evidence and make up your own mind”. The atheism is actually just a side-effect of that.

    The result is that extreme views are a lot less likely because they are seldom justified by the evidence. When they do crop up, they must be proven to be accepted.

    For this reason, I don’t worry overly about the emergence of extremism amongst atheists – the very thing that makes us what we are guards against it.

    This discussion is making me a little uncomfortable. It’s not that I disagree that we should be having it or that our ability to debate this sort of thing is what gives us our strength, it’s rather that the way you have phrased the question seems to miss an important aspect of what atheism is.

  30. #30 Stephanie Z
    February 8, 2010

    Ellie, not all atheists are skeptics or rationalists.

  31. #31 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2010

    PZ: The specificity comment was in answer to the demand that I also say something nice about Atheists and how badly Atheists are treated or my post would not be “the whole story” because I did, after all, use the word atheist. That comment, I assume, by a person who has not read my blog before.

    Anyway, I did say what it is about, but I’ll rephrase. It is about a community or subculture developing a style and dialect and argumentative form that works great in the context in which it develops but becomes clumsy when uncritically applied outside that context. A combine driving off the field and up Rout 10 makes a huge mess, just as a car driving into a swamp makes a poor boat.

    I saw what I think a lot of objective people looking in might interpret as low level but definite anti-semitism on two posts on my blog which I believe were the result of this argumentative form displaced.

    Even on this post, we are now seeing demands that in order to balance the Jewish Question, I or others condemn various Arab leaders who were really really mean to the Palestinians. Despite the fact that such Arab leaders are in fact utter shitheads and have done horrible things that need to be condemned, THAT (pointing out these servere transgressions) as the primary or even only response to an issue of antisemitism is a really good example of passive aggressive antisemitism.

    Demanding an “If p then q” explanation sets aside connotative meaning that pervades this sort of conversation, and racist conversations in general, and again … may constitute passive aggressive antisemitism or racism.

    How convenient that the jew, or the atheist if you like, has been tied to the stake at the firing squad place.

  32. #32 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2010

    Ellie, I agree with you about the comfort level. I know that I am plunging into difficult territory. I don’t expect a lot of people to like this. And, for the record, I happen to believe that the whole point of Atheism (in practice, not by the dictionary definition) is to explicit be different than belief systems including all religions.

    And, you are goign to get a lot less antisemitism among atheists than among most religious groups, most likely, with the fireing squad effect.

    (Religious exmaple of the firing squad effect, aka Irene’s cultural baggage: Religious person you know hears some good news from you about your life, and says: “You are so blessed. Praise Jesus.”)

  33. #33 llewelly
    February 8, 2010

    Greg Laden:

    I almost titled this post “Embedded antisemitism among the Pharyngulistas” but I didn’t want the Pharyngulistas to know I was thinking this about them. Because I may not be. I’m asking a question here, not making a pronouncement.

    I almost titled this comment “Does Greg Laden Molest Minnesota Moose?” but I didn’t want Greg Laden to know I was thinking this about him. Because I may not be. I’m asking a question here, not making a pronouncement.

    Glenn Beck to the white courtesy phone, please.

  34. #34 Sven DiMilo
    February 8, 2010

    I saw what I think a lot of objective people looking in might interpret as low level but definite anti-semitism on two posts on my blog

    Link ‘em! Say something about ‘em!
    Jeez with the interminable weird metaphor. Are you trying to communicate or type? Nobody knows wtf you’re talking about (except Stephanie Z, of course).

  35. #35 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2010

    llewelly is being oversensitive. I wonder why. Just sayin’

  36. #36 Lizzie
    February 8, 2010

    Sven, I thought the metaphor was very easy to understand. And, I think it applies to a lot of different situations. I love the concept of institutionally or culturally condoned behavior cooking away on its own and then being set loose at some arbitrary point in social spacetime.

  37. #37 Gyeong Hwa Pak
    February 8, 2010

    Greg, in all seriousness, where do go off saying that the commentators at Pharyngula are anti-Semitic? That’s a completely unfair over generalization of anything that goes on there. Firstly, most of the Pharyngulistas weren’t/arn’t even talking about that subject. Secondly, those who were talking about the subject did not seem to have any anti-Semitic stance. Perhaps you’re confusing criticism with slander. I’d like to know what you found to be specifically anti-Semitic. Mind you, I’m not saying that Pharyngulistas are perfect not discriminatory saints. I just honestly want to know what you think was the problem (this is because I was trying to avoid the subject so I didn’t read all the related post.)

  38. #38 Jake
    February 8, 2010

    And not all people who strive for skepticism and rationalism achieve it fully. In fact most of us fail in some respect.

    I can’t speak to comment threads on Pharyngula, but I know that I’ve seen a lot of this sort of thing on the Richard Dawkins forums. People have cultural prejudices (generally anti-islam, since there’s a lot of Americans on that forum), and they aren’t necessarily aware of their baggage, and as a result the criticism of Islam is a lot more tinged with a certain quality I have a hard time naming. Anger? Spite? Disgust? Something like that. I also think that there is a degree to which one has to be careful when one is criticising a religion whose practitioners are often maligned for non-rational reasons. I don’t think Islam should be given any real power or deference in society, but I also think that it’s extra important when discussing it to make sure that you’re clear your comments are about *Islam* and not *Muslims*.

  39. #39 NewEnglandBob
    February 8, 2010

    There can be and probably is a herd mentality for any group, and that includes atheist.

    I would also say there is xenophobia too, ‘us’ vs ‘them’ in any group that gathers for a common purpose.

    Being culturally Jewish, I can not comment objectively and neutrally on the specific issue here but your statement:

    I expect an atheist activist to question all of the rhetoric that comes from religious sources.

    This does NOT preclude at least SOME information as being non-rhetorical, innocent, innocuous and/or valid.

    Could there be anti-Xism? Sure, atheists are human with the same foibles as others, whether educated or not.

  40. #40 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2010

    where do go off saying that the commentators at Pharyngula are anti-Semitic?

    I didn’t say that, and I’d be willing to bet that as a group the commenters at Pharyngula are less antisemitic than most other groups.

    Perhaps you’re confusing criticism with slander.

    Antisemitism is neither criticism nor slander.

    Also, I should say that some of the specific antisemetic looking statements or rhetorical themes did not necessarily come from pharyngyula commenters. I have juxtaposed the idea of a general “rational” movement and the specific context of a large and vibrant community like my hypothetical Blastula. Blastual is a fiction, it looks like Pharyngula, it is not a thinly disguised Pharyngula.

    I’m not going to give examples at this time. I think that would be distracting. I have already indicated what I meant by this.

  41. #41 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2010

    Jake: My initial thinking on this, and the first movement towards writing a post on it (which I never did) came to me in connection with Religulous, which is a brilliant movie. In particular, the questioning of the Islamic woman who was an academic, IIRC, in Amsterdam made me think of this sort of problem in relation to Islam.

    For years I lived in a neighborhood in Minneapolis whiere Islamic people from Somalia were moving in. One day a mentally ill Somali man was shot dead by the cops because he was acting too strange for them (not long after 9/11). Daily the kids in this neighborhood are harassed. There is now a Somali teenage crime spree going on in the vicinity, so tensions are high, and of course, this is the commnunity that seems to supply a small number of militant fighters for Afghanastan etc. (you probably heard about the Minneapolis Somalis on the US national news). In this context, anti-Islam from a purely atheistic perspective is not necessarily the right rhetoric at, say, a town meeting. It would literally cause people to bleed.

    Again, I’m not talking a bout appeasement. I’m talking about real politics.

    So yeah, good point.

    (I quickly add … we also had an issue here here Somali cab drivers were refusing to transport people from the airport if they had liquor in their luggage. Much of the community came out in support of the Somalis on the grounds of cultural sensitivity. I personally, and a lot of atheists in the community, came out with a different stance: No problem if you don’t want to be in a car with a bottle of liquor, but this does mean you can’t be a cab driver. Sorry. Good luck with your next job.)

  42. #42 Gyeong Hwa Pak
    February 8, 2010

    I’m not going to give examples at this time. I think that would be distracting. I have already indicated what I meant by this.

    Then I’ll await for that time. Really though, I’ve tried to avoid the subject because I don’t have enough expirience with it.

  43. #43 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2010

    Well, the problem is that I really don’t think the people who have made certain remarks are antisemetic. I just think that the thigns they have said objectively look antismetic, and thus, in a better informed world, are.

    Months ago a friend of mine said to me “Obama … he’s so articulate” and he did not realize that calling a black person articulat in 21st century America was frowned on. In the discussions being referred to here, there are several different things that look like ploys to invalidate a statement by a Jew that he feels uncomfortable in a certain cultural setting (“He may be uncomfortable, but he is making me uncomfortable … he may be uncomfortable but he has brought this on himself: etc.) or to minimize a statement that antisemitism is on the rise in Britain (“It can’t be on the rise if it never reaches the level of the Inquistion of 1290 … Antisemitism is not on the rise … the number of antisemetic acts is on the rise and that is not the same thing.”)

    In a rationalist setting, these sorts of statements may make sense. In the real live world, people who are denigrated are usutally told to shut up using exactly this sort of rhetoric.

    The rhetoric of Blastula, applied in a different context, becomes the rhetoric of oppression. Quite accidentally, most likely, but truly so.

  44. #44 Pygmy Loris
    February 8, 2010

    Blastual is a fiction, it looks like Pharyngula, it is not a thinly disguised Pharyngula.

    You’re full of it, Greg. If you didn’t mean Pharyngula, why go to all the trouble of making your hypothetical blog look just like Pharyngula.

    I’m glad your sycophants like this exercise because you’re slandering an entire group of people and you refuse to own up to it.

    Where are specific examples of this behavior on Pharyngula?

  45. #45 Paul
    February 8, 2010

    I like the idea that Blastula is the idealized atheist blog, manifest in the real world as Pharyngula, Dawkins blog, GLB, Panda’s thumb, none alone being Blastula but all being almost Blastula. Blastula is to atheist blogs what Cthulhu is to all things horrible.

  46. #46 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2010

    You’re full of it, Greg. If you didn’t mean Pharyngula, why go to all the trouble of making your hypothetical blog look just like Pharyngula.

    As I have already stated elsewhere, it is not Pharyngula, but the larger community of atheist activist rational thinking bla bla bla. You can tell me that I’m lying to you when I say that, but only I know and I may have to slap you upside the head if you insist that I am an untruthful person.

    Where are specific examples of this behavior on Pharyngula?

    I can’t think of a single one. And, this post is not about such.

    You, Mr. Loris, are not getting it. “Pygmy Loris” indeed. I dub you Nycticebus coucang.

  47. #47 Nelson
    February 8, 2010

    I must admit my first thought was “twelve atheists standing in a circle.”

  48. #48 reggie
    February 8, 2010

    “Is it possible for a certain kind of reaction to religion to be inappropriate but to blend into the background of a Blastula-like context, like the hidden intentions and thoughts of a serial killer on a firing squad, perhaps to become visible when the conversation shifts to a different context?”

    Example?

    I rarely, if ever, read the comments at certain blogs. Are there really people at “Blastula” threatening violence against religious people? Or antisemitism? Or is this some slippery slope thought experiment?

  49. #49 Mary Davis
    February 8, 2010

    Blastula is to atheist blogs what Cthulhu is to all things horrible.

    But in a good way.

  50. #50 daedalus2u
    February 8, 2010

    Greg, you hit on my main objection to the death penalty, the effects it has on those who carry it out, willing or unwillingly it doesn’t matter. The quote from Nietzsche is appropriate: “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”

    I have an explanation for this, and (of course) it involves nitric oxide. I posted the start of a write-up on the roots of xenophobia as a FB note.

    http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=276440179328&1&index=0

    The idea is that individuals use their “theory of mind” to try and understand other individuals, and in essence do a Turing Test to find out if that person is “human” or not. If they “fail” the Turing Test (because the error rate is too high), then xenophobia is triggered. Xenophobia can be triggered via a learned response too.

    In the sense that Greg is thinking, the atheist member of the firing squad doesn’t use his/her “theory of mind” to justify executing the victim, but rather uses their “theory of reality” (a discussion of that is on my blog) to rationally decide why a person should be executed. A “theory of mind” only generates feelings, a “theory of reality” generates explanations and models of reality. A skeptic uses their “theory of reality” to build a model of reality that corresponds to actual reality as closely as they can. A non-skeptic uses their “theory of reality” to build a model of reality that corresponds to their feelings, to their “theory of mind”. This is how intelligent people can be religious. They are using their intelligence (their “theory of reality”) to build a model that satisfies their feelings and their “theory of mind”, which includes all kinds of crap and lies that they have been told and accepted at face value.

    In this sense, people who are atheists because they are skeptics think of other individuals as human because they have human DNA. People who are non-skeptics, have feelings about someone, and then define that person according to those feelings. This is what causes racism, religious bigotry and xenophobia. The racist, bigot, homophobe, xenophobe feels in their heart of hearts that the person their hatred is directed against is fundamentally non-human. That as a non-human that individual cannot have human-like characteristics.

    This is the source of the hatred that religious bigots feel toward gays and lesbians. They don’t perceive gays and lesbians as being human, so they can’t imagine them to have real human feelings like love. Gay marriage can’t be “real” because gays are not “real” humans and so can’t feel “real” human emotions like love.

    To get back to Greg’s original question, atheists who come at their atheism through skepticism do see religious people as people, just deluded people. In contrast religious bigots don’t see atheists as being human, but as demons or non-humans.

    To get back to the original original question about the firing squad, the purpose of killing individuals by the state is to “other” them. To make them into “the other”, to such an extent that it is acceptable, even beneficial to kill them. That was the purpose of the Antisemitism that the Catholic Church preached for millennia. That is the purpose behind xenophobia, racism, homophobia, and religious bigotry. That is what the tea partiers are doing.

    The skeptics on Blastula don’t think of religious people as non-human, they think of them as deluded humans, but still humans and deserving of all human rights as laid out in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Bigots don’t see the objects of their hatred as human, so human rights don’t apply.

  51. #51 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2010

    reggie: No, I very much doubt there are. Let’s try to put aside the “heez akuzing us throw him off the izland!!!” reaction.

    Of course, I suppose there could be…

  52. #52 AnneT
    February 8, 2010

    This does make sense, and I also like the term “baggage” as perhaps a simpler way to get at this than the firing squad or any other complex analogy. (But the analogy might serve a broader purpose.)

    There is a fine line between the language of tolerance and the language of appeasement, and I think atheists generally do not want to go near that line, so they (we) avoid it. This can result in intolerant speech sometimes, even if inadvertently.

  53. #53 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2010

    daedalus2u: I think a dose of NO all around would be a good thing about now.

  54. #54 Omar
    February 8, 2010

    If all you have is a hammer, you will treat everything like a nail.

  55. #55 Pygmy Loris
    February 8, 2010

    You, Mr. Loris, are not getting it. “Pygmy Loris” indeed. I dub you Nycticebus coucang.

    Your inability to express yourself doesn’t make me slow. I’ve followed a little bit of the argument you’ve had with SC among others, and you either have a problem expressing what you actually mean or you are actively trying to misrepresent what you’re saying.

    We aren’t buying it.

  56. #56 Stephanie Z
    February 8, 2010

    We who?

  57. #57 sjburnt
    February 8, 2010

    Greg, If you want to maintain readers, you have a responsibility to make sense. Now, I will admit to being dense, sometimes even foolish, but it appears to me that you are intentionally clouding whatever your intent may be.

    Will you do us a favor and at some point explain what you are trying to say? I suppose that you could say I should put a little more effort into figuring out what the fuck you are saying.

    Still, you have some responsibility here as well.

    Or not.

    You want to communicate something?

    Or not?

  58. #58 Azkyroth
    February 8, 2010

    I don’t know; I see a modest degree of “Suggesting Jews might be fallible is how Hitler got started!” sentiment, particularly when Israel comes up.

  59. #59 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2010

    SJ, sorry if this is going over your head, and I’m not entirely surprised. This is hard. Truly.

    But I’ve actually clarified some of my thinking in my comments. Read my responses in the comment thread, and I think you’ll get a better idea of what I’m talking about.

    I’m not interested in maintaining readers (or being told how to) by going for a certain level of simplicity. This whole issue is not crystal clear to begin with. When Einstein came up with his famous formula, no one said “Oh, Albert, could you do that without the exponent? We don’t get exponents” (not to compare my thoughts to that theory … but the analogy is … very very simple and easy to understand).

  60. Greg – one thing I’ve learned about some bloggers is that they want attention. And nothing adds more page views and attention to a blog than Creationism and religion.

  61. #61 daedalus2u
    February 8, 2010

    Greg, more than you can possibly appreciate.

  62. #62 kevin
    February 8, 2010

    At first, I was a bit disappointed to read this:

    Nonetheless, the commenters on this hypothetical blog are in some ways like the members of the firing squad.

    Which is made all the more interesting being followed a few sentences later by this:

    One of the things we learn as progressive liberal rational people is that there are certain language constructs that have specific meaning or side effects that some people feel should be avoided.

    After all, it’s not like comparing a group of people who might write (or just think) bad things to members of a firing squad would be a language construct with a specific meaning or side effect that some people feel should be avoided.

    But then I was relieved (really!) to find this more interesting question of a moderate forum providing cover for extremists. Interesting at first glance, anyway, because now I can’t really see what makes this hypothetical blog any different than any other. A forum about guns could just as plausibly provide cover for a gun fetishist, and provide an outlet for that person who, in other contexts, might be a murderer. A forum about knitting provides cover to someone who fantasizes (but never actually vocalizes) about strangling someone. Hell, a teacher’s job might just provide cover for that teacher’s inner child molester.

    So my question to you Greg: What is it about this hypothetical atheist forum that raises the question of providing cover for lurking, non-vocal but violent fanatics? It can’t be just that some people are violent fanatics, since that applies to all my silly examples too. It can’t be that violent, fanatical rhetoric is tolerated, because you said it wasn’t. It can’t be that violent anti-religious fanatics also like to talk about atheism, either, since p=>q clearly doesn’t mean q=>p.

    Genuinely curious
    -kevin

  63. #63 Marion Delgado
    February 8, 2010

    Very interesting post. Very good post.

    I would say in a North American context it is “all religions are equal” (-ly wrong) but some are more equal than others so you your hypothetical blog would be very unusual if that weren’t the case.

    If “Blastula” were involved with the Brights, I think it’s pretty clear that the forces pushing Islam as particularly evil are going to be very strong. And even if the blogger himself was fairly scrupulous about that, the commenters are going to be in a paradigm which has been hijacked to a degree by neo-imperialists like Sam Harris and Chris Hitchens and they know what they don’t like – the Third World, Islam, socialism, etc.

    Also, if the blog was superpopular, the dynamics would take over after a while. You’d have people with an agenda pouring in. Heck, if I did a religious blog that scrupulously mirrored “Blastula,” literally saying only the opposite of every post the author made, I would get less traffice, but I would probably get identical comments. Which I think means something.

  64. #64 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2010

    OK, you asked for it, so here is a different and possibly more useful description. The following is a made up scenario, but it is made up of bits and pieces of actual real life events. Enjoy:

    Conversation one.

    A Muslim cleric rises to be recognized at the local neighborhood meeting. He says “Allah is good. Allah is powerful. The students at the community school our collective neighborhood runs should learn the Koran as part of their schooling. It is the only way for them to become moral and ethical adults.”

    The elected leader of the community polity, a gay atheist, politely but firmly explains to the cleric, who is recently immigrated with many others to this neighborhood from a foreign land, that in the United States we have strict separation of church and state. When two or three colleagues of the cleric object vociferously and rudely that one must get morals and ethics from somewhere, and the holy scriptures are the only place to do so, the elected leader says:

    “Religion has no special place in our political or community process. It is of no interest to me that you are Islamic religious leaders. Sit down and shut up.”

    Half the people in the room, annoyed by the cleric and his friends, cheer, the other half, recent Muslim immigrants, feel rather embarrassed and stop participating in the meeting. Most of them do not show up again for a community meeting.

    Verdict: The cleric and his friends ruined the relationship between the new members of the community and the rest of the community. It can be fixed, but it was bad that they did that. The meeting chair could have acted differently but was well within his rights to act as he did.

    Conversation Two:

    A member of the Muslim community, a mentally disabled man who spoke no English, was found in the street waving around his arms and yelling in a language the residents did not understand. The police were called. The police ordered the man onto the sidewalk but he became more agitated than ever. In the end, the police shot him nine times in front of his family who watched in horror from behind a police line. This came on the heels of a young boy being run over by a hit and run driver on the same street, and a Muslim owned store being bombed by white supremacists in a nearby neighborhood.

    Now, there is a community meeting. A relative of the slain man, a young woman about 25 years of age who is a graduate student at the University and who has become a spokesperson for the immigrant Muslim community, is the first to speak.

    She beings, “We are a peaceful community. Islam is essentially a peaceful religion.”

    The leader of the community, a gay atheist white male, interrupts her. He says, “Religion has no special place in our political or community process. It is of no interest to me that you are Islamic religious leaders. Sit down and shut up.”

    The six white supremacists who always attend this meeting but, outnumbered, usually sit in the back and remain quite, stand up and cheer. The core long time community members, mostly atheists or unitarians, squirm. The Muslims leave the meeting chagrined and upset. Late, a local ordinance prohibiting gay marriage is mysteriously introduced and passes by a small margin.

    Verdict: Mr council member screwed the pooch. What he said may be technically correct, and in the first context was appropriate. But in the second context it was the wrong thing to say, and could be perceived as politically and socially insensitive. That there are strong racial overtones to the entire situation (oh, this is an African Muslim immigrant population and they have been having racist threats made against them regularly) may even suggest that his remarks were racist.

    Please notice that the same exact thing was said in both cases by the elected community leader.

    (and the actual elected community leader that is in my mind as I write this would never screw the pooch as indicated here. This is a made up scenario)

    Kevin: Yes, interesting. But I’m not really talking (mainly) about covering for violent fanatics. But that is interesting.

    Marion: Yes, cultures emerge in the damnedest places!

  65. #65 Ian
    February 8, 2010

    I do get a sense of something like that with one prominent atheist writer – that while he dislikes all religious people, he seems to have an especial dislike for Muslims. And I find myself wondering where the anti-religion ends, and where racism begins.

  66. #66 Greg Laden
    February 8, 2010

    I don’t know; I see a modest degree of “Suggesting Jews might be fallible is how Hitler got started!” sentiment, particularly when Israel comes up.

    That sounds like it might be interesting. Please explain what you are talking about.

  67. #67 Sivi
    February 8, 2010

    I’m – I’m actually pretty shocked by how defensive people are getting here.

    Greg suggested that sometimes, as atheists who generally oppose religious groups, and who are generally distrustful of them, might develop a discourse that could appear to outsiders as anti-Semitic, or anti-Moslem, or what have you, and that in some cases /could/ be exactly that, from an objective standpoint.

    This isn’t really a big deal. I would expect it to happen pretty often – dismissing Moslem concerns of about Christian proselytization by Christian soldiers who benefit from a power differential, for example, or questioning how accurate fairly neutral claims of a rise in anti-Semitic acts. Despite how people may feel about Israel and their use of the term ‘anti-Semite’, there are Jews who have people hate on them for being Jewish, rather than deconstructing and criticizing their belief system.

    Look at Christopher Hitchens, who often seems to slip near eliminationist rhetoric similar to that of the American right, or Pat Condell, who while he makes good points sometimes seems less like he’s making atheist arguments and more like he’s attacking brown people rather than Islam.

    Atheists are, I think, less vulnerable to these unintentional slips into extremism, or confusing their targets of criticism, because we generally prize rationality, skepticism, and critical thought.

    But to deny that it /does/ occur seems a bit disingenuous, like claiming atheists aren’t vulnerable to institutionalized or cultural racism.

    It happens to all of us.

    Get over it.

    (On a related note: I’m reposting something by a friend here, since it seems relevant, and I don’t want to send people directly to her LJ.

    [When found, make a note of

    Dear Persons Who Become Very Upset and Defensive When It Is Suggested That You, Yes You, Are Behaving In A Sexist[1] Manner:

    Being sexist is not a function of being Evil.

    It is a function of being MISINFORMED.

    If sexism were a problem of Evil People behaving Evilly, there wouldn’t be NEARLY as much of it about.

    The evil starts getting in when you are informed that your information is incorrect, realise that it will be very much to your advantage to continue acting on the bad information and that you have the power to do so, and willfully or unreflectively choose to continue to maintain the truth of the bad information and to behave as if it were true.

    Therefore, the Feminist Conspiracy[2] wishes to suggest that if you either dislike the idea of being sexist, or simply find having to endure people calling you out for your sexism incredibly unpleasant, the auto-denial reflex[3] is not your friend.

    This has been a Public Service Announcement by the Feminist Conspiracy.

    [1] Substitute homophobia, racism, religious bigotry, etc, as needed. Sadly, this will often be needed. Global find and replace is recommended.

    [2] Me. Every feminist gets to be her own Feminist Conspiracy.

    [3] Also known as the Not Me I’m A Nice Guy [Person] I Didn’t Mean It That Way, I am Totally Unlike The Last 500 Guys [Persons] Who Did That You Are Just Making Assumptions Defence. Not to be confused with I Don’t Do That, Or Don’t Do That Anymore, Therefore This Is Not To My Address, Therefore I Need Not Take It To Heart, which very often is your friend.]

  68. #68 reggie
    February 8, 2010

    “reggie: No, I very much doubt there are. Let’s try to put aside the “heez akuzing us throw him off the izland!!!” reaction.”

    Oh, I’m not a “Blastulite” or a Pharyngulite. I was just wondering where this was coming from and where it was going. I, like a few others commenting, am new to your blog. I guess I am having trouble making the practical connection with the earlier examples of the post and the part about atheist commenters on atheist blogs. Is it merely a question of when rhetoric becomes unethical, or are you suggesting something more sinister, like in your examples?

    I like to ask a lot of questions before I throw anyone off the island. But, this here looks to be your island.

  69. #69 SWEJ
    February 8, 2010

    Making fun of people on an internet blog because they consistently act like nutjobs is very different from being a bigot who shoots people for a living.

  70. #70 CW
    February 8, 2010

    As I have already stated elsewhere, it is not Pharyngula, but the larger community of atheist activist rational thinking bla bla bla. You can tell me that I’m lying to you when I say that, but only I know and I may have to slap you upside the head if you insist that I am an untruthful person.

    Then slap away.

  71. #71 Buffybot
    February 8, 2010

    This wankfest is further into the realms of fantasy than bloody World of Warcraft.

  72. #72 Stephanie Z
    February 8, 2010

    And in CW, we have proof positive that atheists are not necessarily skeptics, since skeptics generally understand that they can’t read minds.

  73. #73 Dwayne Litzenberger
    February 8, 2010

    Greg Laden (#31), apparently in response to my post (#26), wrote:

    Demanding an “If p then q” explanation sets aside connotative meaning that pervades this sort of conversation, and racist conversations in general, and again … may constitute passive aggressive antisemitism or racism.

    What? This is ridiculous. “May constitute”? What mind-numbingly meaningless crap! By that standard, breathing air “may constitute” antisemitism, too. Hitler hated Jews, and—gosh darnit—he breathed air! Shame on you for breathing air like Hitler! (maybe!)

    You’re so completely wrong here. I didn’t demand that you write out your arguments in some formal syntax, I just called you on an blatant fallacy. You called this a thought experiment. Thought experiments require valid logic. End of story. Why is this even an issue?

    Look, I like your blog, and I think the phenomenon you’re referencing in your original post exists and is worth discussing, but in order to lead a meaningful discussion, you need to nail things down a lot more concretely. Why not cite a series of actual examples that you think are representative, make some specific claims, provide evidence and argumentation, and refrain from hyperbole and knee-jerk reactions like the one above?

  74. #74 José
    February 9, 2010

    How dare you attack community leaders!

  75. #75 MPL
    February 9, 2010

    This raises some interesting questions about how to avoid making category mistakes when what you are arguing against is based on a category mistake, but has some real attributes as well.

    In a certain way, the secularist behaves as if religion doesn’t exist—it has no claims to authority, and should be actively excluded from public policy. The atheist, of course, thinks it’s just plain nonsense.

    Yet in the situations you gave as examples, religion has made itself real, and inserted itself into the situation in a way that cannot be ignored. The community has made something imaginary into something that has a real existence of a kind. A religious leader is not the intermediary of god he (or she) thinks he is, but in these cases, he is something. It’s hard to say exactly what though.

  76. #76 CW
    February 9, 2010

    And in CW, we have proof positive that atheists are not necessarily skeptics, since skeptics generally understand that they can’t read minds.

    I am telling Greg that, based upon what he has said here, I believe he is lying. He is not so inarticulate as to accidentally paint Blastula as a direct mimic of Pharyngula when he meant it to be everyblog or to accidentally say he did not want Pharyngulites to know he was thinking this of them when he actually meant he did not want them to think he was thinking this of them.

    Obviously I could not and would not not swear to it as fact in a court of law, but I believe that he lied to me and to all of us and I want him to know that. You may, of course, believe what you like.

  77. #77 Stephanie Z
    February 9, 2010

    Dwayne, I’m not sure why “may constitute” is a problem. There are plenty of situations in which you’re just not going to know unless you dig. Greg posted a few great examples in comment 43.

  78. #78 Stephanie Z
    February 9, 2010

    CW, the only way to avoid being accused of talking about Pharyngula in this post is to point to a different identifiable blog with a strong community, particularly when the discussion about antisemitism was kicked off in another post by someone with an Order of the Molly. However, pointing to a different specific blog would have made the point of the post even less generalizable. Pharyngula is still a part of what Greg is talking about, but there’s no reason to think it’s all of it.

    And as Greg’s editor in another context, you’re reading far too much into a single word, especially when you haven’t even asked whether that comment was snark or straightforward.

  79. #79 daedalus2u
    February 9, 2010

    I think the issue Greg is trying to make in #31 is (to me) the issue of false balance. That if one is to bring up the faults of one group, the faults of their arch-enemy must be brought up as well, and vice versa.

    There is an ongoing story in the news today about the Goldstone report on war crimes in Gaza by both Hamas and Israel. Both sides committed war crimes, both are culpable for them. It is not Antisemitic to call Israel to account for war crimes. The fact that Hamas also committed war crimes does not lessen or excuse the war crimes committed by Israel.

    It is being Antisemitic to hold Israel to a different standard than others are held to simply because Israel is a Jewish state. It is Antisemitic to hold Israel to a higher standard, it is Antisemitic to hold Israel to a lesser standard.

    In the example of the gay atheist, the community is not rejecting Muslim moral values. Those values have never been mentioned. What the community is rejecting is using a religious process to determine what moral values are to be adopted. The hypothetical Muslim community has certain moral values, which they have come to rationalize as being derived from their Islamic religious beliefs. Which came first is a moot point. Putting the disagreements in a win-lose context is a mistake. Without knowing what values are being proposed, how can there be disagreement about them?

    The problem is that the community can’t think in non-”theory of mind” terms. They have all these feelings which they need to rationalize. The skinheads feel hatred and act on it. The skeptics want to stay away from religion because it doesn’t make any sense. The religious individuals can’t think about reality any other way.

  80. #80 yolande
    February 9, 2010

    It is the moderates of any group, be it Atheist, Christian, Jewish, Islamic who provide the power base for extremism. imho.

  81. #81 CW
    February 9, 2010

    CW, the only way to avoid being accused of talking about Pharyngula in this post is to point to a different identifiable blog with a strong community

    So your argument is that since he was going to be accused of talking about Pharyngula anyway he just jumped right in with both feet and came up with “Blastula” and a half dozen specific and gratuitous details to hammer home the connection? Sorry but I have a much harder time believing that Greg has suddenly and unexpectedly become an idiot.

    And as Greg’s editor in another context, you’re reading far too much into a single word, especially when you haven’t even asked whether that comment was snark or straightforward.

    But I’m not Greg’s editor in… Oh! You meant you! Well, as you are apparently Greg’s spokesperson in this context let me make it clear to you that I am not just reading special meaning into a single word. I am reading that word and the entire remark around it in the context of the original post and the subsequent comment thread.

    Comparing atheist blog commenters with executioners and serial killers was quite wretched enough without indulging in the tawdry little “Blastula” farce. Again though, you may (in whatever capacity you find yourself in in this context) believe what you like.

  82. #82 Stephanie Z
    February 9, 2010

    Of course I may, CW, and so may you. Or you can ask and find out. Or you can decide you won’t believe what someone is going to say to you if you ask, in which case there’s not much point in continuing to talk to them.

  83. #83 aratina cage
    February 9, 2010

    Even the hard nosed Blastulistas recognize this…

    Looking up the etymology for “hard nosed”, I came across a man by the name of John Frith, which reminded me: It is all well and nice to blast at Blastulistas from across the field, but you would be making a serious historical error forgetting how ruthless religious tyranny has been and continues to be toward heresy which includes minority religious beliefs and nonbelief. Jews and atheists are in this together in some major ways.

    Is it possible for a certain kind of reaction to religion to be inappropriate but to blend into the background of a Blastula-like context, like the hidden intentions and thoughts of a serial killer on a firing squad, perhaps to become visible when the conversation shifts to a different context? Again, like the serial killer taking his work home with him.

    Well, commenting on a blog is not at all analogous to murder or capital punishment, so I’d have to emphatically say, “No.” There is the rare supporter of genocide who pops up but they get shot down fairly quickly or outright banned at Blastula Headquarters, but more importantly, you can usually not tell if the comment was authentic, a trolling atheist hater trying to cause trouble, or whatnot. Perhaps such an evil person can hide for some time, but the Blastula Commander will eventually throw a juicy piece of red meat onto the Blastula rug which will cause the evil one to out itself in a psychotic frenzy. Then the Blastulistas pounce.

    An antisemite would try to discredit such an organization. An atheist activist would question any religious source of information.

    And there is an area of overlap between the two that is a little uncomfortable. Isn’t there?

    Not at all. Where did you get this idea? You know what an antisemitic rant against a Jewish organization would look like, and you know it would be nothing like a rant against religion found on Blastula, especially in terms of the empathy and rationality of the people ranting in each case with the antisemite lacking severely in both areas.

  84. #84 HJ Hornbeck
    February 9, 2010

    What’s the difference between hidden intolerance and no intolerance? I am not a mind-reader, so I can’t tell between the two.

    What I can look at are the facts. If someone relies on a lie or distortion when they poke fun at religion, the difference is now obvious to me. That person has revealed themselves to be intolerant, and should have that thrown back in their face.

    Your first example falsely compares murder to chat room comments. From the context, most people would be aware that no matter how heated and even hateful the rhetoric gets, no-one will be directly harmed. There may still be some indirect harm via angry words, but anyone who receives such harm is free to argue against it or walk away. In contrast, it’s tough to walk away from being dead.

    As for your second example, in an ideal world there would be no difference between the two scenarios. Everyone in the room would be rational, and the proper context would be understood by all.

    Of course, we don’t live in an ideal world. Someone will always get the wrong idea, and take it the wrong way. This brings up the big moral debate over the “Noble Lie;” is it acceptable to lie, or even use half-truths, for the benefit of the greater good? This has raged across philosophic circles for millennia, with no end in sight, so I can’t offer up a solid solution.

    Your second example is just an obscured re-telling of the “Noble Lie,” with both sides of the fence pitted against each other. Again, there’s no definite solution.

    Personally? I’d say use the facts as your guide, admit we’re all capable of being irrational, and minimize the amount of lying you do. Speak out against intolerance when you see it, but don’t worry about it when you don’t.

  85. #85 RedDust
    February 9, 2010

    To summarise, this is one of the most slyly offensive trolling posts I’ve seen in a long while. And yet another of the many ways atheists are defamed.

  86. #86 Jordan Licht
    February 9, 2010

    Any bets on how long until Greg Laden raises the specter of Crackergate?

  87. #87 David
    February 9, 2010

    I agree with the message of Greg’s article (nevermind the drama over whether he was meaning pharyngula readers/commenters or not, etc). Although, it did take the comment where Greg laid out the two scenarios of the gay atheist counsellor for me to feel confident in my interpretation.

    I often find myself tempering my opinions and attitudes towards religion and belief around a lot of my friends and family (including my wife sometimes). Simply because I know that if I spoke my mind they would find my views too challenging, too confrontational and too far from their current position. Unfortunately I have discovered this from experience on occaison.

    What I think fundamentally happens is that people who buy in to belief in God or have strong faith in religion and its institutions generally do not have the propensity or inclination to take a position far from their own and subject it to thorough critical thought. It is far easier for their mind to cry bigotry, ignorance, close-mindedness, etc.

    As a result I try to work in a subtle and piece by piece manner when conversing with people. I don’t view this as patronising, despite my overwhelming desire on occaison to jump up and down and shout at them for not getting it, instead I try to view it as pragmatic. All the while I constantly attempt to maintain some social acceptability, pick metaphors or analogies that aren’t too extreme or confronting and keep things at a base rational/logical level.

    I’m not claiming to be incredibly successful in this approach and sometimes I fail miserably and end up offending someone at a dinner party. I certainly have a capacity to go on a rant akin to Tim Minchin’s beat poem entitled “Storm”.

    A clear example of where I feel I was true to my approach was just yesterday at a morning tea. I work in a university, am a PhD candidate and researcher and was shocked to find that a large proportion of my research team (maybe half, about 8 people) actually thought astology was true or at least had some mystical validity. I was tempted to bring out the missing constellation, the complete and utter lack of a causal link of how an arrangement of distant stars from our perspective in an ever expanding universe could even influence a child’s personality or future professions, family size, etc. These were researchers who are familiar with concepts of reverse causation bias among a myriad of other potential issues when running quantitative scientific research.

    Instead of engaging in a rant which would damage my working relationship with colleagues and employers I simply asked some base questions about potential contradictions between astronomers or a Derren Brown experiment where individuals were given the same astrology profile and all found it to particularly accurate to them. I feel I made my point without anyone getting their feelings hurt or having their mind scream “close minded bigot”.

  88. #88 John Morales
    February 9, 2010

    Post body:

    Now, imagine a hypothetical blog that is very popular among atheists. Let’s call it Blastula, because it is run by a developmental biologist at a small university campus in, say, Lake Wikiwookie Wisconsin. The conversations that make up the threads on Blastula are often about atheism, and tend to be down on religion. Over time, Blastual actually becomes one of the all too rare places on the internet where atheists can feel comfortable being atheists, criticizing religion and religiosity, and promoting ways of thinking that are explicit non-religious.
    Now, if you asked Professor SP Simpson, the professor who runs Blastula, what he thought about killing religious people because of their religion, he’d tell you to buzz off. He does not condone violence of any kind. “Live and let live. Even though they are obviously wrong,” is the kind of thing he might say. He, and as far as one can tell by reading the blog, his commenters condemn violence generally and have very negative things to say about genocide, holocaust, that sort of thing.
    Nonetheless, the commenters on this hypothetical blog are in some ways like the members of the firing squad. They are busily blasting the religious, creationist, holier than thou, annoying trolls who show up on Blastula, or other blogs, or who run absurd web sites, and so on. They are uniform and consistent in their disdain for religion. They dislike Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, all of it, equally and see no need for any of it. It is the desire of the Blastulistas to see religion … all religion … just dry up and blow away.

    Comment:

    Blastual [sic] is a fiction, it looks like Pharyngula, it is not a thinly disguised Pharyngula.

    I hereby refrain from maliciously insinuating about Grog Leaden, who is a disingenuous and envious blogger who has recently discovered shark-jumping, and runs a blog called Grog Leaden’s Bog; this because, though this would be a fiction, it would look like Greg Laden, even if I were to say it was not a thinly-disguised Greg Laden.

  89. #89 clinteas
    February 9, 2010

    I have problems with Greg’s post.
    First, it is cowardish to hide behind a hypothetical scenario and “maybe” and “imagine” and “Blastula”, why don’t you make your point specifically, don’t let the commenters on your blog who don’t know what motivated this trainwreck in the first place answer your pseudo-hypothetical “questions” in good faith, it’s not fair to them either.

    Second, it is insulting (and wrong)to compare blogreaders, yours or someone elses, to a firing squad, and no maybe or imagine can change the fact that this analogy is not only made in bad taste and a pretty malign misrepresentation of those blogreaders that you here critisize, but you also fail to tell your readers that you had names in mind when you wrote this.As far as the analogy by itself goes, how is comparing shooting people to writing blog posts helpful to this discussion ?

    A few citations that are worth looking at, because they are(I must assume) deliberately misrepresenting things on Pharyngula(Blastula, my ass) :

    It is the desire of the Blastulistas to see religion … all religion … just dry up and blow away.

    No it is not.While opinions on blogs vary as in any other group, the general consensus there would be that religion when it isn’t pushed into science curricula and when it isnt given political and financial exempt status, is something people can and should practice in private, like knitting or stamp-collecting.And you know it.

    If the group is a Jewish support organization cataloging anti-Jewish activities, the automatic questioning of the validity of what the group says may very well be antisemitism

    This is just absurd, even framed the way you chose to.Again, this your argument is based on specific discussions you had with specific people, and the broad generalization you are making here loses all coherence when stated in such a broad general sense.If any member of a given group X whose ancestors at some point were subjected to genocide or oppression could get away with claiming persecution and racism whenever someone dares to critisize or question their arguments, then we might as well all stop arguing and go home.To compare the atheists on Pharyngula(again, Blastula, my ass !) and their questioning of religionists’ arguments with the bigoted antisemitic rants you get to witness not only on the net but also in meatspace is just incendiary, and plainly wrong.

    A very disappointing post.

  90. #90 wallamaarif
    February 9, 2010

    For the love of FSM, is it so irrational to believe that in any group of similar-thinking people, there will be some whose views are more extreme than others? Or that in-house conversations could look awfully suspect to outsiders? Or that more radical elements might possibly separate themselves from the mainstream group, like Earth First! did from the mainstream environmental movement? Or that when lots of people in the same place are saying the same thing, the “madness of crowds” might set in?

    Not if you’ve read your history, it’s not. Being an atheist does not preclude anyone from behaving irrationally or immorally. Nothing does, because irrationality and immorality are part of the human condition.

    I’m an atheist, but I’m not so cocky as to believe that the things I believe in couldn’t mutate into things that appall me in the hands of other people. And as an Iraq vet, I know too well what otherwise good people are capable of.

    Stop acting butt-hurt by this, Pharyngulistas, and take it for what it is: a rather unremarkable statement about the tendency of mobs to get ugly over time.

  91. #91 John Morales
    February 9, 2010

    wallamaarif,

    Not if you’ve read your history, it’s not. Being an atheist does not preclude anyone from behaving irrationally or immorally.

    Agreed.

    I’m an atheist, but I’m not so cocky as to believe that the things I believe in couldn’t mutate into things that appall me in the hands of other people.

    Then, they’re not the things you believe, are they?

    Stop acting butt-hurt by this, Pharyngulistas, and take it for what it is: a rather unremarkable statement about the tendency of mobs to get ugly over time.

    Are “Pharyngulistas” those who regularly post at Pharyngula? ;)

  92. #92 clinteas
    February 9, 2010

    wallamaarif,

    as I tried to point out above, Greg’s post is in response to particular commenters, and a particular occasion.
    He has chosen not to tell his readers this and instead hide behind a hypothetical scenario, to which you and others have then responded.
    This is not about group behaviour or mobs getting ugly over time, whatever that means.Greg chose to not tell you what it is about.
    So of course can crowds go bad and of course atheists can be irrational, but this is not what this post is about.

  93. #93 CW
    February 9, 2010

    as I tried to point out above, Greg’s post is in response to particular commenters, and a particular occasion.

    Yes, StephanieZ suggested as much with cryptic remarks about the discussion about antisemitism being “kicked off in another post by someone with an Order of the Molly”.

    Anyone care to provide details or a link?

  94. #94 PlaydoPlato
    February 9, 2010

    Greg, I understand what you’re trying to say. The problem is that you’re doing such a poor job saying it that it is doubtful anything productive will come out of this discussion.

    Your incendiary and generalized charge that Pharyngula Blastula readers (as well as the blog host) tolerate antisemitism ensure that. Your poorly constructed, Blastula, has poisoned the well of objective discourse and made it seem as if you have a personal grudge against Pharyngula and it’s host/readers.

    I mean, did you really think that smearing thousands of readers by drawing a comparison between executioners, vigilante killers, and Pharyngula was a good idea? How is this obviously antipharyngulic position any different from the antisemitism about which you are complaining?

    Pity, because I think the topic you’re touching on would make for some very good discussion, but you’ve screwed the pooch bareback-style on this one. You get a “B” for effort, but an “F” for execution. No pun intended.

  95. #95 John Morales
    February 9, 2010

    Anyone care to provide details or a link?

    The someone is, I think, SC, and this is the significant
    link.

    Salient part [GL]:”Much of your commentary together with this statement could lead some people to assume that you have some serious antisemitic issues to deal with. I’m not saying that, but I just want you to know that it could look this way. (I don’t happen to think it is the case.)”

  96. #96 Peter Beattie
    February 9, 2010

    An antisemite would try to discredit such an organization.

    Which does not automatically mean that anybody who discredits such an organisation is even likely to be an antisemite, since such an assessment would depend on the prevalence of antisemitism in the population at large.

    An atheist activist would question any religious source of information.

    And if the source of the information were religious, as opposed to real, publicly veryfiable data, he would be entirely justified to do so.

    And there is an area of overlap between the two that is a little uncomfortable. Isn’t there?

    No, there isn’t. Not if you’re talking about a general atheist activist, who would know that what he is lobbying for is the awareness that if there is no convincing evidence for something then one shouldn’t believe it, especially if it pertains to some kind of ‘religious’ authority. Which also means that this atheist activist would certainly not automatically dismiss any claims made by a Jewish organisation, unless those claims were insufficiently supported. In which case he would, again, be entirely justified.

  97. #97 Peter Beattie
    February 9, 2010

    » CW:
    Anyone care to provide details or a link?

    Or perhaps this one.

  98. #98 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    [67]: SIvi Greg suggested that sometimes, as atheists who generally oppose religious groups, and who are generally distrustful of them, might develop a discourse that could appear to outsiders as anti-Semitic, or anti-Moslem, or what have you, and that in some cases /could/ be exactly that, from an objective standpoint.

    Well put. I would add “could be something that is not that but has that unintentional effect.”

  99. #99 The Swede
    February 9, 2010

    And there is an area of overlap between the two that is a little uncomfortable. Isn’t there?

    No, there isn’t. The propaganda of any organization should automatically be subject to scrutiny and close examination, and there is nothing racist, antisemitic or serial killer about that.

  100. #100 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    CW[70]” Then slap away.

    It looks to me lik you are having a hard time distinguishing between a category that includes Pharyngula, my own blog, other blogs, and specifically Pharyngula. These are not hard concepts.

    I used the phrase Blastula in order to make that point.

    Stephanie seems to be making some specific links between what I’ve said in this post and other comments. Those links are valid but that is only part of my thinking on this. As I noted in a comment above I started thinking about this last summer. Also, comments that I think unintentionally appeared antisemitic (not by content, but by context, really) appeared on another thread on this blog by peole who I don’t believe read Pharyngula or comment there (but I could be wrong about that). In addition, much of the Gee-bashing is has not been done on this blog at all, but in entirely other places.

    SO, CW, you misunderstand, seemingly willfully, or maybe just because you are a moron, and you are sticking to your assertion that I am a dishonest person even though that is untrue and obnoxious. And, you are being annoying in a number of other ways as well. Consider yourself slapped.

  101. #101 CTC
    February 9, 2010

    “What?”

    “Say ‘what’ again. I dare you. I DOUBLE dare you, motherfucker, to say ‘what’ one more goddamn time. Now, what does an atheist firing squad look like?”

    “I–it’s-it’s annoyed.”

    “Go on.”

    “It’s–it’s logical.”

    “Does it enjoy wearing the burqa?”

    “What?”

    “BLAM!”

    Does it ENJOY. WEARING. The BURQA?!?”

    “No!!!”

    /obligatory

  102. #102 Kate
    February 9, 2010

    Greg,

    I have to admit, this is pretty much the reason I don’t follow “Blastual” with the fervor I used to. While I am an atheist, and I do feel very keenly the stigma of being atheist, I also find some of tenor of the comments over there uncomfortable.

    It’s something I’ve been guilty of myself from time to time, and I’d find myself going over there to get my share of (un)righteous indignation.

    For the most part I’m with PZ on a lot of this: I see religion as being a lot like knitting. I understand how some people are comforted with it, for some it gives some sort of meaning and activity to fill up their days, and I’ll go further to say some are foolishly obsessed with it.

    But the thing that bothers me more and more is that we’ve developed an “us” vs “them” mentality when it comes to atheist and religious people. We all know that their beliefs are “silly” and that they can’t back up anything they say (isn’t that what faith is?), and that there are groups of “them” that are extreme and hateful… but that’s true of any population.

    I used to think that people who were more intelligent were those most attracted to atheism. That being educated naturally lead to the rejection of unprovable concepts like “god”. But I’m beginning to wonder if that kind of elitism is simple wishful thinking… not so much because of comments on Pharyngula, but my experience in general. While The Radula was open, and on other atheist sites, I often come upon the other kind of atheist… those who aren’t what I would have considered “true atheists” before: People who were merely angry at religion and whose choice to reject religion came from a purely emotional reaction and not any intellectual realization.

    While I’m not sure your firing squad metaphor was a terribly good one, it certainly did get the ball rolling on conversation here.

  103. #103 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    [80]:It is being Antisemitic to hold Israel to a different standard than others are held to simply because Israel is a Jewish state. It is Antisemitic to hold Israel to a higher standard, it is Antisemitic to hold Israel to a lesser standard.

    Interesting points, but those are the sorts of things that never come to my mind when I think of antisemitism, and I’m pretty sure the reported “increase in antisemitism” (see that post upstream) is not about people in Britain being mean to Israel, but people in Britain being mean to Jews in Britain.

    By the way, it should be obvious that the elected community leader in my story is gay because I get to put in a dig for poor management of real politics that can lead to negative unintended consequences down the road.

  104. #104 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    [84]: but you would be making a serious historical error forgetting how ruthless religious tyranny has been and continues to be toward heresy which includes minority religious beliefs and nonbelief. Jews and atheists are in this together in some major ways.

    I agree with that. But of course, as was said at the beginning of this comment thread, this post (any post) need not be about every topic someone might think it should be about when they stumble on it!

    You know what an antisemitic rant against a Jewish organization would look like, and you know it would be nothing like a rant against religion found on Blastula, especially in terms of the empathy and rationality of the people ranting in each case with the antisemite lacking severely in both areas.

    Aratina, that is NOT the point I am making. I make the comparison again in comment 64 without firing squads for those who don’t like the firing squad metaphor. It is a much closer metaphor so it won’t be as distracting.

  105. #105 PlaydoPlato
    February 9, 2010

    John Morales, thanks for the pertinent link at #94.

    So let me see if I have this straight. There was a conference where some people said/did some things that resulted in some hurt feelings. That incident was reported on a blog(s) and resulted in one of those pedantic and excruciatingly over-analyzed testosterone and ego-stoked discussions, resulting in somebody leveling a charge of (potentially, possibly, maybe could-be-interpreted as) antisemitism. The person labeled as the (potentially, possibly, maybe could-be-interpreted) antisemite is a regular poster at Pharyngula, soooooo naturally, Pharyngula is associated, through Fox News-type insinuation, with racist homicidal vigilante-prone white supremacists.

    Even if the charges against the accused were true, which I don’t believe they are, to then make the leap that antisemitism/racism is condoned at Pharyngula is quite the unsupportable leap.

    Seriously, this sounds like a personal beef between a handful of people who ought to sit down, like rational adults, and hash it out. I haven’t seen this much trivial clic-fueled posturing since middle school.

    Grow up.

  106. #106 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    [88] OK, since we have two, and not one, morons on this thread, I’ll say it one more time, maybe more clearly, certainly more slowly.

    Blastula is a fiction that is meant to encompass a range of internet fora, VERY MUCH INCLUDING PHARYNGULA (thus the funny ha ha reference to Blastula) but NOT TO BE LIMITED TO Phayngula.

    Because some of the stupid-ass things that people who happen to be regular commenters on Pharyngua do are also done by stupid-ass commenters who are not regular commenters on Pharungula.

    Does this look like I’m lying? Morales, get your ass out of here.

  107. #107 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    clinteas: Et tu? See comment above about what Blastula means. That conversation ends here.

    Mentioning specific comments is one way to do it, but if you read my commentary here (and but…

    No it is not.While opinions on blogs vary as in any other group, the general consensus there would be that religion when it isn’t pushed into science curricula and when it isnt given political and financial exempt status, is something people can and should practice in private, like knitting or stamp-collecting.And you know it.

    That may be a fair statement, excpet the part where you snarkily say “and you know it” like a five year old child screaming at his neighbor, a 6 year old child. It is probably something to discuss … Not the part about your immaturity, but rather, how many people, say, at Pharyngula or some other blog that makes up the Blastula Borg, think it would be nice if religion just dried up and blew away. I was virtually quoting PZ when I said that, BTW.

    The rest of your comment borders on … oh, never mind.

  108. #108 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    PlaydoPlato, you are shooting yourself in the foot. You’re following the wrong herd over the cliff. I’ve addressed all of your tiresome concerns above.

  109. #109 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    Kate [102] Well put. I like the knitting metaphor.

    But somebody is going to point out that since most religions people do not, in fact knit, you are totally rong to make this comparison!!!!!11!!

  110. #110 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    Your first example falsely compares murder to chat room comments.

    I do not compare murder and chat room comments. The story is a metaphor. It is not a comparison. It is important to understand that before trying to parse what I am saying. And I was not talking about chat rooms. I was talking about commentary on blog posts.

    86To summarise, this is one of the most slyly offensive trolling posts I’ve seen in a long while. And yet another of the many ways atheists are defamed.

    Red, do you honestly think I’m defaming atheists here?

    Seriously, Jordon[86], what do you mean to say regarding crackergate? Here are my bookend posts on the topic, for the record:

    How can you tell a Christian is lying? His mouth is moving.

    24 hours of silence

    If you look elsewhere on the blog you’ll find quite a bit more.

    I’m pretty sure you don’t know who you are talking to. When it comes to positions on atheism and religion, there is only one difference I can think of between Pharyngula’s PZ Myers and me. On the blogs, we are both staunch defenders of atheism and ridiculers of religion. We can be assholes about it. But in real life, PZ is a teddy bear. In real life, I’m much, much meaner than on the internet. Ask anybody who knows me.

  111. #111 Christian
    February 9, 2010

    First off, a little quote from Cosmic Variance:

    It’s an unfortunate feature of a certain strand of contemporary atheism that it doesn’t treat religious believers as fellow humans with whom we disagree, but as tards who function primarily as objects of ridicule. […] It seems to me that the default stance of a proud secular humanist should be to respect other people as human beings, even if we definitively and unambiguously think they are wrong. [..] I don’t see the point in going out of one’s way to insult and offend wide swaths of people for no particular purpose, and to do so joyfully and with laughter in your heart.

    That being said, I don’t find it particularly surprising that some anti-religious sentiments from atheists (especially some of the rants) may be perceived by the outside world as being anti-semitic, anti-muslim etc. – even if they are not meant to be. The notion of atheists being generally more intelligent than religious people as well as the feeling, that atheists are being persecuted by a perceived religious majority, may well have contributed to an “it’s us versus them”-mindset which, in turn, may lead to a situation in which neutral outsiders may consider at least some statements coming out of the atheist community as being “anti-Xist”.

    The problem therefore seems to be one of public perception – a “PR problem” so to say. How do atheists want to present their case in society? By being openly critical of religious views and practices but still engaging in respectful discussions – or by bashing everyone who subscribes to any religious viewpoint with the risk of being perceived “anti-Xist”?

  112. #112 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    Dwayne [74]: My comment was not in response to your comment.

  113. #113 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    Is it merely a question of when rhetoric becomes unethical, or are you suggesting something more sinister, like in your examples?

    My examples were meant to range across the spectrum.

  114. #114 Ray Ingles
    February 9, 2010

    “There is no cause so noble it will not attract some kooks.” – Larry Niven

  115. #115 aratina cage
    February 9, 2010

    I make the comparison again in comment 64 without firing squads for those who don’t like the firing squad metaphor.

    I think it should be pointed out that the White male gaytheist in #64-2 could have introduced the same-sex marriage ban himself to curry favor with other social conservatives (if we only knew more about him). And the recent banning of same-sex marriage in California did bring up those exact feelings in #64-2 between minorities divided in complex ways by race, religion, and sexual orientation (except IIRC the traditional White supremacists were ironically allied with some of the more socially conservative non-Whites against gays in that debacle).

    The biggest problem with #64 is that you are changing the terms from Blastula, one of many thousands of blogs on the Web where readers and commenters gather for online interaction and can leave at any time with little consequence other than a change in emotional state or an increase in knowledge (unless a real-life person finds out you are an atheist and takes action against you for it), to a real-life community with face-to-face interaction where what you do and say will directly impact your life and the lives of others as well as your emotional state and knowledge not to mention theirs. In other words, you have moved from a mostly intellectual realm to a mostly sociopolitical realm.

    If you kept #64 in the intellectual realm of the blogosphere, Part-1 would elicit nothing more than a “meh” response: so a bunch of people left the blog who can’t let go of their beliefs—so what?; Part-2 would certainly reflect badly on the blog commenters following the White male gaytheist’s unsympathetic reaction but it would reflect even worse on the idiots who introduced and then passed a same-sex marriage ban over a fucking blog thread.

  116. #116 Mike Haubrich
    February 9, 2010

    The problem therefore seems to be one of public perception – a “PR problem” so to say. How do atheists want to present their case in society? By being openly critical of religious views and practices but still engaging in respectful discussions – or by bashing everyone who subscribes to any religious viewpoint with the risk of being perceived “anti-Xist”?

    Christian, I am curious about why this needs to be an either/or proposition. I am also curious about why Atheists have the onus to “make their case” when more largely we would rather just be left alone to be non-religious and not have to talk about it so fucking much. But if we retreat into a rhetorical closet and not bash those religious people whose mission is to take what should be a private matter and continue to try to enforce the social institution of the authority of religion in all matters public and private, where do we get? Religion gets a free pass all the time, and while the religious get to use passive-aggression in order to maintain the status quo, any sort of backlash against this hegemony is treated with “tut-tutting” and concern about how angry atheists are.

    The religion bashing gets the conversation out of the polite little intellectual leather-bound chairs where theologians and atheist philosophers hash it out between sips of cordial, and it gets it out into the street and in public conversation to that the non-religious know that they are not alone, and so that some of the religious observers do a little self-examination of how they present their public persona.

    I get a lot of innocuous religion that offends me in my daily life. Someone tells me that they said a prayer for my ailing father and then won at Bingo because God approved of her prayer. Someone else tells me that they said a Lord’s Prayer for him, and I am to think that it is nice. I don’t talk about religion with my Dad anymore, but when I visited him every person who came to see him “comforted” him with their own interpretation of God’s will, and dared me to contradict them in front of my Dad.

    These continued subtleties that I am supposed to accept as “nice” concern for my Dad grate on me, and yes I am angry about it because they are not unusual for any atheist. It happens all the fucking time for us, and we aren’t supposed to rock any boats in polite society.

    IF the religious want to get some respect from atheists, they need to stop recoiling from anyone suggesting that they, perhaps are also offensive when they subtly hint that we are just too damned analytical for our own good and incapable of taking leaps of faith in favor of belief and so we “just don’t know the wonder of God’s love, but we will someday if we unharden our hearts.”

    Someday, they will start listening to atheists and think to themselves “Do we really come off that way? Perhaps instead of demanding that atheists change their approach we should try to figure out how to approach them in order to maintain a respectful conversation without ourselves being condescending and passive aggressive and making atheists meet us on our terms.”

    Religion has it’s own “White Man’s Burden” approach to everything and if we don’t accept it we are ungrateful, and accommodationists are Uncle Toms if you ask me.

  117. #117 clinteas
    February 9, 2010

    Greg @ 107,

    That may be a fair statement, excpet the part where you snarkily say “and you know it” like a five year old child screaming at his neighbor, a 6 year old child

    I was pointing out that you were fully aware, as a regular skimmer if not reader of that blog, what the general consensus among Pharyngula commenters, and what PZ’s position regarding religion’s presence in society is when you posted your misleading statement. And if you were “virtually quoting PZ”, why not link to him actually saying this somewhere? Would make it more credible.

  118. #118 Paul S.
    February 9, 2010

    Interesting post and discussion – the whole “firing squad” metaphor might be overdone, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t raise an important question.

    I tend to think that attracting people who are paranoid and bigoted is a sort of “occupational hazard” whenever you take a strong stand on anything. Like it or not, no matter what position you take, there are usually going to be people who happen to be on “your side” of a particular issue, but for completely different reasons – reasons that you don’t agree with and would find appalling. The only way to avoid this would be to avoid taking a strong position on anything.

    There’s not much anyone can do about this, but people can try to make it clear that their position is not based on irrational bigotry by laying out the reasoning behind the position that they take on an issue, and by trying to keep a debate focused on ideas rather than the people who hold them. These are things that people should do anyway in any reasonable debate, but often neglect to do. People should also make it clear that they disavow the bigots who happen to be on the same side of an issue. In an ideal world, this wouldn’t be necessary, but this is a far from ideal world and people who don’t specifically disavow the bigots on “their side” of an issue do tend to get hit with guilt by association.

  119. #119 PlaydoPlato
    February 9, 2010

    Greg:

    PlaydoPlato, you are shooting yourself in the foot. You’re following the wrong herd over the cliff. I’ve addressed all of your tiresome concerns above.

    Greg, thanks for reminding me that this tempest in a teacup isn’t worth my time.

    Carry on.

  120. #120 Christian
    February 9, 2010

    @Mike

    Christian, I am curious about why this needs to be an either/or proposition.

    Isn’t it? How can you possibly have respectful debate and omnidirectional bashing at the same time?

    …when more largely we would rather just be left alone to be non-religious and not have to talk about it so fucking much.

    If I read Greg’s post correctly, he wasn’t talking about the (majority – at least in my experience) of atheists, that just want to be left alone, but about those who want to confront religious beliefs to the point where they “dry up and blow away”. I think one has to differentiate between those – just as one should e.g. differentiate between people who live their religious beliefs in private and those who feel that they have to impose them on everybody else.

    The religion bashing gets the conversation out of the polite little intellectual leather-bound chairs where theologians and atheist philosophers hash it out between sips of cordial, and it gets it out into the street and in public conversation to that the non-religious know that they are not alone, and so that some of the religious observers do a little self-examination of how they present their public persona.

    Doubt that. Sure, religion-bashing gets the conversation out of the polite realm of philosophy and into the streets – but I don’t think many religious people are swayed to go into self-examination when confronted with blatant bashing. The most likely response to bashing is (a) to circle the wagons and (b) to start perceiving the “other side” as idiots. One of the least likely responses is self-reflection.

    Someone else tells me that they said a Lord’s Prayer for him, and I am to think that it is nice.

    People who do so probably just mean well. The only possible solution to that “problem” would be if religious people were forced to completely shut up about their beliefs in any public setting (or even in a private setting with any atheists around). And since that would hardly be compatible with the right to free speech, I don’t see any other solution then tolerating such comments the same way any religious person has to tolerate an atheist remark. As for the sensitivity, some people are lacking – I highly doubt that bashing is the right way to get people to think about how they can be more sensitive towards the feelings of others.

    Perhaps instead of demanding that atheists change their approach we should try to figure out how to approach them in order to maintain a respectful conversation without ourselves being condescending and passive aggressive and making atheists meet us on our terms.

    Again, I highly doubt that this can be achieved by bashing religion and wishing for it to “dry up and blow away”…

  121. #121 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    aratina: Good point about the shift in framework from in to outside of the blogosphere.

    Clinteas, do I really need to prove my credibility to you? …

    And if you were “virtually quoting PZ”, why not link to him actually saying this somewhere? Would make it more credible.

    It turns out that not everything happens in the blogosphere. PZ said those words, followed by the word “but” and then some other words, out loud in person in his opening remarks at the Framing Slapdown at the Bell Musuem a couple of years back.

  122. #122 Coriolis
    February 9, 2010

    It boggles my mind how so much stuff can be written about something so simple. I could have spent that time reading something interesting or perhaps even working. You could have just said:

    Anytime you have a movement of any type, some people take things too far.

    This is uncontroversially true and applies to everything – religion, atheism, nationalism, environmentalism, gun-rights, animal rights activism, libertarianism, anti-war movements, pacifism etc. etc.

    The interesting question to ask (and try to answer) is whether the movement can be thought of as being “taken over” by its more violent/radical segments to the point where the original point of the movement is effectively lost. Or whether certain leaders of the movement are on balance pushing it too far or not.

  123. #123 Jordan Licht
    February 9, 2010

    @Greg 110:

    Seriously, Jordon[86], what do you mean to say regarding crackergate? Here are my bookend posts on the topic, for the record:

    The point I was trying to make was that your current post, and the stuff leading up to it, strongly reminded me of some of the responses to Crackergate, and how they (mis)represented PZ*. I wasn’t trying to say anything about your views on Crackergate.

    You’re probably right though in that my comment was likely unfair. It’s a bit like Godwin’s Law, except with something else than Nazis.

    *To be clearer here, your comparing of a few specific Pharyngula commenters to a firing squad was what sparked it in my mind, the absurd hyperbole and apparently purposeful attempt to paint them in as bad a light as possible while ignoring the context of what caused their “antisemitism”.

  124. #124 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    I really wasn’t trying to paint any commenters a Pharyngula in as bad a light as possible. That simply was not my intent. There is not a discussion at Pharyngula about how thin skinned or thick skinned people on that blog are or are not, and a parallel discussion on how bad I am at making myself clear.

    Perhaps there is something to be learned by examining this combination of discussions. Several Pharyngula commenters have made it clear that if you do not argue like they want you to argue, and say things like they want yo to say them, and structure your points as they would structure theirs, then they will respond with what looks a great deal to me like willful misunderstanding (or maybe just regular misunderstanding).

    That is what we expect from what I’m calling the “Firing squad” effect. (related to the “herd mentality” being discussed as well?) It is exactly what we would expect.

    Now, for those following this thread, please carry on. I have a full load of teaching today, followed by the famous food event at the Bell Museum tonight, and as of yesterday, my household is now, sadly, in a death watch which is somewhat energy consuming as you may well imagine. I hope to come back and comment now and then but I apologize in advance if I don’t get to everything everyone said.

  125. #125 clinteas
    February 9, 2010

    do I really need to prove my credibility to you?

    No of course not, and I’m sure you couldn’t care less anyway. But since this is not about credibility in the first place, but your misrepresentation and hyping up of an incident that anyone even remotely familiar wih what actually went on can see as what it is, and that is you calling people critisizing Gee pissing on the Pharyngula rug and calling commenters there antisemites for disagreeing with him a firing squad and killers.Bad analogy, bad post.My tip would be to let it rest and write some emails to the folks involved, and sort it out with them. This whole hypothetical thing just drove against a brick wall.

  126. #126 frog
    February 9, 2010

    I think a more realistic and concrete example would be better. You make so much effort to put together an untethered example and metaphor that I find it difficult to extract your actual meaning.

    It’s long and rambling — but a short and succinct example of a questionable interchange would be much more useful.

  127. #127 JerryM
    February 9, 2010

    as he hasn’t expanded on it yet, I’ll take a stab at this statement:

    “I don’t know; I see a modest degree of “Suggesting Jews might be fallible is how Hitler got started!” sentiment, particularly when Israel comes up.

    This is one of the points illustrated in that Defamation film. Another point raised here about increase in antisemitism is also addressed.

    It seems by your reasoning that any critical post about any religion is anti-Xism. Not because it is, but because it is perceived.
    And so we come back to the point made by Defamation. When every criticism of Israel is perceived (particularly by American Jewish organizations such as the ADL) as antisemitism, you effectively can’t criticize Israel for anything it does. And you make it very difficult for anyone else to support you when ‘real’ antisemitism takes place.

    And it leads to the Israeli schoolgirls in Poland that accuse a couple of old guys of saying something very rude with them clearly not understanding at all what was being said, but reinforcing their own anti-polism.

    If all this is backdoor antisemitism, I give up.
    I’ve always ‘attacked’ people for what they say and do, not for what they are. And if those people then perceive that criticism as directed to what they are, they have an identity crisis.

  128. #128 Ewan R
    February 9, 2010

    I find it somewhat hard to imagine that one could be an ‘evangelical’ type atheist without there at least being some truth behind accusations of being antisemitic (or antimuslim, antichristian, antibuddhist etc etc) – it’s just the degree of the anti which is at question surely – I’d imagine that most atheists hold the view that the world would be better off without religion (broad generalization supported by a sample size of 1) and as such can easily be categorized as anti-whatever and written off as bigoted in the climate of not offending anyone, particularly if it is about religion.

    However would it not be better, if in all public forums, in all instances where beliefs which have absolutely no grounding in the real world, people were to stand up and say “no, this has absolutely no place here” (such as the example of the town hall meeting) – religious leaders should be given exactly the extra respect they deserve outside of religious groupings. Zero. If this was consistently applied then perhaps the message would start to sink in. 6 years in seminary, or in the madrasa, or reading and believing Harry Potter as absoltue truth, should categorically not qualify you to speak as an authority about anything other than your chosen subject, should not give you any special privilege above and beyond what any other non-qualified member of society holds.

    Equally calling out people for grouping under the banner of a relgion in this situation could lead, if applied universally, to a much needed breaking down of false communities within communities – if the ‘muslim’ community (in your example – insert any religious community you like to remove any explicit anti-Islam feel from this bit)integrated more, rather than identifying itself as a seperate entity, then surely over time this would (or should) lead to a complete disappearance of the issue, rather than to a fundamental divide based on incoherent ideologies which belong to a dead age.

    It may be, that on an individual case by case basis, pandering to beliefs etc makes things easier in the short term (as I believe it would in either of your two town hall meeting scenarios) in the mid to long term this sort of accomodationist stance simply acts to strengthen the idea that religious beliefs are somehow untouchable and should remain so – rather than moving society forward into a better place where the ridiculous can be called ridiculous without fear of reprisal or some form of community level backlash.

  129. #129 Gyeong Hwa Pak
    February 9, 2010

    Perhaps there is something to be learned by examining this combination of discussions. Several Pharyngula commenters have made it clear that if you do not argue like they want you to argue, and say things like they want yo to say them, and structure your points as they would structure theirs, then they will respond with what looks a great deal to me like willful misunderstanding (or maybe just regular misunderstanding).

    So your whole grievances against the few* commentators at Pharyngula is that we fail to adapt our communication methods?

    *I doubt it’s many of the poster there. Furthermore, you still need to tell me who said what, otherwise I’m going to have a hard time giving you credibility.

  130. #130 Mu
    February 9, 2010

    Having grown up in Germany, I noticed a lot of the comments on Blastula that would be impossible there due to sensitivities (both cultural and actual laws) in regards to Antisemitism. PZ would have probably lost his tenure there by now, and a lot of commenters there could never run for office if their online personality could be traced to their identity.
    Of course, in the US none of that matters, and it’s only obvious to me due to 30 years of indoctrination (a statement that in itself would be political suicide in Germany).
    In the overall context so, the “no compromise, no prisoners” attitude on Blastula comes always to a point not against religious fundamentalists but against “accomodatists” (if that’s a word). The most brutal bashings SP puts out are not against the religious lunatics (they are fish in the barrel) but whenever someone tries to build a bridge between the factions. To get back to the firing squad theme, most Blastulites would probably be safe from hidden pleasure at shooting Jews, Muslims, Christians or Hindus. But put Mooney or Fodor in front of them and see an awful lot of smiles.

  131. #131 kinem
    February 9, 2010

    Greg, your political correctness is ridiculous. Groups don’t get to be above criticism by playing the victim card. Atheists need to attack all religions because they are wrong – no matter who else is attacking them and for what reasons. We also need to attack other wrong ideas, of course.

    Obama is articulate. Do you think it makes me even slightly racist to say that? If so you are an idiot – and not slightly.

    You know who else is articulate? PZ Myers. I say Go Obama and Go PZ, we need all of your skills!

  132. #132 Stephanie Z
    February 9, 2010

    Several Pharyngula commenters have made it clear that if you do not argue like they want you to argue[…]

    Furthermore, you still need to tell me who said what[…]

    [headdesk]

  133. #133 JerryM
    February 9, 2010

    Is it my problem your perception of reality bears no resemblance to the real world?

  134. #134 Paul
    February 9, 2010

    Greg,

    129 is a great example of why Pharyngulans are sensitive when used in metaphors involving guns, gangs, or anything of the sort. There are plenty of people who regularly abuse such metaphors, calling atheists militant or uncompromising simply for making a case on certain issues. You’re aware of this. Why the need to troll in the same manner? If you had started with the council metaphor, you could have made your point without going out of your way to compare internet arguments to firing squads, and the discussion would not be overshadowed by the issue of violence.

  135. #135 PZ Myers
    February 9, 2010

    Obliquity is not your friend. It stirs up a lot of comments, but most of it is wondering what the heck your point is. This part is true, though:

    Several Pharyngula commenters have made it clear that if you do not argue like they want you to argue, and say things like they want yo to say them, and structure your points as they would structure theirs, then they will respond with what looks a great deal to me like willful misunderstanding (or maybe just regular misunderstanding).

    Of course, the way we want you to argue is with clarity. I think that’s a fairly unambiguous virtue, and I join them in being baffled why anyone would try to explore the idea of presenting ideas in the most confusing way possible.

  136. #136 Sivi
    February 9, 2010

    [Obama is articulate. Do you think it makes me even slightly racist to say that? If so you are an idiot – and not slightly.]

    …You… really? You don’t get that one?

    There’s really a lot of people missing the point here.

    There’s a lot of lines in the OP that really should defuse a lot of the criticisms here, but at least re-read this part:

    “But are there cases where people of a given religion/ethic group, like Muslims or Jews, are denigrated in a way that amounts to inappropriate prejudiced action or verbiage, where atheists should actually stand with them rather than against them? Is the ultimate atheist activism … anti religious activism … a genocide of all members of some religion? No, of course not. But are there shades of prejudice that are inappropriate that reside hidden in the atheist rhetoric that only appear when that rhetoric is taken out of context but not adjusted for that new context?”

    This is really mild, and I think hard to argue with. Next people are going to say that the suggestion that remarks that could be conceived as anti-Semitic occur is just PC muzzling of atheists.

    *looks up* Oh, wait. #130.

    Sheesh. The original metaphor was a bit oblique, sure, but most people (with a few exceptions above, such as PZ himself) don’t seem to be attacking that, and instead seem to be reading in all sorts of things that Greg didn’t actually say.

  137. #137 clamboy
    February 9, 2010

    I’m a pipsqueak in the peanut gallery, but I just have to pipe up for a picosecond. I read the original post, then again, and still I was left scratching my head. The comments made nothing clear, until Dr. Laden’s two “conversations.” *That* provided a context from which to start thinking about…whatever the question is, and I only wish Dr. Laden had made that part of his original post.

    Dr. Laden, I must echo Dr. Myers’ words in 134. I think you are raising an excellent point regarding language use in context, and how words can appear to be *implying* a threat of violence or call for discrimination, or appear to even *be* an actual threat or call for discrimination. But, not only did you not eschew obfuscation, you embraced it a white-hot passion that was white hot, and this has led only to useless recriminations and counter-recriminations about….something! Something really important!

  138. #138 Matt Penfold
    February 9, 2010

    Sheesh. The original metaphor was a bit oblique, sure, but most people (with a few exceptions above, such as PZ himself) don’t seem to be attacking that, and instead seem to be reading in all sorts of things that Greg didn’t actually say.

    If Greg is too lazy to make himself clear then he only has himself to blame if people misunderstand him.

    It takes effort to write in a way that is unambiguous and clear and sadly Greg of late seems to either have lost the ability or lacks the time. The latter would be understandable, seeing as he and his wife have a new baby but if time is the issue, simple silence might be a better option.

  139. #139 DuWayne
    February 9, 2010

    I will admit that I gave up on the comments a little more than a quarter of the way through, as it seemed that the vast majority were talking about how horribly dishonest Greg is. That and a lot of telling him how to blog. The funny thing being – the claim that he is lacking clarity is something that often frustrates me, but which is not lacking in this post.[/metacomment]

    (Ironically, A Perfect Circle’s Judith is playing on my mp3 player)

    This is an interesting topic to me – in part because I think it really hits on a U.S. American cultural attribute that irritates the shit out of me. I don’t think it is coincidence that I suspect that this tendency largely stems from religious identity. U.S. Americans in general seem to be very keen attributing ideas and labels to be the sum the person who has/wears them. Thus when someone is labeled “Christian” they are their faith and therefore a bad person. Or someone labeled “Jewish” is obviously hell bent on bombing the shit out of the Palestinians. More importantly “those people” have no value, no real identity outside the context of that label

    My current top post is contextually related to this concept – though as it is a discussion board posting for class, I didn’t actually drive home the bottom line. Ensuing discussion is where I intend to break it out. When one is communicating across cultures – or in this case subcultures, it is important to recognize how you got to where you are – the history. Not just the history of your immediate family, i.e. parents and grandparents, but what was passed to them by their parents and ultimately the history of your larger cultural context. Then it can be important to explore the history of the relevant cultural identity – in this case, atheist.

    Even more important than that exploration, is consideration of the progression that led to the current expression of “Those People.” They have the identity they do for a reason, a progression through the generations.

    It is also critically important to separate people from specific ideas they hold, specific labels they wear and understand that this is most certainly not the whole person. While it may turn out that the person is an absolutely egregious fucking piece of shit, it is far more likely they are not. Even when there are fundamental differences in world views, these are usually mechanical differences – the goals are ultimately the same.

    So where do theists fall into perpetuating this tendency? Not all theists do actually. But there are some theists who tend to create their entire identity around their faith. If you ask beyond what their name is, who they are – they are their brand of theism. The thing is, I suspect that the majority of theists are not like this. That is certainly the case here in the U.S.

    Finally we come to Greg’s use of execution as metaphor. I think that in discussions such as this, it is always an apt metaphor. It is all too easy to forget that it wasn’t all that long ago that U.S. American culture was pretty sympathetic to killing “Those People.” Some U.S. Americans still are. And in some regions of the world, it is still socially acceptable. In others, it may be engaged with trepidation and regret, but it happens.

    The extreme of dealing with “Those People” is violence and even killing. Yes, there seems to be quite a difference between trash talking and physical violence not to mention the difference between that an murder, or murder after torture. But how great is that difference really? Not in terms of actions or even intent, but in terms of how we wrap our brain around it – how we think and feel about “Those People.”

    Fear of “Those People” has been a part of every single one of us and our ancestors stretching back to the point we were just tiny rodents trying not to be eaten by the reptilian masters of the planet. It isn’t that many thousands of years since violence was the rule, lest “Those People” kill us first. There are very good reasons why we classify “Those People” and why we think so violently about them.

    That does not make it right. It just means we have something else to get the fuck over. People are people, not “Those People.” Personally, I am sick and fucking tired of being dehumanized. I am sure most of use are. So it behooves all of us to be paying very close attention to what we say and more importantly, what we are thinking and feeling. Because regardless of what we say, it is much harder to change our thought processes and the bullshit feeding our emotions.

    And to tie in the metacomments – That Greg Laden seems to be pissing off a lot of people. Of course motherfucking people like that are good for nothing but pissing people off…Right?

  140. #140 Sivi
    February 9, 2010

    DuWayne @ 138:

    I am interested in your views and wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

    :P

  141. #141 KristinMH
    February 9, 2010

    This thread is the platonic essence of Scienceblogs, containing not only Greg being wordy in a sort of free-associating way, PZ and Pharyngula as a symbol/stand-in for human frailty, oblique attack, and lots of weird references to old threads/grievances I didn’t read and don’t understand what happened on, but somehow or other daedelus2u even brings in the NO angle.

    I feel stupider for having read it, and for the record I agree with Coriolis at 122.

  142. #142 DuWayne
    February 9, 2010

    I MISSED THE NITROUS OXIDE??!?!!?!? Fuck.

    But I don’t think it would have made it worth reading through all of those comments about that fucking Greg Laden dude.

  143. #143 Gyeong Hwa Pak
    February 9, 2010

    Stephanie Z:

    [headdesk]

    Facepalm and eyeroll

    (Because he still hasn’t directed me to who said what.)

  144. #144 Peter Beattie
    February 9, 2010

    » PZ Myers:
    Of course, the way we want you to argue is with clarity. I think that’s a fairly unambiguous virtue, and I join them in being baffled why anyone would try to explore the idea of presenting ideas in the most confusing way possible.

    Can I vote for you somewhere? :)

  145. #145 Paul S.
    February 9, 2010

    For goodness sakes, the metaphor in the original post wasn’t THAT obscure. It was pretty obvious to me that he was talking about how a bigot could more or less “hide out” among people who were on the same side of certain issues as him/her, and the problems that this raises.

    Sheesh.

  146. #146 Stephanie Z
    February 9, 2010

    Gyeong, the [headdesk] was because you were presenting a perfect example of the very thing you were saying Greg needed to present you examples of. If you want more examples, follow the link John Morales gave and look for him telling me that if I didn’t respond in a particular way to his assertions, I’d lost.

    Here’s where we get to the part where having people appointed to carry out punishment is problematic in other ways. You (and I mean you and a bunch of other people in this thread) aren’t content to say, “I don’t see what you’re saying,” or, “I don’t see evidence of that.” You don’t ask for anything. You demand, under whatever authority you think you have, and you condemn. The enforcers become lawmakers and judges.

    And your demands? Oppositional much? This post is providing a starting point for thinking about something that isn’t black and white, that by definition lives in connotation and requires encompassing multiple points of view, that is about groping for fuzzy borders and inherent contradictions. It’s not about calling what anyone is doing wrong. It’s about getting people to think about all the implications of what they’re doing. It’s not a debate, and trying to frame it as one won’t get you anywhere.

  147. #147 daedalus2u
    February 9, 2010

    DuWayne, nitric oxide, (NO), not nitrous oxide (N2O), very different and not to be confused.

    If I may repeat the quote from Nietzsche: “He who fights with monsters should look to it that he himself does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss the abyss also gazes into you.”

    I think the issue that Greg is raising and the question that Greg is trying to ask in his firing squad metaphor is tied up in the Nietzsche quote.

    When (if ever) does a firing squad participant’s personal enjoyment at executing specific individuals turn that participant into the kind of monster he/she is charged with executing?

    In the context of the metaphor, limiting the executions to criminals who have been “legally” convicted and sentenced to death is not a sufficient rational. Many of those executed by the Nazis were “legally” convicted and “legally” sentenced to death. I presume there were Germans who followed orders and who thought those orders were “legal.” Are they less monstrous than the Germans who didn’t care if the orders were legal, they just liked to kill? Are those Germans less monstrous then those who believed the orders were illegal but killed so as to save themselves even though they didn’t like it? Are those Germans less monstrous than those who believed the orders were illegal but so enjoyed killing that they did it and volunteered for more?

    In the examples I just used, the actions are all the same, the execution of prisoners who have been convicted. Is the mental state of the person doing the execution a factor in deciding if the act is moral or immoral? If it is, does how the mental state was arrived at matter? If the decision to participate in the execution was arrived at via a complete understanding of the law, of the evidence, that the proceedings were known to be fair, and the person was as truly guilty as it is possible for a skeptic to understand the term, is that different than the person who simply takes on faith that the Judge who sentenced the prisoner to death was as completely correct as the skeptic. The two actions are the same, executing a convicted prisoner. One believes the person to be guilty based on a complete understanding of the facts in the case, one believes equally strongly based on the personal assurances of the Judge.

    Now consider a third person who believes equally strongly in the person’s guilt and the legality of the death sentence but arrived at that belief by consulting an Ouija board? What about someone who believed after being told by someone who consulted an Ouija board? What about someone who just consulted their “gut”? What about a group of 12 people who simply consulted their “gut”? What if that group of 12 people was a jury?

  148. #148 AJKamper
    February 9, 2010

    I was going to make a very clever post about ingroup-outgroup belief among just about any group, but then DuWayne made an excellent point and it didn’t seem worthwhile anymore.

    It’s pretty clear to me that any group is capable of getting into this “us-them” mentality. I’d say the only reason atheists in this culture might be less likely to do so is because there is so much religion infusing America that choosing atheism ends up being oppositional to authority, tied to modern progressivism, and therefore a little less absolutist. But we all know the atrocities that many, many atheists have committed in the name of their own particular “-ism.” Being blindly ideological isn’t tied to theists.

    I also found (in my _one_ posting thread there, so grain of salt recommended) that posting as an “accommodationist” on Pharyngula opened me up to all kinds of vitriol, as one of the commenters here noted. Again, people who are atheists like _me_ are good, and like _you_ are bad, and your ideas are necessarily stupid. (Mind you, there were also lots of good and intelligent comments too, so I’m not speaking in absolutes.)

    That said, Greg, even though I agreed with your post overall, the “ha-ha” poke at Pharyngula was obviously distracting, pointed fingers too directly, and was a bad idea, as I hope you can see in retrospect!

  149. #149 Dave Dell
    February 9, 2010

    “I’ve got a little list, they’ll never be missed.” to quote somebody (Mikado adapted) but probably Heinlein.

    A lot of them on the metaphorical list are on it because they are a danger to others because of their fanatical religious beliefs. Religious beliefs that reflect their own prejudices, usually. None of them are on the metaphorical list for not belieiving in a god or gods.

  150. #150 abb3w
    February 9, 2010

    An antisemite would try to discredit such an organization. An atheist activist would question any religious source of information.

    1) There is a difference between “discredit” and “question”.
    2) “Jewish” refers both to a set of religious beliefs, and an cultural group. A group may qualify culturally Jewish without being religiously Jewish.

    The latter is possibly related to the difference between science as “philosophical discipline” and “anthropological practice” that I’ve argued about at various points elsewhere.

  151. #151 kinem
    February 9, 2010

    @135: “[Obama is articulate. Do you think it makes me even slightly racist to say that? If so you are an idiot – and not slightly.]

    …You… really? You don’t get that one?”

    Obama is one of the most articulate men in history, to his credit. It is never OK to criticize someone for calling him articulate in any context. To do so is pure stupidity, PC indoctrination run amok.

    “”But are there cases where people of a given religion/ethic group … are denigrated in a way that amounts to inappropriate prejudiced action or verbiage, where atheists should actually stand with them rather than against them?””

    Of course groups are sometimes denigrated inappropriately, and we should stand with them in fighting that when it happens. But we should never stop criticizing what needs criticizing, even if they consider it inappropriate because they don’t like to hear the truth, and even if those are some of the same criticisms that are given by those who also give inappropriate ones.

    If Abe is a thief, and Bob calls him a murderer and a thief, then we should defend Abe from Bob’s charge of murder … while locking Abe in jail for his crimes. If this makes Abe accuse us of supporting Bob, then Abe is also an idiot or a liar.

    “”But are there shades of prejudice that are inappropriate that reside hidden in the atheist rhetoric that only appear when that rhetoric is taken out of context but not adjusted for that new context?”

    This is really mild, and I think hard to argue with.”

    Hard eh? Guess I’ll take a crack at it.

    “hidden in the atheist rhetoric”? Not just in particular posts, but in general? OK then. I guess that was just an example of Greg’s inarticulateness so let’s move on.

    Suppose I say that “Jews believe in an evil god.” Now, in the atheist context, that is fairly unobjectionable – all you have to do is read the Bible and you’ll find plenty examples of god killing people unjustly and so on.

    OK, so now my remark is taken out of context. Some Xtian idiot quotes me in front of a bunch of Xtians. Is it fair to say that there was ever a “shade of prejudice” that was “inappropriate” in my remark, which has now been exposed?

    Hell no. My remark was completely appropriate and I stand by it. The fact that it was taken out of context was inappropriate, not the remark. What’s more, I am thoroughly familiar with the evidence – I have read the Bible and know what Jews believe – so the remark definately reflected post-judice and not prejudice. To say that it contained even the tiniest hint of prejudice is utterly wrong and a slander on me.

    (Of course, Xtians and muslims believe in an evil god too.)

    “Next people are going to say that the suggestion that remarks that could be conceived as anti-Semitic occur is just PC muzzling of atheists.

    *looks up* Oh, wait. #130.”

    I never said that anti-Semetic remarks don’t occur (but then facts don’t matter to #135 I guess). I will now say though that if the remarks are in fact not anti-Semetic, then it would be inappropriate to accuse them of being so.

  152. #152 Tulse
    February 9, 2010

    he was talking about how a bigot could more or less “hide out” among people who were on the same side of certain issues as him/her, and the problems that this raises.

    Was there a good reason not to say that directly, in the 33 words you did, rather than the 1700 Greg did, couching them in rather strange metaphors and strained references to fictional blogs? My confusion has nothing to do with the point being made, but rather why it was made so obliquely and veiled.

  153. #153 DuWayne
    February 9, 2010

    I know Daedalus, I just prefer nitrous oxide…

  154. #154 Stephanie Z
    February 9, 2010

    Tulse, in part because there’s more to Greg’s questions than that. There’s also the question of whether being on that firing squad has the potential to change a person.

  155. #155 beebeeo
    February 9, 2010

    Personally I find it extremely difficult both to reach and to argue most positions about Israel. Criticizing Hamas or terror groups without pointing out the role that Israeli policy has played in radicalizing Palestinians seems to be just as wrong as criticizing the antipalestinian attitude of many Isrelis without taking into account the frequent terror attacks Israelis had to live with over the past years. I would not accuse someone of being anisemitic just for criticising Israel, nor would I suspect antisemitism.

    What I find more interesting to know is whether organizations like the English Defence League (anti-jihad) and Geert Wilders’s Party for Freedom in the Netherlands are more motivated by xenophobia or more by secularism. While I am would not feel bad about being associated with reading Pharyngula or Greg Laden’s blog, I am not sure about the previous two. I think Greg is right in pointing out some statements, may seem racist to others and that that should better be avoided.

    The English Defence league might be a secular motivated group (theoretically, I really don’t know) but that is not how they are portrayed in the media. I haven’t visited one of their online forums or blogs but if I did any sign of xenophobia might repel me from the group.

  156. #156 Paul W.
    February 9, 2010

    For people who have not been following at home and carefully keeping score, this thread is a follow-on to a thread about internet civility and what constitutes “pissing on the rug” in blog comments.

    That discussion was partly about a particular person, Henry Gee, who previously came over to Pharyngula and said that some of us presumably think he and his ilk are untermenschen, the kind of people who’d approve of turning Jewish babies like his relatives into lampshades and soap, etc. He also made some very broad-brush statements like “The Left hates Jews.”

    Many of us took exception to that, being mostly liberals and almost all antiracist and staunch civil libertarians. Anti-semitism is not acceptable at Pharyngula.

    We were baffled—and still are—how some people could fail to acknowledge that calling us Nazis or Nazi-like is the worst form of poisoning the well. If anything counts as pissing on the rug at Pharyngula, that would have to be it. We were being compared, in apparent seriousness, to genocidal murderers. (And clearly not just in the sense that “it can happen anywhere.”)

    In that thread, Greg said

    I don’t buy the whole “He called me a Nazi! Bwaaaa!” argument. That is again a mere loosening of the fetters. It is one small step further to call a Jew uppity.

    Apparently, objecting to being called genocidal murders is just being whiny, if it comes from Pharyngula regulars, even when the subject is civility in blog comments. It’s not even uncivil to call us the worst thing that you or we can think of, in apparent seriousness, and no matter how inappropriate the slander is against the particular people you’re insulting.

    Not only that, but if we object to being insulting in this astonishing way, we are a small step from calling a Jew uppity.

    Wow. I didn’t know that. I didn’t know that defending yourself against a charge of being genocidally psychopathic or sociopathic was a small step from calling your accuser “uppity.” The thought would never have entered my head.

    (Greg, if I call you a raving murderous psycho, in apparent seriousness, and you disagree emphatically, are you a small step from calling me uppity? Is that really a perspicuous characterization of the exchange?)

    Given that inflammatory and inflamed background, Greg chose to make an analogy between Pharyngula regulars and a firing squad whose members may take pleasure in murdering innocent people, perhaps Jews, but perhaps not.

    Then he got upset that people took the analogy the wrong way, and thought that his writing was at least unclear and unnecessarily provocative.

    Try this, Greg: try making an analogy between Jews and a firing squad. Specifically, make it a firing squad that executes innocent Christian babies, whose blood is needed for making Matzo–or maybe they’re not Christian, or babies, and maybe no Matzo is involved; it’s just an analogy, after all.

    See how abstractly people take it, such that they see your point, and how well they take your explanation that it’s not especially about Jews, and it’s not about literal murder—it’s just a metaphor, although Jews are among the people you’re criticizing, however you do mean it.

    Ideally, do that right after one of your friends has literally accused Jews of being killers of Christian babies, and you’ve refused to condemn that as clearly uncivil pissing on the rug in a conversation about civility on blogs.

    I’ll get the popcorn.

  157. #157 DuWayne
    February 9, 2010

    Good grief, those Greg people…When will those people understand that Greg just blogs wrong? I mean it is patently obvious to anyone not paying attention that Greg was making a very singular point that could have been summed up more easily. Those damned Greg people seem to think that blogging should be about thinking with some depth. Those people just don’t understand that blogging is about quick querps about how wrong other people are.

  158. #158 Sivi
    February 9, 2010

    And here’s me thinking this was more about the last post on Greg’s blog than anything else.

    I might have to dive into this Gee thing, daunting as that is. I think I remember reading a post on his blog a few weeks ago that I disagreed with. *shrug*

    I don’t think any of the above invalidates the point Greg’s making, nor do I think people should be so reflexively against self-reflection. It seems as though if lots of the people here were accused of being racist/sexist/etc, they’d jump to their own defense before even considering that they might have in fact written something that could be racist/sexist/etc.

    Atheists, we are not infallible. And sure, Greg could have used a less provocative metaphor, but people on the internet rarely shy from provocation to make their point.

  159. #159 Tulse
    February 9, 2010

    Tulse, in part because there’s more to Greg’s questions than that. There’s also the question of whether being on that firing squad has the potential to change a person.

    So how about “a bigot can more or less ‘hide out’ among people who were on the same side of certain issues as him/her, and those people should be aware of that because it may make them less sensitive to bigoted statements”? Wouldn’t that have been a lot clearer, at least as a thesis statement for the following verbiage? I honestly don’t understand why the point couldn’t have been stated directly.

  160. #160 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    Clinteas and frog: Thanks for the advice. Next time I feel like writing something I’ll run it by you guys first to see if it’s OK.

    [127] JerryM: You need to be more specific about who you mean when you say things like “he” and “your” and when you quote people because it is not at all clear.

    Gyeong Hwa Pak: Actually, you can take your judgement of my credibility and choke on it. I have no idea why you would think that I would be interested in that judgment. Regarding “who said what” I have discussed this, perhaps you are not paying attention. Regarding your point as to what pharyngula commenters are saying/not saying what, I assume you represent the Pharyngula commenters, and I appreciate your input. I assume that if you have that wrong someone will come along and correct you.

  161. #161 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    Mu: [129] That’s the most interesting thing I’ve read all day. all week, maybe.

    Paul [133] Funny! I had it on good authority that Phyarngulistas had thick skins! Not that I care, but it is very funny to see so much whinging.

    PZ: I’m sorry you have a hard time understanding my point. I would have thought you of all people would have gotten it. But, since you are not just some unknown (to me) winged monkey flying around the castle, it may be that you have a point.

    Or, it is possible that we need to have a conversation.

    I do think it is hard to look at statements like this:

    Obama is articulate. Do you think it makes me even slightly racist to say that? If so you are an idiot – and not slightly.

    … which are predicted by my analysis and described in what I’ve said above … and not consider that there may be something rotten in Denmark.

  162. #162 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    clamboy [136]: Well said. In a way.

  163. #163 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    abb3w [148] 1) Yes. Is everything worth discrediting? No. SO if your intention a priori is to discredit, then you are being intellectually dishonest. There is a huge difference between discredit and questoi.

    2) That is an excellent point that is very much on my mind but as I read back over the sycophantic in-group babbling much of this thread has engendered, I think it is a point that a) would be good for people to understand but b) is too subtle and obscure to be introduced into the conversation.

    Stephanie [152] (responding to Tulse, and others): Never mind! Yes, it is true that there was more developed in the discussion (to those who understood it) than the 33 words Tulse choses to represent my argumet, and in fact there was more to develop from it still. But it is just too complicated. It is not a good idea to make an argument that runs beyond two or three paragraphs!

    (That was cynicism.)

  164. #164 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    DuWayne [155]:

    When will those people understand that Greg just blogs wrong?

    This might be my blogs new tag line.

  165. #165 Stephanie Z
    February 9, 2010

    Greg, I appreciate all the comment numbers for responses, but when you release my comment somewhere in the 130s, they’re all going to be wrong.

  166. #166 ChrisZ
    February 9, 2010

    Sorry, I am honestly having a hard time figuring out the purpose of this post and the following clarifications. Are we raising the question “does context matter?” and specifically that in some contexts it is more appropriate to make criticism or make true statements than others?

    That’s what it seems like to me, but that seems to be utterly and uninterestingly obvious, and not worthy of such a long post or so many impassioned comments (although most of them certainly aren’t talking about what I think the point was). Am I missing something, or is this just one topic that interests others far more than it does me?

  167. #167 Paul W.
    February 9, 2010

    I don’t think any of the above invalidates the point Greg’s making, nor do I think people should be so reflexively against self-reflection.

    Count me as one of the many Pharyngulans who does get at least some part of what Greg is saying—especially the part about what’s said on blogs being misinterpreted as bigoted when it’s not, given prevailing bigotry outside that blog. It’s a real issue, and an interesting subject.

    What we’re resistant to is not discussing such interesting and subtle topics, but discussing them with someone who has been doing what Greg seems to us to have been doing lately—namely, refusing to grant even obvious points about the nature of civility, and applying double standards, and being apparently inconsistent on a variety of points, to our disadvantage.

    We don’t trust Greg. A lot of us trust him a lot less than we did a week or so ago. It’s not just that we distrust his motives, but that we distrust his competence—e.g., his ability or willingness to follow a fairly simple argument and own up to a mistake.

    It seems as though if lots of the people here were accused of being racist/sexist/etc, they’d jump to their own defense before even considering that they might have in fact written something that could be racist/sexist/etc.

    Well, sure. Everybody does that sometimes, and sometimes they have unanalyzed prejudicies and need their consciousness raised.

    You don’t do that by saying that they’re the kind of people who’d turn little babies into lampshades and soap, if they’re not nearly that bad. Even when it comes to justified assertions about widespread and unanalyzed prejudices, there’s such a thing as being way over the top, and hence both wrong and counterproductively inflammatory.

    Likewise, if somebody is unjustly accused in that way, the right thing to do isn’t to ignore it and start justifying how the accusation might have something to it, and that denying it just confirms that.

    Basically, we don’t trust Greg Laden not to engage in a witch hunt of sorts. He doesn’t seem to respect our peculiar standards of argument, which don’t seem to be so peculiar, to us. We’re not Nazis, and we don’t like being seriously compared to Nazis, and we don’t like anybody who defends anybody comparing us to Nazis, and turns it around into an accusation that we’re not so non-Nazilike after all, and maybe we need to reflect more on our quasi-nearly-genocidal hatred or something.

    If Greg wants to discuss this abstractly, I’m all for it. He should start by picking a different fucking example than Pharyngloids (or Blastulites) to compare to ethnically bigoted murderers, of all things.

    He should also tighten up his rhetoric a whole hell of a lot because if you’re going to make very loaded analogies you’d better be very very clear from the get-go, or Godwin will get you, and it is your own damned fault.

    If Greg’s too dumb to recognize that Godwin’s Law has some validity, and be a lot more careful, especially in contexts like this one, on this blog, this week, that’s a big problem.

    But maybe he’s just trolling for page hits.

    Atheists, we are not infallible. And sure, Greg could have used a less provocative metaphor, but people on the internet rarely shy from provocation to make their point.

  168. #168 Gyeong Hwa Pak
    February 9, 2010

    Actually, you can take your judgement of my credibility and choke on it. I have no idea why you would think that I would be interested in that judgment.

    Okay. Whatever. I get it. You don’t give a shit about my opinion. That’s fine and I respect that.

    *On a completely separate note, why the hell doesn’t your blog allow strikeout tags?

  169. #169 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    Paul W, do the other commenters at Pharyngula know that you are representing them (“we”) with such specificity in this manner? Were you elected to this ambassadorial position? Did PZ send you? How does this work? Just curious.

    Greg Laden not to engage in a witch hunt of sorts. He doesn’t seem to respect our peculiar standards of argument, which don’t seem to be so peculiar, to us. We’re not Nazis, and we don’t like being seriously compared to Nazis,

    Paul. Listen to me. Imagine we are face to face in meatland. I’ve just grabbed both of your floppy ears and I’m pinching them so it hurts. A lot. I’m staring in to your eyes to see if I’ve got your attention. I think I do. I squeeze the ears a little harder. You are staring to tear up. Finally, now that I think all the other shit that may be rattling around in your brain has settled down, I ask you. Plainly. Simply. Clearly.

    “Do you actually believe I have accused you or anyone of being a Nazi? Do you actually believe that I’m defending anyone calling you a Nazi?”

    Or am I to understand that my half-hearted selective defense of Henry Gee’s is inappropriate because you and your followers at Pharyngula have chosen to throw Henry under the bus that anyone who does not agree to also throw Henry under the bus is thus your enemy.

    And sure, Greg could have used a less provocative metaphor, but people on the internet rarely shy from provocation to make their point.

    Ah, Paul, no, that’s not true at all. Not even close. You represent all the commenters at Pharyngula, right? And you are utterly beside yourself because I wrote something provocative. You can’t take the provocative perspective. You can dish it out, but you can’t take it. Is there something about this that I have wrong?

    If Greg’s too dumb

    Don’t. Call. Me. Stupid.

  170. #170 Jennifer
    February 9, 2010

    What I have learned today is that Pharyngulistas are by and large narrow minded assholes that I would never let near my children. I did not know this. Now I do.

    Stay away from my children, if I get any.

  171. #171 Stephanie Z
    February 9, 2010

    Jennifer, don’t let a few self-appointed representatives who are currently too emotional to read turn you off of Pharyngula.

  172. #172 Sivi
    February 9, 2010

    “And sure, Greg could have used a less provocative metaphor, but people on the internet rarely shy from provocation to make their point.”

    Er, that was actually my line. I think Paul meant to address it but had some sort of formatting error.

    Where are you comparing people to those who turn babies into lampshades and soap? I feel like someone who stepped into what seemed like a simple and current argument only to find that people are actually arguing about something completely different from what they seem to be arguing about, that happened weeks ago.

    Or is everyone really just talking past each other? I swear, when I have time I’m going to have to read what this Gee guy said since he seems to have been tossing all sorts of wild accusations around, given how people are responding with aggrieved outrage.

  173. #173 Paul W.
    February 9, 2010

    Don’t. Call. Me. Stupid.

    You’re stupid, Greg, as your response demonstrates.

    You’re a muddleheaded, condescending special pleading shit-for-brains idiot.

    Happy now? Or can you dish it out, but not take it?

    Are we going to hear more condescending whinging and bluster from you? I’ll bet we do.

    And yes, I’d say that to your face if you said the things you’ve been saying lately to my face.

    And no, of course, I don’t think you’ve accused anybody of being a Nazi. That is not, and never has been, the point. You are seriously not getting it, in much the same way you accuse others of.

    You seem to have a stellar ability to misunderstand what other people are saying, while expecting them to decipher your muddle and your spectacularly ill-chosen “analogies.” Good luck with that.

  174. #174 Marley
    February 9, 2010

    Or is everyone really just talking past each other?

    On the blawgs? No way!

  175. #175 Paul
    February 9, 2010

    Don’t. Call. Me. Stupid.

    We wouldn’t like you when you’re stupid, right? Too late. Of course, that’s why people have been trying so hard to point out where you’re being unfair, overly vague, and using loaded metaphors in a context where you’re already seen as misrepresenting anyone who disagrees with you.

    It should be telling when the only people who are unconditionally defending your expressions and choices of phrase are people who “know you personally”. Huh, kind of like the only people who make mealy mouthed excuses for Gee’s vitriol about Pharyngulites being too cowardly to turn Jewish babies into soap (even though they really want to) are people who know him personally. Guess some people just aren’t willing to let their words speak for themselves.

  176. #176 Sivi
    February 9, 2010

    Marley: INORITE!?

  177. #177 Stephanie Z
    February 9, 2010

    Paul, words never speak for themselves, and I can guarantee you that I can make your words speak in ways you never intended them to. Do you really want to live with even a moderately uncharitable interpretation of your words in a thread where you’re already seen as whiny and applying double standards?

  178. #178 J. J. Ramsey
    February 9, 2010

    Paul: “Huh, kind of like the only people who make mealy mouthed excuses for Gee’s vitriol about Pharyngulites being too cowardly to turn Jewish babies into soap”

    Ooh, wow, a straw Henry Gee!

  179. #179 kinem
    February 9, 2010

    Greg wrote “I do think it is hard to look at statements like this:

    ‘Obama is articulate. Do you think it makes me even slightly racist to say that? If so you are an idiot – and not slightly.’

    … which are predicted by my analysis and described in what I’ve said above … and not consider that there may be something rotten in Denmark.”

    Note the ‘if’. The ‘not slightly’ was overkill which I posted in the heat of the moment, but I stand by the rest.

    Guys like Greg Laden give liberalism a bad name, which is unfortunate.

    @Tulse/#159: Well said, and I don’t think any of us would disagree with the statements you think Greg should have said. I certainly would not want any prejudice to sneak into forums I frequent.

    @Paul W/#156: Thanks for the context. I had no idea that was what happened, but it certainly fits the concerns I had about Greg’s post. Greg’s not defending the innocent, he’s attacking them for defending themselves against those who falsely claim to be victims.

    As Plato said, the root of tyranny is always that when a tyrant first appears, he does so as a protector. That is why so many ‘left-wing’ tyrannies keep popping up – like Chavez – and why deluded ‘liberals’ rush to their defense. The same tendency to defend anyone who claims to be on the side of victims seems to be at work with Greg here.

    Not that it matters, but I’ll add that I happen to have come from a Jewish family.

  180. #180 Paul
    February 9, 2010

    Ooh, wow, a straw Henry Gee!

    That was not a straw man. That was what he said on Pharyngula. Somehow, condemning that characterization led Laden to go all Glenn Beck on SC, talking about how “people might think you’re an anti-semite. I don’t think that, but people might think that.” And no matter how much dissembling Greg does, or how much generalizing, that is the context this post was spawned in.

  181. #181 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    On a completely separate note, why the hell doesn’t your blog allow strikeout tags?

    I don’t know. If I get a chance I’ll try to fix that. Thanks for pointing it out.

  182. #182 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    I honestly believe that SC’s commentary and other commentary on other blogs (on SB and NN) looked dangerously like antisemitism, telling the loud jew to shut up, a bit of victim blaming.

    I also honestly believed that this was nothing like the intent of those who were making the comments.

    Now, I honestly believe that I am being told to shut up with this opinion. No one wants to hear that criticism. Nobody wants to have a conversation about how they look to at least some people of another tribe. I wonder what is up with that?

    You certainly are an angry group of people, a little slow off the mark, rather thinned skinned and not exactly broad minded. I think my firing squad metaphor is really working a lot better than I thought it would. Huh.

    Paul W.: Your blithering comment is priceless. Whatever works for you, I guess.

  183. #183 Tulse
    February 9, 2010

    I honestly believe that I am being told to shut up with this opinion.

    In this post, most of your critics are simply complaining that your metaphor was obscure to the point of opacity. The people who disagree with the point that you’re trying to make are far fewer than the people, like me, who are just confused both by the way you tried to make it the phenomenally defensive way in which you reacted to those criticisms of style.

    You certainly are an angry group of people, a little slow off the mark

    Don’t. Call. Me. Stupid.

  184. #184 Paul W.
    February 9, 2010

    Paul. Listen to me. Imagine we are face to face in meatland. I’ve just grabbed both of your floppy ears and I’m pinching them so it hurts. A lot. I’m staring in to your eyes to see if I’ve got your attention. I think I do. I squeeze the ears a little harder. You are staring to tear up. Finally, now that I think all the other shit that may be rattling around in your brain has settled down, I ask you. Plainly. Simply. Clearly. […]

    Get a grip, Greg.

    Seriously. And not on my “floppy ears,” “pinching them so it hurts,” and then “a little harder,” and I “tear up.”

    Adjust your medication, Laden.

    And no, I didn’t accuse you of comparing us to Nazis, or of making any fullthroated defense of same.

    You seem to have lost the plot some time back.

    Back in that thread, we were trying to establish what counts as a norm of civility, especially “pissing on the rug,” on a blog, and you systematically evaded the issue, and the issue of whether Henry had “pissed on our rug,” choosing instead to explore our possible or apparent antisemitism.

    I tried really hard to make those issues clear and as un-loaded as possible, so that we could have a civil discussion, but you just kept digging.

    And you’re still doing it, with your ethnic cleansing firing squad analogy to “Blastula.”

    You evidently prefer loaded analogies to clear distinctions, e.g.,

    1) What is “pissing on the rug” analogous to in blog terms,

    2) whether it only happens when somebody like Henry finally gets booted by a blogger like P.Z. for violating blogger-enforced rules, or

    3) when they violate even minimal local social norms, as when Henry Godwinned that thread, as I argued, and

    4) whether Pharyngulans ever have any reasonable grounds for claiming that somebody pissed on their rug, or are such a bunch of fundamentally uncivil assholes that they have no grounds for complaint about anything, ever.

    You’ve dodged all of those issues for a long time, and prefer instead to tell stories about ethnic murder by people analogous to Pharyngulans, and to say that we can dish it out but can’t take it.

    Evidently I had it right the first time. You do not accept that there are any valid social norms at Pharyngula, such that anybody’s behavior is unacceptable there, to such an extent that it can be called clearly uncivil or worthy of complaint.

    In particular, you don’t care that we have some rules of civility that we think are rather important, and our low tolerance for special pleading like Henry’s and yours is part of that.

    You seem to be so intent on avoiding insulting Henry Gee that you can’t acknowledge a baseline norm of civility that I’ve been trying to establish the validity of. You change the subject constantly, and then dig the hole even deeper by re-igniting the very same controversy that you dodged before.

    Nice going, Greg.

    And if you want to fantasize on your blog about physically hurting me with your bare hands, by all means go for it. (Yeah, we’re the thin-skinned ones. Right, Greg.)

    Just don’t confuse it with any remotely coherent talk about civility, and don’t expect us to put much stock in your pontifications about how out-group people perceive things.

    (Andy Kaufman, is that you?)

    IMO, Pharyngula definitely has its flaws, and I’d rather it was more civil in certain ways, but your blog’s standards of civility are lower in crucial ways—especially with regard to evasiveness and special pleading. (Your personal standards in particular.)

  185. #185 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    Don’t. Call. Me. Stupid.

    Are you seriously telling me that no one got that allusion? Oh my.

  186. #186 Coriolis
    February 9, 2010

    Well, it seems to me that most commenters (although perhaps not the most vocal ones), would rather they understood what your criticism actually is, and then we can decide if we’d like to talk about it or not.

    So if all you are trying to say is that people within a group often take things to an extreme, and/or what Tulse concisely said at #159:

    “a bigot can more or less ‘hide out’ among people who were on the same side of certain issues as him/her, and those people should be aware of that because it may make them less sensitive to bigoted statements”

    Then both of those statements are quite obvious, even without a wall of text and tortured metaphors.

    But if you want to claim something more specific about Pharyngulites, atheists in general, or anyone else, then I suggest you figure out what that claim is, and how you’re justifying it.

  187. #187 Paul
    February 9, 2010

    my household is now, sadly, in a death watch

    Sorry to hear that.

  188. #188 Art
    February 9, 2010

    IMHO a lot of the confusion and uncertainty is cleared up if you classify religion as a disease transmitted by a meme. In this context there is no prejudice or hatred of the people infected by religion.

    Religion is a disease that causes, and takes advantage of, cognitive impairment and clouded thinking. It cause people to do the right thing, help each other, for the wrong reason, a metaphysical being is watching, and to do the wrong thing, inflict suffering and death, for the right reasons, for their own good and the good of society.

    People infected with this meme are not to be blamed for their disease. They should never be persecuted or punished for their disease. At most they should be restrained to the extent necessary to prevent them form hurting themselves or others. To the extent practicable the infections should be treated symptomatically. A cure may be attempted but results are uneven and any attempt is likely to be traumatic to both, all, parties. Often the route is to simply manage the disease.

    Ultimately the best way of freeing society of this disease is to immunize the populations, particularly the children, with critical thinking skills and a rational mindset.

  189. #189 PZ Myers
    February 9, 2010

    Just. Call. Me. Stupid.

    I don’t get any of this. Everyone seems to think they’re making a point, but everyone seems to be talking about completely different issues. And then there are all the references to obscure events and even more obscure grudges.

    I’ve got a bottle of Irish whiskey in the kitchen. I think I’ll spend a little productive time in there. Call me when the snarled lines are untangled.

  190. #190 Greg Laden
    February 9, 2010

    I’ve got a bottle of Irish whiskey in the kitchen. I think I’ll spend a little productive time in there. Call me when the snarled lines are untangled.

    I’ve got a five course gourmet dinner to go to (unfortunately, I’m the entertainment, so I can’t drink too much of the beer I helped design for the occasions).

    But later, I’ll write a blog post, with a big huge metaphor in the middle of it, explaining it all.

    “Don’t. Call. Me. Stupid.” is from the movie “A fish called Wanda.”

    (In the mean time somebody give Paul W. a rag, he needs to clean the spit off his computer screen.)

  191. #191 Paul S.
    February 9, 2010

    Somehow, condemning that characterization led Laden to go all Glenn Beck on SC, talking about how “people might think you’re an anti-semite. I don’t think that, but people might think that.”

    I think that Greg is just pointing out an unfortunate fact of life. If you are criticizing a group of people (or a member of said group) who have a history of suffering from irrational prejudice, your criticism can easily come out sounding like just more of the same irrational BS. Many people will assume the worst possible motives. Is that right, rational, and fair? Of course not – but it’s reality.

    That doesn’t mean that any group or individual is, or should be, immune to criticism – but it does mean that people should be careful to differentiate well-reasoned criticism from the irrational, bigoted kind.

  192. #192 Irene
    February 9, 2010

    Funny how Greg’s self deprecating humor turned into Paul W’s conniption.

  193. #193 Paul
    February 9, 2010

    I object to the number of Paul’s on this thread.

  194. #194 Jennifer
    February 9, 2010

    I object to a number of Pauls on this thread, but not all of them.

  195. #195 Elaine
    February 9, 2010

    Funny how Greg’s self deprecating humor turned into Paul W’s conniption.

    It is funnier than it looks here because Paul made certain to spread the “Don’t call me stupid” comment over at his blog (PZ’s former blog) prior to understanding it.

    Much like the burning paper bag on the front porch.

  196. #196 Paul W.
    February 9, 2010

    Greg, I got the Wanda reference.

    But in context, jeez, what are we to make of it? Is it ha-ha-only-serious, or what?

    That’s not spittle on my screen, those are my tears from you pinching my ears, squeezing harder until I tear up, etc.

    Let me know when you get to the waterboarding fantasy. I want to hear how that one plays out. (Or do we skip from there right to the firing squad?)

  197. #197 Dimitri
    February 9, 2010

    This is not a bad metaphor. People are silly to expect a metaphor to be physically like real life.

    If the metaphor is graduate students as planets and the professor as the sun, it is not inappropriate that the planets are much much larger than the actual graduate students, and inanimate.

  198. #198 Paul W.
    February 9, 2010

    I think that Greg is just pointing out an unfortunate fact of life.

    I think Greg just gets increasingly inarticulate and angry, sometimes, especially over the course of an afternoon and evening.

    And I find that interesting.

    Now I’m not saying he has a drinking problem and I don’t believe he has a drinking problem, but you can see from this pattern how someone might interpret this as a drinking problem.

  199. #199 Paul
    February 9, 2010

    That doesn’t mean that any group or individual is, or should be, immune to criticism – but it does mean that people should be careful to differentiate well-reasoned criticism from the irrational, bigoted kind.

    And all there was was the former. That didn’t stop Greg from responding to well reasoned criticism by skilfully employing the Glenn Beck “I’m not saying x, but some people would think x” manoeuvre.

    It is funnier than it looks here because Paul made certain to spread the “Don’t call me stupid” comment over at his blog (PZ’s former blog) prior to understanding it.

    It was funny, and gave an irresistable opening (although obviously I took it as a mutated Hulk meme, but A Fish Called Wanda is amusing too). It sure gives an odd message in a thread where he’s attempted to stifle criticism via implicit threats, though (e.g. “I’d like you to say that to my face” and the creepy ear squeezing thing). Kidn of like when someone is NERDRAGING and you’re not sure if they are seriously mad or self-parodying.

    Some people on Pharyngula have asked to be notified of ongoing issues in the thread since they don’t want to give Laden blog hits. So there is a decent bit of cross-posting. Especially since he told SC that she was not to post on his threads (even though he played coy about it after).

  200. #200 yolande
    February 9, 2010

    At this stage, it’s looking more like “flogging a dead horse” to me.
    Enjoy your dinner, Greg.

  201. #201 J. J. Ramsey
    February 9, 2010

    Paul: “That was not a straw man. That was what he said on Pharyngula.”

    After finding the offending comment from 2008, I’ll concede that your strawman wasn’t quite as egregious as it first appeared.

  202. #202 J.B.
    February 9, 2010

    Now I’m not saying he has a drinking problem and I don’t believe he has a drinking problem, but you can see from this pattern how someone might interpret this as a drinking problem.

    Paul, that is outrageous. I know Greg. He does not have a drinking problem. He deserves an apology for that. In fact he is usually the sober one driving other people home.

    He is having an issue right now (if he does not mind me saying) with a death in the family. But that is not the pattern you are witnessing. You are witnessing nothing more than a group of knuckleheads being more annoying with every turn.

    If you are an example of what a “pharynglua commenter” is, there is a problem in that neighborhood. (Note to self … avoid the Pharyngula Blog)

  203. #203 Paul
    February 9, 2010

    Greg, I got the Wanda reference.

    Bullshit.

  204. #204 Paul
    February 9, 2010

    Paul, that is outrageous. I know Greg. He does not have a drinking problem. He deserves an apology for that. In fact he is usually the sober one driving other people home.

    Context has been provided. That’s exactly the same way that SC was called an anti-Semite by Laden. If you think Greg deserves an apology, SC deserves one just as much for Laden’s inexcusable antics in the previous thread. Or is drunkenness much more serious than anti-Semitism? So far, no apology has been forthcoming.

    At least Paul W. has the excuse that he’s parodying Laden’s earlier libel. Laden has no such excuse.

  205. #205 Diane G.
    February 9, 2010

    But later, I’ll write a blog post, with a big huge metaphor in the middle of it, explaining it all.

    Jeez, I hope that was satirical…

  206. #206 AJKamper
    February 9, 2010

    @JB

    I don’t think Paul W. was saying that Greg actually does have a drinking problem, just mimicking Greg’s argument style. Which, now that I’ve seen the whole context of the debate (or at least some of it) seems to me to be a reasonable criticism.

    And hey, don’t avoid Pharyngula! I read it regularly. I just skip the comments. (This is true of almost every blog I read, really. And the stuff PZ posts is pretty darn good.)

  207. #207 Birger Johansson
    February 9, 2010

    “Over time, Blastual actually becomes one of the all too rare places on the internet where atheists can feel comfortable being atheists, criticizing religion and religiosity, and promoting ways of thinking that are explicit non-religious. ”

    You should come over to the Scandinavian countries to relax…People here mostly regard religion -or its absence- as a non-issue, and a part of private, not public life. Even conservative members of paliament can be openly atheist (or openly gay) these days, and that is nobody’s business…

    In regard to criticism of minority groups, it is quite simple. For instance, I do not criticize “jews”, I criticize Israeli politicians and the actions they take. I do not criticize “moslems”, I criticize the Arab leaders and their political organizations (which may also be religious organizations, but they do not speak for all moslems, or all Arabs, or whatever).

    This position will end up being called anti-semite by the Israeli lobby, and anti-Arab, or anti-moslem by the other side (or at least the leaders of the other side).

    Also, you can ridicule Falun Gong, provided you occasionally remember to condemn their repression by the Chinese dictatorial regime. Unlike pro-and-con creationism, most disputes can have more than two viewpoints.

  208. #208 Stephanie Z
    February 9, 2010

    That’s exactly the same way that SC was called an anti-Semite by Laden.

    Except, of course, that Greg didn’t have to make shit up about what SC “sometimes” did. He was reacting to specific statements in the context of a discussion of how comfortable a Jew could be that there wasn’t anti-Semitism in a discussion.

    Paul W. is just making unsupported insinuations in order to try for a weak parallel.

  209. #209 Spartan
    February 9, 2010

    Paul W. is just making unsupported insinuations in order to try for a weak parallel.

    But be fair; Greg’s insinuations remained unsupported also. Actually, he just flat-out denied that he insinuated anything at all about SC. Paul W’s construct was identical, and thus he’s not insinuating anything either. Goose and gander.

  210. #210 JuliaL
    February 9, 2010

    It’s been really interesting watching how the development of a post on (partly at least) whether comments on an atheist blog could, in some other contexts, sound anti-Jewish and whether actual anti-Semites could use that fact as cover. In large part it’s become a discussion about almost anything but that, including long exchanges on the quality of Greg’s writing style or whether he should have used a different metaphor or whether the atheists on another blog have been deeply insulted by a Jewish person, etc.

    It has all left me thinking, though, about the original question. Just as an example, I ask myself, how might some comments from this very thread sound spoken to a religious European Jew, or to someone hearing them as referring to religious Jews? Is there any possibility they could enable actual anti-Semites?

    From #50

    A non-skeptic uses their “theory of reality” to build a model of reality that corresponds to their feelings, to their “theory of mind”. This is how intelligent people can be religious. They are using their intelligence (their “theory of reality”) to build a model that satisfies their feelings and their “theory of mind”, which includes all kinds of crap and lies that they have been told and accepted at face value. In this sense, people who are atheists because they are skeptics think of other individuals as human because they have human DNA. People who are non-skeptics, have feelings about someone, and then define that person according to those feelings. This is what causes racism, religious bigotry and xenophobia. The racist, bigot, homophobe, xenophobe feels in their heart of hearts that the person their hatred is directed against is fundamentally non-human.[Could be heard as saying that those who consider Jewish beliefs to be crap are the ones who treat others as human, while Jews are racists who treat other people as sub-humans?]

    From # 79

    The problem is that the community can’t think in non-”theory of mind” terms. They have all these feelings which they need to rationalize. The skinheads feel hatred and act on it. The skeptics want to stay away from religion because it doesn’t make any sense. The religious individuals can’t think about reality any other way. [Could be heard as saying that Jews are no different from skinheads, people who act out of hatred, and so perhaps should be treated the same way as skinheads?]

    From #151

    Suppose I say that “Jews believe in an evil god.” Now, in the atheist context, that is fairly unobjectionable – all you have to do is read the Bible and you’ll find plenty examples of god killing people unjustly and so on. . . . What’s more, I am thoroughly familiar with the evidence – I have read the Bible and know what Jews believe – so the remark definately reflected post-judice and not prejudice. [Someone might hear this to be saying that it isn’t necessary to ask a Jewish person what he/she believes and all the commentary of the great Jewish scholars is nothing, because all Jews are the same and obviously must believe whatever someone outside the group happens to think the Bible (presumably the Old Testament) means?]

    From #188

    Religion is a disease that causes, and takes advantage of, cognitive impairment and clouded thinking. . . . People infected with this meme are not to be blamed for their disease. . . . At most they should be restrained to the extent necessary to prevent them form hurting themselves or others. . . . Often the route is to simply manage the disease. Ultimately the best way of freeing society of this disease is to immunize the populations, particularly the children, with critical thinking skills and a rational mindset. [Could be heard as saying that Jews are mental defectives who should be restrained and managed, while Jewish children should be immunized against the disease of their heritage?]

    Greg, I thank you for this post because it’s given me a bit more understanding of how Henry Gee could make such extreme responses. If he did, as reported, use his size and posture at the conference in ways that normally seem physically threatening and intimidating to women, then I still think he was very wrong to do so, and I fully understand the women (and men) who have objected to such behavior. And it is wrong to accuse people who are arguing of necessarily wishing for violent behavior. But your thought experiment does give me more appreciation for some possible pressures behind his responses.

  211. #211 Miss Cellania
    February 9, 2010

    Wow, there’s a lot of speculation about what you “mean” by this post. What I take to be is how criticism of what people DO can sometimes slide over into persecution of what people ARE. Which crosses a line we, as a society, have tried to draw.

  212. #212 Paul W.
    February 9, 2010

    Stephanie,

    Paul W. is just making unsupported insinuations in order to try for a weak parallel.

    No, I’m not. And it’s not like I’m the first person to wonder about this apparent pattern. Several people lately have commented on Greg’s recent tendency to “lose the plot.” I’m by no means the first, or the first to think it could be rather embarrasing for him if his faculty colleagues were looking on.

    I saw what I think a lot of objective people looking in might interpret as low level but definite unsoberness in a couple of posts on Greg’s blog.

  213. #213 kinem
    February 9, 2010

    @210: “Humans are descended from apelike creatures.” Could be interpreted as saying that black people are apelike.

    “The Earth goes around the sun.” Could be interpreted as saying that Africans can’t sit still.

    Yeah … sure.

  214. #214 Autymn D. C.
    February 9, 2010

    atheist -> antitheist
    one ≠ they/themselves
    1 ≠ 2
    whether or not = whether or not whether
    http://wiktionary.org/wiki/nice = not skilled

  215. #215 DuWayne
    February 9, 2010

    Hey Paul W., I have a great game for you…How about a round of hide and go fuck yourself – you hide.

  216. #216 Autymn D. C.
    February 9, 2010

    (a person: one; the person: who)
    it’s -> its
    it’s -> its
    hard -> tough
    And Qhàràbs are Shemitijm too.

  217. #217 W.L. Hutch
    February 9, 2010

    Hey, Paul W., thank you for speaking for me. Stunned by Dr. Laden’s “Glen Beck” on SC ( and his subsequent denial of same}, I went to his Quiche posting ( per his encouragement) and enjoyed “My Dinner with Andre in Bizaro World.” Now this “metaphorical” post about WTF? Something is wrong in Oz.
    “We’re all Bozos on this Bus” Get the obscure but hilarious reference, Dr. Laden?

  218. #218 kinem
    February 9, 2010

    Oy vey … methinks the level of discourse in the comments has begun to descend.

  219. #219 josh
    February 9, 2010

    Okay, this is probably too far down to make a difference but, having read the whole schmeer, I didn’t see anyone laying out what I think is an important point. Greg seems to be raising two issues, maybe sorta somehow possibly related.
    The original post with the firing squad story seems to say that conceivably anti-X bigots can hide out among legitimate criticism of the ideas or practices associated with X, just as someone could secretly get off on killing people in a legitimate context. I.e., if we could look inside the firing squad members head we’d think he was a monster, same for the secret bigot. This seems to me undeniably true and clearly trite by itself. Anyone could secretly be thinking anything. The only relevant thing is evidence of bigotry/sociopathy outside of legitimate actions that could have ulterior motivation. This is hard to construct in the firing squad. Maybe in the case of blog comments you could argue that comments that cross some unclear line are more likely to be permitted in an aggressive commenting community. I would need some more specific even hypothetical example. Again though, my point is you have to distinguish between what crosses the line and legitimate criticism up to that line.

    The second point, elucidated in #64, has to do with context and tone for an explicitly legitimate comment. I think it’s more interesting but still weirdly artificial. The chairperson’s remark in the second situation is basically a non sequitur. He interupts the speaker after two sentences of preamble. Those sentences might be debatable but they are innocuous in the context at hand. The interruption is rude and telling her to sit down and shut up with no further effort to address the problem being raised (violence/discrimination against Muslims) is unconscionable. Moreover, a religious leader clearly can be a community leader within some religious community, they just don’t have standing in the larger secular community qua a religious authority. In this example its not so crazy for the Muslims to feel discriminated against by the larger community at the meeting because their concerns were dismissed on no legitimate grounds.
    In blogworld I’m not sure how the second situation translates or if it applies to anything that has taken place. If one says anti-Semitism is on the rise and another says Judaism is an archaic myth, the latter is not wrong or inherently bigoted but his reply is a bit unprompted. On the other hand the first commenter isn’t being shut up and can continue with actual arguments to back up the assertion. It’s then perfectly legitimate to criticize those arguments, e.g. the methodology of the statistic. This could be a cover for uncritical bigotry, but, again you need evidence of such. Much better I think to show the criticism is invalid.
    I get that someone in a traditionally oppressed group can be suspicious of bigotry posing as honest criticism, that sucks for them because it is a real thing. Bigots love plausible deniability. Honest critics should as a matter of good communication policy be careful to articulate their positions and avoid falling into the traps of bigot talking points. But, ultimately, I think the group member has to give a potentially honest critic the benefit of the doubt. That’s tough work but you don’t get to claim the moral high ground unless you stay there.

  220. #220 mk
    February 9, 2010

    Really. A simple apology to SC would have been nice.

  221. #221 Sivi
    February 9, 2010

    josh @219

    Much of what you say seems sensible – but, members of underprivileged groups (and this includes Jews in many contexts) are not obliged to give critics the benefit of the doubt, because they have no way of knowing the critic is being ‘honest’. In fact, given that privileged individuals often mask prejudice as honest criticism, the onus is on the privileged individual to show their criticisms are honest and not prejudicially motivated.

    Luckily, in most cases religious groups have a hard time legitimately calling privilege on atheists, so we’re not often put in that position, despite what the ‘persecuted’ hegemons who pass for Christians often claim.

  222. #222 Ace of Sevens
    February 9, 2010

    I think after a few hours reading this I get what Greg was saying. However, I also agree with those who say Greg has a tendency to be unclear, then get pissed off when people misunderstand him. (Or, to be clear, then get really pissed off when people bring up legit questions). He tends to either assume bad faith or make it sound like he’s assuming bad faith. (Witness the thread about race and IQ for more examples.)

    Basically, if it’s about a real issue, comment on that issue. If it’s about an abstract issue, stick with your metaphor. Blastula is bullshit. Yes, I realize Greg will now sarcastically thank me for telling him how to write, but this is of course a way of telling me how to write. People tell me (and all writers) how to write all the time. It’s part of the communication process.

  223. #223 Pierce R. Butler
    February 9, 2010

    Well, Prof. Laden, you’ve gone and done it this time, haven’t you?

    Would you like a cigarette or blindfold before we wrap this up?

  224. #224 Sven DiMilo
    February 9, 2010

    “We’re all Bozos on this Bus”

    hey, I got that one

    So, what are we talking about, again?
    And who’s “we,” Kemosabe?

  225. #225 Matt
    February 9, 2010

    Paul, up at # 184 I have to agree with you. One thing Ive noticed is that Greg likes to make ‘joking’ threats to physically hurt people who disagree/misunderstand him quite a bit.

    Greg, somewhere in the academy, in the wing given over to studying domestic violence, is your analog. S/he is studying the tone of blog commentary, and reading your repeated posts and your not infrequent slips toward physical coercion, and coming up with an oblique, neo-socratic, steeplechase of a teaching device with which to run you through, to have your barely sublimated violent tendencies exposed. Those tendencies may be acceptable here, within the norms of the community standards in Greg Laden’s Blog, but once re-contextualized and brought in to new light it may be you who needs to re-think this rhetorical safety blanket.

  226. #226 DuWayne
    February 9, 2010

    Oy vey … methinks the level of discourse in the comments has begun to descend.

    The level of discourse descended somewhere about 200 comments ago. It just got particularly ugly about the time unfounded accusations about drinking habits came up. Until then it was mostly a lot of fucking whining from people who are not terribly inclined to or interested in actually thinking on something they are trying to talk about. And a lot of slamming Greg.

    Which is fine I suppose, after all, we all know what Those People are like…

  227. #227 Paul W.
    February 9, 2010

    DuWayne,

    Nobody’s made any accusations about drinking habits, unfounded or otherwise. Just some observations about what other people might think.

    You’re reading too much into it.

    No harm, no foul, right?

  228. #228 Paul
    February 9, 2010

    The level of discourse descended somewhere about 200 comments ago.

    The level of discourse was in the toilet from the original post. Just because he kept vulgarity out of it doesn’t mean the metaphor was anything other than atrocious, considering the context.

  229. #229 Stephanie Z
    February 9, 2010

    But be fair; Greg’s insinuations remained unsupported also.

    Spartan, Greg didn’t make insinuations. He compared specific comments to anti-Semitic rhetoric. You can agree or disagree, but you can easily look at the bases of what Greg said. Paul didn’t do anything to support an argument that Greg gets angrier, etc. in the afternoons and evenings. Or are only “they” allowed to argue without evidence?

    Several people lately have commented on Greg’s recent tendency to “lose the plot.”

    You’re a bit late to the party, Paul. I suspect this has been said as long as Greg has been challenging people to think uncomfortable thoughts about complex topics. It’s certainly been happening as long as he’s been blogging. All you’re doing is saying you don’t like the way he argues. Doesn’t seem to stop you from arguing with him, but it does make you whine so.

  230. #230 Autymn D. C.
    February 9, 2010

    their -> whose
    S/he -> Who
    oblique -> aslant
    re-think -> anthenk

  231. #231 Paul S.
    February 9, 2010

    How is it that people (in this case certain atheists) who go out of their way to state or imply again and again that other people (in this case, anyone who isn’t an atheist, or even atheists who think that people who favor a more conciliatory stance) are deluded fools, mentally diseased dangers to society, and the root cause of much of the world’s evil, are actually surprised that this might offend someone, and that some people who are repeatedly insulted might start insulting right back? Further, they are shocked and offended that when they use blanket insults against the beliefs of entire large segments of the population, and these insults sound similar to those used by bigoted people for centuries, somebody might get the idea in their head that they are bigoted.

    I’m sorry, but I just don’t think that this is rocket science. If you devote a lot of time and energy to insulting beliefs that are an important part of many peoples’ identities, you are going to come across sounding like bigots to a lot of people. In a perfect world, it would be easy to separate a person’s beliefs from the person, and criticize the former without denigrating the latter. In the real, messy world that we actually live in, it’s often impossible to separate a person’s beliefs from the rest of a person’s identity, and an attack on one will inevitably be seen as an attack on the other. Again, it’s not necessarily right or fair or logical, but that’s the way that the real world and real people work.

    I suspect that claims such as “religion is a disease” also sound seriously creepy to a lot of people. It definitely sounds seriously creepy to me, partly because it suggests a complete and total intolerance of differing opinion, and partly because totalitarian regimes of the past actually used claims that those who disagreed with them were mentally ill as an excuse to totally deprive dissenters of human rights.

  232. #232 Paul
    February 9, 2010

    How is it that people (in this case certain atheists) who go out of their way to state or imply again and again that other people (in this case, anyone who isn’t an atheist, or even atheists who think that people who favor a more conciliatory stance) are deluded fools, mentally diseased dangers to society, and the root cause of much of the world’s evil, are actually surprised that this might offend someone, and that some people who are repeatedly insulted might start insulting right back?

    Holy strawman, Batman! Provide one such example, please.

  233. #233 Wowbagger
    February 10, 2010

    It’s getting like the Monty Python Bruces sketch in here, except with Pauls rather than Bruces…

  234. #234 Paul S.
    February 10, 2010

    Holy strawman, Batman! Provide one such example, please.

    Post #188 here was the one that really caught my attention.

  235. #235 Feynmaniac
    February 10, 2010

    Arghhh, following what’s going on here is hard enough without all these Pauls.

  236. #236 josh
    February 10, 2010

    Sivi @ 221

    I somewhat disagree. My point is that because the member of an out group can’t know for certain that this hypothetical criticism stems from bigotry or not they should give the benefit of the doubt. There is no way for an honest critic to prove himself unprejudiced except to give an honest criticism. Focus on the criticism first before trying to read the tea leaves of motivation. If it’s a legitimate criticism, it doesn’t matter if it came from a bigot. If not, show that they don’t have a leg to stand on.

    Since debatable analogies are all the rage today: Suppose you are defending a thesis in front of a committee. You suspect one committee member personally has it out for you. During the defense, said member interrupts you at every turn with questions and criticisms. They may be pointed or they may seem completely uninformed. What do you do? I say ideally you answer every one and hold off on airing your suspicions unless you have firm grounds to conclude he’s a bigoted asshole and not the everyday variety. (Committee members are of course encouraged not to be assholes in the first place, but I consider that a venal sin.)

  237. #237 Russell Blackford
    February 10, 2010

    Or perhaps a venial one, though I suppose venality could play a role in some cases.

  238. #238 davem
    February 10, 2010

    Hey! Careful with these comments about the Bozos, please, it’s racist talk. The Bozos are a perfectly peaceful tribe of fishermen from Mali, and using the expression ‘bozo’ for ‘idiot’ is an insult to them.

    Why that’s as bad as calling the most articulate US president for decades ‘articulate’ because he can string a few sentences together without making grammatical errors.

    I mean, what an insult to the Prez…

    /snark

  239. #239 SQB
    February 10, 2010

    … as of yesterday, my household is now, sadly, in a death watch …

    I’m sorry to hear that.

    Back on topic, I’d like to offer the observation that some atheists may choose to decline to be on the firing squad, for fear of being confused with a homicidal maniac.

  240. #240 Bill James
    February 10, 2010

    …some atheists may choose to decline to be on the firing squad, for fear of being confused with a homicidal maniac.

    Or a Zionist.

  241. #241 Lawurence of Oblivia
    February 10, 2010

    Bill James: “Or a Zionist.”

    I for one would like to know what the meaning of your remark is.

  242. #242 Bexley
    February 10, 2010

    Wow what a train wreck of a comment thread.

    Any english grads want to bring a post-structuralist perspective on the way every single commentor seems to think the original post is about something different?

  243. #243 Spartan
    February 10, 2010

    Spartan, Greg didn’t make insinuations. He compared specific comments to anti-Semitic rhetoric. You can agree or disagree, but you can easily look at the bases of what Greg said. Paul didn’t do anything to support an argument that Greg gets angrier, etc. in the afternoons and evenings. Or are only “they” allowed to argue without evidence?

    With all due respect Stephanie, I think you are just parsing here. I can just as easily say, Paul analyzed Greg’s recent behavior and suggested what some people might think was an explanation for it. Greg was specifically challenged, in all caps if I recall, by SC to back up his anti-semitic ‘suggestion’, if you think that word is more palatable, and he did not, and instructed us all that a very concise and narrow reading of what he said, to him, doesn’t say anything about what Greg thought of SC’s prejudices. At least Paul gave some reason when challenged unlike Greg: his interpretation that Greg gets angrier in the afternoons, and regardless of the cause I’d think you can also see the bases for that assertion. Which is not to say that Greg does not have other reasons to be angry and that a drinking problem best explains it.

    The issue is not with ‘evidence’, as Greg didn’t provide any more with his anti-semitic suggestion than Paul did; Greg had interpretations of what SC said and Paul has interpretations of Greg’s behavior. The issue is with constructing statements of the style, ‘some people might think insulting thing X about you, but I’m not saying that’ and thinking that ‘I’m not saying that’ is an escape clause. If it is, it works for Paul just as well.

  244. #244 Allen
    February 10, 2010

    This idea of a firing squad is not valid. We would assume in society that people living or working in a certain context will take this with them outside that context. Would we want a police officer off duty to not respect the law, or a pastor who is “off duty” to not be a good Christian?

  245. #245 Irene
    February 10, 2010

    Spartan, the simple truth is that Greg did not say that SC was an anti-semite. Still, she made the claim and was corrected. She was wrong, and you are wrong now. The demands for apology for something he did not say are wrong.

    Did you check your intellectual honesty regulator at the door this morning?

  246. #246 Lorax
    February 10, 2010

    So late to this conversation but I found the first 70-100 comments to be interesting. Greg makes a suggestion about the potential for a problem of perceived anti-semitism (although anti-anythingism would be just as apt) on a popular blog.

    One point central to the thesis of the post is the idea of perceived anti-semitism by an outsider coming to the blog anew. Many followers of the blog (I myself am one), immediately respond with gnashing of teeth that since they are not anti-semites (and likely they are not) nothing they say could ever possibly be perceived as antisemitism to an outsider. Never, ever, ever. Although what is usually said is “Give me an example!” I expect the idea is to take any given example, and explain how it can be interpreted as neutral (by an insider), conclude that they are not an anti-semite and thus neither is the blog they enjoy, tell Greg to fuck off, and crawl back into their isolated cocoon of a world content in the warm feeling that what they think is all that is. An example is not the point, if that isn’t clear reread Greg’s post and substitute a blog you don’t like in place of Blastyngula and/or a derogatory term you may be able to handle, maybe anti-romulanism?

    By the way to be clear to the more obtuse commenters here, when I said “with gnashing of teeth” I meant that figuratively, not literally. I do not know if a commenter was literally gnashing their teeth or not. Base on numerous comments here, I figured it would be safe to explain this to avoid a thirty comment sub-thread of irrelevant discussion.

    Another point that seems to be unclear. The idea of perceived anti-semitism by an outsider coming to the blog anew is neither a good thing or a bad thing. If you do not care how an outsider perceives you, that’s fine. However, on a popular blog there may be one or two or a thousand commenters that do care about perception. No blog is all-inclusive to all people or viewpoints, nor should they be. There is not the suggestion in Greg’s post to suggest the Blastyngula commenters should change. There is simply the suggestion that one may wish to think about how their words are perceived by outsiders. I expect many commenters here agree with that and may be concerned that their words are perceived as anti-semitic by outsiders, but these people are too fucking lazy to think about it or change, so they scream about examples and other distractions then they dont have to think or change.

    By the way I thought about how that last sentence would be perceived.

  247. #247 Irene
    February 10, 2010

    By the way I thought about how that last sentence would be perceived.

    But did you think about how this would perceived to ME? Did you? Really? Did you? Really?

  248. #248 DuWayne
    February 10, 2010

    Hrmph. If you were really thinking Lorax, you would know that really thinking about something takes far too much energy. It is much, much easier to whine…To whine and talk about how it is the job of whatever member of whatever outgroup who might take offense to something, to figure out if the person who said it is a fucking bigot or just an ignorant prat.

  249. #249 Glendon Mellow
    February 10, 2010

    I like Greg’s point about a statement made in an in-group context appearing alarming to outsiders who might see it out of its original, baggage-laden context. It is something to seriously think about, how might someone quote-mine or selectively skew another person’s comments made within a particular audience?

    (Seriously not trying to cause this thread to careen in another direction…) It makes me think of the “trick” mentioned in the so-called Climategate emails. Terminology used by scientists in an in-group context was interpreted (whether honestly or not, doesn’t matter to my point) as deceit.

    It’s exactly the type of thing I worry about with some of my paintings. I leave some things ambiguous, and even in discussions with clients I try to anticipate how another party could re-interpret the message for their view.

  250. #250 Spartan
    February 10, 2010

    The demands for apology for something he did not say are wrong. Did you check your intellectual honesty regulator at the door this morning?

    Spare me Irene; my ‘intellectual honesty regulator’ must be right next to your ‘reading comprehension enhancer’. I didn’t say a word that Greg should apologize. No, Greg didn’t say SC was an anti-semite. I’m just pointing out that, for the exact same reason, Paul didn’t say Greg has a drinking problem.

    Frankly, I think your last sentence impugning my intellectual honesty is exactly why many threads here devolve into train wrecks, as these little opinionated judgments of people are thrown in, by everyone, just as often as, and sometimes as a substitute for, any analysis of the actual content of the conversations. They’re petty and pointless and just increase the noise factor many-fold.

  251. #251 Irene
    February 10, 2010

    be
    ^

  252. #252 Irene
    February 10, 2010

    Glendon, if people could not misinterpret your art, your art would be shit. Or, commercial.

    The same is true for blogs. Other than the science posts of PZ which receive zero critical analysis from his minions, (who, when it comes to the science, are excellent yes-men) he never writes a post more than two or three paragraphs long. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is “commercial” and not art. They are always great blog posts. But he keeps it very simple and straight forward and there are no hidden meanings.

    That works well for a blog, but it is the commercial art version of writing.

    (I do not mean to suggest that PZ Myers is not able to write longer pieces, he very much is.)

    Most of Laden’s posts have multiple meanings or buried easter eggs that don’t contribute directly to the point at all (well, sometimes) but that are amusing or interesting for those who happen to get them. The central points are straight forward but since they take more than one paragraph to make are often lost on those who are accustom to getting the spoon quicker to the mouth.

    Glendon, if your art was more symbolic and less iconographic, ironically, it would be less difficult to misinterpret. It if was more iconographic it would be impossible to misinterpret. (To be honest I’ve only looked at a few of our items, but that is my considered opinion as a non-expert)

  253. #253 Coriolis
    February 10, 2010

    There is art, and there is science. In the words of Dirac:

    “In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it’s the exact opposite.”

    I find it to be a short and concise statement as to the goal of scientific writing.

  254. #254 Cat Faber
    February 10, 2010

    Blastula is named after a stage of embryological development. Check.
    Blastula is run by a professor, check.
    Who lives in Minnesota, check.
    Who uses two initials instead of a first name, check.
    And has become a focal point for a large, thriving atheist community, check, but we won’t count this one since it is necessary to the plot.

    But Blastula is a fictional construct, not intended to bring Pharyngula instantly to mind.

    Hmmm. Keep the day job. Writing fiction is a fine hobby–the net is *full* of fanfic–but I’m sorry to say that you just don’t have the creativity to make it fly as anything more.

    Except the part about Blastula being anti-Semitic. That part was pretty creative. Unfortunately, not in a way that would appeal to what appears to be your target audience.

    Also, regarding your rhetoric, while I understand the firing squad / serial killer analogy was intended to get attention, beginning a serious conversation with a roundhouse rhetorical slap like that is likely to stir up strong emotion that makes it harder for your audience to calmly consider what you have to say.

    Whatever it was.

    Operating on a rough guess as to what you were driving at:

    Am I worried about atheism giving cover to anti-semitism? No, not particularly. We criticize bad behavior that we see as caused by religion, but we do it pretty evenhandedly.

    Could an anti-semite see our conversation as giving tacit permission for anti-semitic activities? No more so than any other conversation; irrational people will find encouragement in the flight of birds or the alignment of the stars.

    Could a non-anti-semite see our conversation and conclude that some of us are anti-semites? Sure. People make mistakes all the time. However a lot of them figure it out on greater exposure, so that’s no reason for us to stop saying what we think.

  255. #255 Elaine
    February 10, 2010

    But Blastula is a fictional construct, not intended to bring Pharyngula instantly to mind.

    Greg has already explained that this is not true. Blastula represents the set of Pharyngula like blogs including Pharyngula.

    I agree with Irene’s analysis. Blastuloids can not handle nuance, complexity, or words in groups of more than about 250. I wonder what it is like to see the world through those eyes? (Blastuloids, not Irene’s)

  256. #256 Paul W.
    February 10, 2010

    Stephanie,

    Except, of course, that Greg didn’t have to make shit up about what SC “sometimes” did. He was reacting to specific statements in the context of a discussion of how comfortable a Jew could be that there wasn’t anti-Semitism in a discussion. […]

    But be fair; Greg’s insinuations remained unsupported also.

    Spartan, Greg didn’t make insinuations. He compared specific comments to anti-Semitic rhetoric. You can agree or disagree, but you can easily look at the bases of what Greg said.

    Where, exactly?

    As I recall it, Greg was explicitly asked to give specifics—what exactly did SC say that was so “antisemitic”-sounding?—and he refused to do so, but he and you kept going as though it was obvious.

    It was certainly not obvious to some of us.

    Paul didn’t do anything to support an argument that Greg gets angrier, etc. in the afternoons and evenings. Or are only “they” allowed to argue without evidence?

    Hey, it was my outsider impression. And I am asking for your evidence.

    For what it’s worth, BTW, I don’t actually think Greg has a drinking problem.

    I and some others have in fact wondered WTF is up with Greg lately, but tended to chalk it up to things like lack of sleep due to having a new baby, or whatever.

  257. #257 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    As I recall it, Greg was explicitly asked to give specifics—what exactly did SC say that was so “antisemitic”-sounding?—and he refused to do so, but he and you kept going as though it was obvious.

    As I recall it, I did not refuse to do anything. I simply ignored your petty whinging and hand wringing, became annoyed at Salty Current’s over the top ALL CAPS screaming, saw the situation as unfixable and the participants as unredeemable asses.

    And when you use the word “ask” it is rather laughable. I am not sure that you are capable of such politeness. Substitute the phrase “demand, feet stomping up a cloud of dust, screaming like a spoiled toddler who’s lost his binkie” and you’d be a bit closer.

    (String of quotes and references to numerous comments disproving what I just said about what I was thinking to be rong in three … two … one …. [or rather is it time for the stomping off act])

  258. #258 bexley
    February 10, 2010

    I agree with Irene’s analysis. Blastuloids can not handle nuance, complexity, or words in groups of more than about 250. I wonder what it is like to see the world through those eyes? (Blastuloids, not Irene’s)

    Aah but these type of comments could provide cover for the New Atheist hating bigots! ;)

  259. #259 Glendon Mellow
    February 10, 2010

    “Most of Laden’s posts have multiple meanings or buried easter eggs that don’t contribute directly to the point at all (well, sometimes) but that are amusing or interesting for those who happen to get them. The central points are straight forward but since they take more than one paragraph to make are often lost on those who are accustom to getting the spoon quicker to the mouth.”

    Irene, you said it. That’s what keeps me coming around. Greg withholding the spoon.

  260. #260 Stephanie Z
    February 10, 2010

    Spartan and Paul W., please see comment 182 here.

  261. #261 Stephen Wells
    February 10, 2010

    Greg, halfway through you asked a commenter to imagine you were violently throttling them, now you’re not certain if other people can be polite. Pot, kettle? That shaking-by-the-ears thing was really disturbing.

  262. #262 Paul W.
    February 10, 2010

    By the way, a little bit of context may be in order for anybody who thinks the Pharyngulites are out of line in taking Greg’s post as rather insidiously targeted at them.

    Look at the first four sentences, including the title:

    What does an atheist firing squad look like?

    Perhaps not what you’d think.

    This is not about appeasement. It is about not being a racist slob.

    Anybody who’s been around ScienceBlogs for a while and followed the Framing Wars and the Accommodationism Wars—as Greg has to some extent—will understand that references to “atheism” and “appeasement” have special significance.

    In particular, what’s now being called “accommodationism” often used to be called “appeasement,” but was ditched because it that was deemed too pejorative, and because of its vilifying connotations specifically about Chamberlain’s appeasement of the Nazis. (Hence the derisive phrase “Neville Chamberlain atheist.”)

    Some of us even recognize the phrase “not about appeasement” as something Nisbet and Mooney said when specifically and unconvincingly rebutting charges that what they were advocating was appeasement.

    In point of fact, much of the accommodationist rhetoric IS EXACTLY about appeasement, connotations aside. The real question is whether and when such appeasement is justified and strategically sound, or is is a mistake.

    I for one, am glad that the extremely loaded term “appeasement” has mostly been dropped from the discussion, because its connotations are prejudgmental. I’d rather people didn’t use loaded terminology like that, so that we can have actual argument about whether in fact appeasing the religious majority (or sensitive religious minorities) is a good idea.

    When Greg says

    It’s not about appeasement. It’s about being a racist slob.

    that’s a very interesting and highly loaded thing to say. Apparently what we non-appeasing New Atheists and especially Pharyngulites have missed for the last couple of years is that we had no idea what we were talking about, and maybe we’re just racist slobs. Wow.

    Or perhaps Greg didn’t mean to imply that in its full generality, and was referring to the narrower subject that’s been on the table very recently, here, about whether certain negative comments about the Jewish religion amount to racism of a sort.

    Note that Greg didn’t say that it’s about not appearing to outsiders to be a racist slob. He specifically said it’s about not being a racist slob.

    Greg made it seem black and white. Either you’re what many of us call an appeaser, or you’re a racist slob.

    Now perhaps that’s not what Greg meant, either. Perhaps what he meant is not that the general issue is about appeasement vs. racism, but that certain kinds of cases are more about the latter than the former—for example, certain things one might say to a Jew in a discussion about religion on Pharyngula, or here on Greg’s blog.

    Even so, that’s fairly provocative. It sounds like some of the things that have been discussed by some people lately around here are not about appeasement as they thought, but about being racist slobs.

    Naturally, inquiring minds want to know what, specifically, Greg is talking about. It sounds like he’s saying that somebody, maybe SC or me, is actually a racist slob, for specific things that they thought were about not being unduly appeasing.

    That sure got my attention. I think Greg dug himself into a deep hole in the first four sentences of his post—one that would take some really interesting and crystal clear rhetoric to clarify and justify.

    That’s not what we got.

    I, for one, think that Greg is saying some interesting things in his post. I think it’s a valid question to what extent we should appease people’s delicate sensibilities and refrain from criticizing their religion because it might be perceived as an attack on their value as people.

    On the other hand, I think there’s a very important consideration of what the long-term, large scale effects of such appeasement are, and on the whole, I’m against it for both basic reasons of honesty—I don’t like telling comforting “lies to children,” or leaving common falsehoods unrebutted—and because I think it’s generally a strategic mistake, due to Overton Window considerations.

    I also think that if Greg is going to pontificate about appeasing outsiders’ delicate sensibilities because the alternative is being something like a racist slob, he ought to take his own advice to heart.

    He ought to realize that Pharyngulites are people too, and that there’s plenty of background baggage that they inevitably bring to bear in reading his provocative posts. In particular, they think that specifics matter—if you’re going to claim that somebody is a racist slob, you’d better have a good example or two. And if the person you pick is a well-known antiracist blogger, you’d better have a very, very good explanation and not wrap it up in loaded metaphors about “Blastula” and genocidal firing squads.

    Basically, I think Greg dug himself a hole, and then just kept digging.

    Blogger posts flame bait, Godwins own blog, gets flamed. Film at 11.

  263. #263 TonyC
    February 10, 2010

    I thought this was a very thought-provoking post.

    Lots of commentary — I read through the first 50 or so… however one thing becomes clear (and perhaps I’ll explain by anecdote, which seems to be de rigeur for GLB)

    BTW: Feel free to skip this comment, too!

    My son (aspiring atheist) got into a discussion with a classmate (aspiring christian) regarding the use of the christian bible as a foundation for morals and ethics (in an ethics class).

    The christian stance: I believe what is in the bible and I follow its teachings.
    My son: so you support slavery?
    christian: of course not!
    son: it’s right there in the bible – leviticus or something.
    christian: but that’s the old testament. I follow Christ.
    son: so you don’t accept the rules in the old testament? Only the new?
    christian: yes, of course! I’m not living in olden times!
    son: So you are OK with gay rights, then?
    christian: what?
    son: gay rights. That homosexuality is perfectly normal, and that homosexuals should have the same rights as heterosexuals.
    christian: no, of course not. homosexuality is wrong. It says so in the bible!
    son: but only in the old testament.
    christian: No, that’s wrong. It’s in the New testament too!
    son: where?

    The christian continued, complaining and ranting and raving about how my son was ‘persecuting her for her belief in god’. My son merely continued, pointing out the inconsistencies in (her) statements specific to the book she chose as her ethical and moral foundation. He never once mentioned god, or belief, or indeed ‘religion’. Only the bible, as a reference, and her statements during the conversation.

    The result of this was a ‘falling out’. Unfortunately this young girl is dating my son’s best friend of many years. He was pressured to apologize to the girl for ‘insulting her’, for suggesting she was ‘stupid to believe’.

    Now – regardless of how my son thinks, or how anyone else thinks, to my son (in the firing squad) this girl is indeed part of that group that Greg suggests above (my son demonstrates Anti-Xianism). My son does believe her to be delusional. So regardless of his actual words, I’m pretty certain he was dismissive and ‘superior’ while engaging in (to him) an intellectual argument. Given his linguistic skills, I’m pretty certain that she, and onlookers, would have had no difficulty in assessing his implied perspective of her (she is stupid, and stupid to believe).

    So what to do?

    Does he ‘apologize’ and therefore reinforce his ‘guilt in her eyes’ and reinforce the meme that ‘atheists are just anti-believers’? Or does he accede in a more graceful, seemingly accomodationist, but still honest way?

    He decided upon a diplomatic approach, for the sake of his friendship.

    1) I’m sorry that you felt our discussion attacked your deeply held beliefs
    2) I am genuinely interested in understanding the foundation of your beliefs, and how it affects your moral and ethical decisions
    3) I accept that I can be dismissive when confronted with beliefs I do not share – as can we all. I learned a lot from our conversation. I hope we can continue.

    1) says absolutely nothing – but is a palliative to the recipient. Despite being a total non-apology, it has the sense of being an apology.
    2) I’m interested. I want to learn
    3) we’re all human — maybe you should try it sometime, instead of hiding behind that book. And I learned that you are delusional – I’m looking forward to demonstrating that next time.

    The point here is that my son is NOT anti-christian, or anti-jew or anti-moslem…. but he IS anti-religion.

    He has no issue with YOU and YOUR BELIEF. He does have issue with how it affects YOUR DECISION MAKING and the society in which he lives.

    He’s still a teenager (14). He wants to grow up into a world that makes decisions rationally for the ‘greater good’. That does not have a rapture-bound idiot on the button. That affords the same rights and obligations for everyone – rich, poor, white, black, straight, gay, smart, stupid.

    I try to do my part. I hope other parents do the same.

    I try hard to think outside of my silo, and about the impact my acts have on others. I know I am extremely dismissive of religion. I also know that many of my friends are religious. I know that I’m not perfect, either, in their eyes.

    I just hope (and work hard to ensure) I do not unintentionally enable behaviors that are counter to my broader thoughts, goals and aspirations.

  264. #264 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    Stephen, I rather think I was treating him like a poorly trained dog that just shat on the carpet., which is giving poorly trained dogs a bad name. I’m sorry if your particular instincts or experience lead you do a different conclusion.

    Moreover, it is laughable that you or Paul and possibly Saltycracks (TM) feel that you are the keepers of the level of incivility vs civlity, politeness vs vitriol, or overall poor behavior that is allowed. Too little, one is a sycophant, too much, one gets uncomfortable.

    Does the phrase “control freak” come to mind? Has has anyone told you this?

    It is laughable but not surprising. You also feel comfortable in the role of telling people what to say, what to not say, how to say it, how to not say it, how to respond, when to respond, when to not respond.

    I wonder what it is like to be a friend or acquaintance of any of you in real life? The thought makes me want to take a shower.

    Paul. Wow. Holy crap. You are one sick puppy. It is hard to tell if your ranting is the result of deep misunderstanding, deep paranoia, or deep delusion.

    You could just ask me what I mean, but I doubt you could be sincere enough to convince me to give you the time of day. I doubt it would be possible to have a normal conversation with you.

    OK, in truth, I don’t know for sure if you are a ranting paranoid delusional maniac, but the words you use could lead an objective observer to think you are an utter nutjob.

    Just sayin’

  265. #265 Paul
    February 10, 2010

    Post #188 here was the one that really caught my attention.

    The straw man was the claim that people insult religious people without believing they could be insulted, or insult back. 188 is not an example of this.

    The same is true for blogs. Other than the science posts of PZ which receive zero critical analysis from his minions, (who, when it comes to the science, are excellent yes-men) he never writes a post more than two or three paragraphs long.

    Thanks for making it clear you never read Pharyngula and are talking out of your ass. Laden himself has participated in comment threads spawned by long posts by PZ that were not science posts. The fact that Myers posts many short blog posts does not mean that he does not post a substantial number of long blog posts as well (in fact, such reasoning is the same as the silly comments about how Myers doesn’t post much science, which Laden himself demolished some time back).

    But no, have fun patting yourself on the back about how your clique is smarter, better, and more civilized. Even when you do it in a comment thread where your side is deliberately misrepresenting arguments (hi Stephanie! perhaps you could point at where Greg provided examples of SC’s apparent anti-Semitism, when he straight out refused to do so). It’s sad when people accuse intellectual dishonesty while lying through their teeth.

  266. #266 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    Oh, and Paul, every time you comment on my site, the number of page views goes up. Please keep it coming. Don’t stop, Paul. Don’t stop. Please, please, don’t stop. Please.

  267. #267 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    TonyC, It sounds like your son has been handling this very thoughtfully.

  268. #268 infi
    February 10, 2010

    Pffft. This is indeed flame-bait, so I’ll bite with a topical response regarding my train of thought upon discovering the news that there is a serial arsonist running through east Texas burning down churches left and right.

    Fearing the worst, I looked through the comments of several news sites and blogs, and saw that it was pre-emptively blamed on Islamic terrorists, rather than atheists (no peace of mind for innocent Muslims on that one.) Considering the most recent serial church arsonists turned out to be nominally Methodists, just doing it for “fun”, I remembered where most of the finger pointing came from, not just on matters such as this, but in all matters in which the politically-motivated church machine is involved.

    I take no pleasure in seeing these churches burning; in fact, it is utterly revolting to me, and if I were in Texas, I would stand vigil in rotation right alongside the people whose ideas I disagree with, to defend their churches from whatever sick person or people are doing this, because ultimately what matters is harm in this world, the only one we know for sure that we have.

    I am an atheist, but to that end, my weapons are words, voting, and the comfy chair of reason, and I wholeheartedly condemn the implications that you made in your post.

  269. #269 TonyC
    February 10, 2010

    thanks Greg

    It helps that my wife & I have always tried to be positive role models, and tried to always engender a deeper/broader ‘theory of mind’ (I don’t know is a perfectly fine response, Why is always a good question, right & wrong are always relative, and what WE do is not necessarily what other people do – and that’s fine).

    It’s helped that he has lived in five different countries, and been exposed to four different school systems in his ‘formative years’.

    Different is just… different.

    Problem with adults is we often short-circuit our arguments …. (lots of backstory ignored, life is too short to go through all that again, &c)

    Mostly – it helps that he is smart and thoughtful and inquisitive and genuinely a very nice person (a geek nerd coolkid – as he styles himself in high school!)

    All the positives are his doing. Anything negative is likely my ‘bad’ example :(

  270. #270 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    infi, I had not heard about this latest spate of arson. Is the earlier one to which you refer the “black churches” that were burning, or just general churches. My memory on that is vague.

  271. #271 Stephen Wells
    February 10, 2010

    “Stephen, I rather think I was treating him like a poorly trained dog that just shat on the carpet., which is giving poorly trained dogs a bad name. I’m sorry if your particular instincts or experience lead you do a different conclusion.”

    (A) No, you are clearly not sorry.
    (B) Christ on a bike, you’ve lost it.

  272. #272 JuliaL
    February 10, 2010

    TonyC,

    I try hard to think outside of my silo, and about the impact my acts have on others. . . . I just hope (and work hard to ensure) I do not unintentionally enable behaviors that are counter to my broader thoughts, goals and aspirations.

    In tht case, perhaps you would consider pointing out to your son that it is manipulative, deceptive, and insulting to say things like “I’m sorry that you felt our discussion attacked your deeply held beliefs” with the deliberate intention of “say[ing]absolutely nothing” but giving the young woman the false “sense of [there] being an apology” in order to control her feelings through “a palliative.”

    You might warn him that the young woman may eventually catch on to his attempt to manage and alter her feelings for his own purposes. Also, you might mention to him that his friend may be intelligent enough to figure out that your son is, in full awareness, trying to make the friend and young woman believe he is saying something he is not saying. You might warn your son that people don’t like being manipulated, and this apology-sounding non-apology could result eventually in a much greater estrangement from the friend he values.

    I used to discuss this particular kind of language with my students in critical reading classes. Many of them were already aware of, and contemptuous of, others’ attempts to use it on them. Other students, especially the youngest ones, were shocked and hurt as they realized what the words actually say, and they remembered people they had trusted who said such things to them.

  273. #273 Irene
    February 10, 2010

    While I am certain that Paul W. would not burn down a church, an outside objective observer could view him as a potential arsonist. He has been requested many times to prove that he is not an arsonest and he REFUSES to do so .

  274. #274 infi
    February 10, 2010

    @Greg: 5 black, 4 white, all apparently Baptist.

  275. #275 infi
    February 10, 2010

    I should add that the newest string of arsons seems to cross sectarian boundaries…

  276. #276 Ginger Snap
    February 10, 2010

    TonyC,

    What JuliaL is saying is that your son should have slapped that Jesus-loving bitch upside the head, to be done with it.

  277. #277 Spartan
    February 10, 2010

    Spartan and Paul W., please see comment 182 here.

    I did see that Stephanie, and I see where you are coming from. It seems to come down to you feel Greg had better evidence of SC’s potentially-viewed-as-anti-semitic statements than Paul does of Greg’s angry-potentially-viewed-as-drunken expressions, and thus Paul insinuated something and Greg didn’t. I tend to disagree and think you are trying to make a bright line where one doesn’t exist, which makes it sound like so much special pleading. I can see how both statements can be viewed both ways though and I’m not arguing for a charitable or uncharitable interpretation, except to the extent that they both be treated consistently. Regardless of any disagreement, I do appreciate you providing some detail on what you think the distinctions are, so thanks.

  278. #278 Stephanie Z
    February 10, 2010

    Not quite, Spartan, although you’re close. I’m saying that Greg told people where to look to make up their own minds. Paul W. has not limited his statement beyond “tendency.” Where do you look for a tendency? How do you disagree in an informed manner?

  279. #279 Cat Faber
    February 10, 2010

    Elaine @ 255

    (Cat)
    “But Blastula is a fictional construct, not intended to bring Pharyngula instantly to mind.”

    (Elaine)
    “Greg has already explained that this is not true.”

    The trouble here, whoever may be suffering it, is apparently with a group of fifteen words. In comment #40 Greg claimed specifically that it *was* true:

    (Greg)
    “Blastual is a fiction, it looks like Pharyngula, it is not a thinly disguised Pharyngula.”

    That is what that part of my comment was responding to. Given that “Blastula” is not a thinly disguised Pharyngula, intended to bring Pharyngula instantly to mind, the many points of similarity indicate a certain lack of imagination crippling to a would-be fiction writer.

    And however irritated you may be, there is no reason to ascribe my failings, real or imagined, to a group of people with whom I happen to share an opinion. That is an error in reasoning.

  280. #280 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    Cat, are you willfully misunderstanding me or just not absorbing all of the information? Elaine is correct.

    And yes, it is true that Blastula is not a thinly disguised Pharyngula.

    Is it the case that you have a need to think that I am saying something other than what I am saying? Is there a need to construct a meaning that is not correct when I have said what the meaning is?

  281. #281 DuWayne
    February 10, 2010

    I am an atheist, but to that end, my weapons are words, voting, and the comfy chair of reason, and I wholeheartedly condemn the implications that you made in your post.

    Funny, I am all of those things and cannot begin to understand why it is so hard to just fucking think about the metaphor Greg used and why he might have used it. I suppose it is just easier to assume that Greg is a lying, evile, big blue, motherfucking meanie, bent on making those evile atheists feel bad!!! Because we all know what a major anti-atheist bigot Greg is…

  282. #282 Spartan
    February 10, 2010

    Fair enough Stephanie, but it’s also difficult to disagree with what ‘some people think’, when the person expressing what ‘some people think’ does not provide information about what he thinks about the ‘some people’. Are ‘some people’ justified or unjustified in thinking that? Is what was said anti-semitic, or does it just sound like something an anti-semite would say? Which are both definitely more interesting questions than what was discussed.

    Personally, I know exactly where I disagree with Greg, and it’s that I disagree to what extent people are justified in adding clauses to statements and assume that’s what was ‘meant'; ‘Obama is articulate’ != ‘Obama is articulate for a black man’. I understand why black people are sensitive to it, and even though getting people to be aware of the fact that some blacks are sensitive to it is a worthy goal, I’d also like to see that balanced by people being more charitable when there are multiple interpretations (Obama IS articulate for a 21st century president at the very least), and not to justify their assuming the worst possible interpretation. In a blog context, I don’t know what is gained by finding out if the person is a racist or an anti-semite or from Britain; ideally their arguments stand or not on their own merits, but all too often the substance gets lost in the sniping.

  283. #283 Jared
    February 10, 2010

    Perhaps by finding our weaknesses before the religious kooks do, we can preemptively correct them?

    Sorry, DuWayne, couldn’t help but answer your hypothetical with a more plausible answer.

  284. #284 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    ideally their arguments stand or not on their own merits, but all too often the substance gets lost in the sniping.

    I agree that the substance often (usually?) gets lost in the sniping. But the argument that the arguments stand or not on their own merits is one of those things that sometimes it true and sometimes just sounds like the right thing to say but is not. Remember the argument about Dawkin’s edited anthology? The argument that the status quo (the volume as it existed) was in no way problematic sounded a lot like that …. There were those who quite literally said that an objective search for the top 100 scientists’ writings of the “modern age” was conducted and the chips fell where they fell. The pool of writers stood on their own merits and that’s that. Adding females voices to the mix would have required removing males who were there for merit. It would have resulted in a diluted outcome.

    But there was never a rule that there were to be 100 authors. There is always vagueness in what are really the best or how ranking can go. One who asserts that there is a clearly objective 100 top writers and 101 is not as good as 100, period, has never engaged in this process of culling, choosing, editorial assessment, and so on, because it simply does not work that way. There are ways to increase the liklihood that a hihger representation of females in a selection like that would happen. The arguments that it is unfair or impossible to do so sound very rational and just and pure and clean, but they are simply wrong. But they go well in a blog comment.

    Similar sounding arguments are indeed routinely used in the day to day oppression of the oppressed and silencing of the voiceless. I get the impression that many of those who live in the bowels of Teh Blastula are unaware of this.

    (And that, by the way, was not only a comparison (and not a metaphor) but an example.)

  285. #285 TonyC
    February 10, 2010

    JuliaL@272… see Ginger Snap @ 276

    Although I do see where you are coming from, and I do generally believe that honesty is the best policy (the ONLY questions are how much?, and when?), are you truly suggesting that my son sever his ties to his friends as a result of this conversation? That’s what it comes down to (or are you wilfully ignoring the effect of emotion in teenage lives?)

    He has an opportunity to offer this *delusional bitch* (h/t GS) a palliative that will let her continue to delusionally think that she is right (while she DOES deserve a slap up-side the head — thanks, GS). He can do this at zero cost to himself AND AT ZERO COST TO HER. Nothing he is saying is a lie. Nothing he is saying is able to deceive, unless you refuse to learn to comprehend English!

    If people WERE able to comprehend and understand simple language, my son would not have found the conversation necessary – since the book could not have been used as justification for those perspectives in the first place! And the secondary ‘duplicity’ that you call out would have, likewise, been impossible – since such epithets are only possible when used against those unwilling or unable to comprehend.

    So – thanks for your CONCERN, but I find it a little misplaced.

    Apologies, Greg, for taking this somewhat off-topic, although this episode is (in many ways) exactly the behaviors your topic addressed (in microcosm)!

  286. #286 Cat Faber
    February 10, 2010

    Is it the case that you have a need to think that I am saying something other than what I am saying? Is there a need to construct a meaning that is not correct when I have said what the meaning is?

    Greg, you have said so many different things that I can’t tell anymore *what* your meaning is.

    You construct a blog that apparently is *not* a fictional construct, and *is* intended to bring Pharygula instantly to mind. But you don’t just say “Pharyngula,” which would be the normal way to do that. Yet we’re supposed to believe it’s supposedly not a thinly disguised Pharyngula either, despite all the similar details, and the intent to bring Pharyngula instantly to mind.

    If you really meant “a cluster of blogs including Pharyngula” why not say that? It’s a sight clearer, and shorter, than what you *did* say. Better yet, just name the blogs. That way people wouldn’t have to guess which ones (besides Pharyngula) you meant.

    So, what am I supposed to think, after all this?

    Because it certainly *looks* as though you want to talk about Pharyngula but don’t want to bear the social cost of talking about Pharyngula so you’re trying to maintain deniability.

    If you’re concerned about appearances–the appearance of anti-semitism, for example–it might be wise to be concerned about this appearance also.

    But whatever. You *did* mean Pharyngula, you *didn’t* mean Pharyngula, whatever is most convenient for you at the time, fine. I’m guessing anybody who reads this far down has already decided what they think you meant anyway.

    The substance of your argument–which as best I can make out is that you worry that opposition to religion gives cover and comfort to anti-semitism and might make outsiders mistake us for anti-semites– is easy enough to respond to. 1) opposing irrational actions that cause harm is not anti-semitism just because in some cases the irrational action is performed by a Jew. 2) some anti-semites may use some of our arguments as justification for their attitudes and actions. So what? Irrational people will use anything from the fall of marked sticks to the arrangement of internal organs as justification for their attitudes and actions. They’re wrong, that’s all. It happens. 3) some people may mistake us for anti-semites. It’s a pity, of course, but I don’t think it will happen often, and people make mistakes all the time.

    We’re not responsible for either 2 or 3 and I do not think any change in our actions short of never saying anything at all could prevent them.

    And I don’t propose to knuckle under and be a good (silent) atheist. I’ve done that for too long.

    Is that what you wanted to know?

  287. #287 DuWayne
    February 10, 2010

    More plausible in what way Jared? Are we now stuck with putting anything and everything we say through a filter of “what religious kooks might quotemine?” Are we too weak and weak willed to look at a challenging and provocative metaphor and actually fucking think about it?

    Do we who claim to be rational really need everything spoon fed in ten second soundbites, refusing to see any nuance? Are we actually supposed to be that fucking lazy?

    Maybe that works for you and several people who have been spewing piles and piles of shit on this thread. It does not and will not work for me.

    I am not saying there is no room to disagree with Greg. Greg pisses me off once in a while and I am more than happy to argue with him rather voraciously. But I don’t start arguing with him, or anyone else, until I have carefully considered what they actually said.

  288. #288 infi
    February 10, 2010

    Keep beating that strawman, DuWayne. I’m well aware of Greg’s long standing, his work on the radio show which I used to listen to quite often, and his generally on-the-ball attitude, which makes the allusions in this post all the more surprising.

    I see the fine line walked by outspoken people such as Pat Condell, to address Islam itself, rather than Arabs as a people, but I completely disagree that robust conversation is doing them any injustice. I also feel that, for instance, the ADL sometimes goes too far. But that is obviously not because they are Jewish; it’s just that they have simply gone too far in defending the indefensible.

    But, apart from a few trolls here and there, I don’t see that behaviour on the whole on ‘Blastula’ or most of the other usual suspects; people who have those thoughts betray them rather readily, and I and I think many others would quickly disassociate myself with them. And besides, the answer to it is more conversation, not less.

    Which, I suppose, was done here, albeit perhaps in a less than stellar fashion.

  289. #289 Jared
    February 10, 2010

    I think you completely misunderstood me, DuWayne. I was simply pointing out that perhaps Greg’s motivation here was to make us think about a complex subject. The hypothetical I was responding to was:
    “I suppose it is just easier to assume that Greg is a lying, evile, big blue, motherfucking meanie, bent on making those evile atheists feel bad!!!”

    As far as “putting everything through a filter,” I am in favor of effective communication, with fewer misunderstandings. I don’t think a filter is the best way to do this. As for “Do we who claim to be rational really need everything spoon fed in ten second soundbites, refusing to see any nuance?” Please indicate where I implied this should be the case? If I gave you this impression, I am terribly sorry. I don’t think you could be any more misrepresentative of my position. I don’t think you did this intentionally, but I could be wrong.

    I’m not sure who pissed in your corn flakes, but it wasn’t me.

    Let me elaborate on the statement a bit more:
    “Perhaps by finding our weaknesses before the religious kooks do, we can preemptively correct them?”
    My point was that if we find fault in each other, we should feel obligated to draw each others’ attention to it and indicate why it is not appropriate. At the same time, it was meant to illustrate that group-think can be a problem we do not wish to have. Additionally, we should not hesitate in correcting someone just because they are in our own “group.”

  290. #290 infi
    February 10, 2010

    and I and I == “and I think that I and many others”

  291. #291 JuliaL
    February 10, 2010

    TonyC,

    are you truly suggesting that my son sever his ties to his friends as a result of this conversation?

    No. I am suggesting that his friends may sever their ties to him whenever they realize that he has been attempting to deceive and manipulate them for the sake of his own social position.

    I am suggesting that even a teenage atheist needs to be practicing ways to say politely exactly what he means, rather than ways to curry temporary favor with the young people around him by trying to distract them from noticing what he really means.

    And on a post that, broadly at least, has to do with other people’s perceptions of what atheists say, I don’t think it was off-topic for you to bring it up. (You are surely not suggesting that once you brought it up, it is off-topic for me to offer a criticism of part of what you said.)

  292. #292 Spartan
    February 10, 2010

    Remember the argument about Dawkin’s edited anthology?

    I do, and there were a lot of arguments swirling around that one. I agree that any argument relying on there being an objective way to rank science writing is invalid for the reasons you mentioned, but that’s an example of an argument that doesn’t stand on it’s own merits. My point is that nothing is added or taken away from that argument by determining if the person is a misogynist or not; the argument fails equally.

    It’s a tough example for me because I didn’t find anything problematic with Dawkins anthology, with the exception of the word ‘Oxford’ in the title, but I assume adults are capable of seeing ‘by Richard Dawkins’ and understanding what that means. I didn’t see anyone make a very convincing case that the ratio of female to male writers in the anthology was way out of wack with the ratio of female and male science writers in the 20th century. Yes, there are definitely concerns about why females are under-represented in science writing, but Dawkins can only read what was published, whether what was published is skewed unfairly towards men or not. Agreed, there was never a rule that there be 100 authors and of course more females could have been included, but it just isn’t Dawkins job to further yours or my or anyone’s social agenda, and he’s not guilty of anything if he fails to do so. The arguments that it is ‘unfair or impossible’ to include more women writers I agree are wrong when they are based on the failed argument that there are objective rankings of science writing. But unless Dawkins is greatly under-representing females in the ‘best science writing’ category, it is also unfair to tell Dawkins what his favorite science writing is; it’s akin to the comments in this thread that some feel are essentially telling you how to blog.

  293. #293 DuWayne
    February 10, 2010

    Infi –

    The substance of your argument–which as best I can make out is that you worry that opposition to religion gives cover and comfort to anti-semitism and might make outsiders mistake us for anti-semites…

    You might note that I have not said anything about antisemitism. For the record, I am not seeing this as an us – you dichotomy. I am not terribly gung ho about Israel’s dealings with the Palestinians, any more than I am a fan of their dealings with Israel. I simply do not approve of the methods of violence that either side has used and am cognizant that there are people who believe this makes me antisemitic. That is truly unfortunate, just as it is patently false.

    But where I see this post being more relevant to me, is my general methods for dealing with Christians. I am not nice about it sometimes, as I have a great deal of anger and resentment – some of it entirely justified and some of it absolutely not. Regardless of justification, it is important to me that people recognize that I am not anti-Christians, I am anti-Christianity. Because at least some degree of my anger and resentment is not entirely rational (I am still trying to work out the gray area and where it crosses into black), I really should take more care with my words.

    I don’t always appear to be a very nice person when I get riled about something. It is not hard for someone to misconstrue what I am saying as bigotry and it is very easy for me to provide cover for people who are actively engaging in bigotry. So not only do I need to pay attention to what I am saying, but also to what others are saying – at least what people I associate myself with are saying.

    Bottom line, I appreciated Greg’s post, because it is about something that *I* need to be considering more about myself and my interactions with others. And it meshes quite nicely with the bulk of my studies this semester. On several levels this post was rather useful and I think it is fucking ridiculous, the whining going on in this thread. Just take a few minutes, don’t take it as a personal affront and consider what is being said.

    And no, unfortunately not a lot of conversation has happened here. Mostly it has been a lot of accusations. For the record, I rather assumed most people are aware of Greg’s contributions in the realm of atheist awareness and the like. I am just terribly fond of jabbing barbs about Those People, which is part of what this discussion is about…

    Robust conversation is not a bad thing. Neither is carefully considering both what one is actually responding to and how one is responding.

    Jared –

    I’m not sure who pissed in your corn flakes, but it wasn’t me.

    No, it wasn’t you and it wasn’t my cornflakes. It was some motherfucking asshole who pissed on the toilet seat at the coffee shop. Cannot…Fucking…Stand…That…

    I think you completely misunderstood me, DuWayne.

    I did and I sincerely apologize. I was wrong and not even piss on the toilet seat is a reasonable excuse.

    My point was that if we find fault in each other, we should feel obligated to draw each others’ attention to it and indicate why it is not appropriate. At the same time, it was meant to illustrate that group-think can be a problem we do not wish to have. Additionally, we should not hesitate in correcting someone just because they are in our own “group.”

    Yes. I think all three of these are excellent and important points. Honestly, I think it is more important to deal with people in one’s own collective of friends, when they are wrong. Strangers are far less likely to accept criticism than friends are. With strangers it usually turns out that rather than criticism that is accepted, it becomes criticism that puts the person on the defensive.

    Though sometimes it just makes for pissed off friends…

    Seriously though, I am sorry about the mixup. It was inexcusable and ironic, given the metaphor being discussed.

  294. #294 TonyC
    February 10, 2010

    JuliaL:

    Is my son being manipulative? yes, of course. Is he manipulating his friends? no. He is manipulating a girlfriend of a friend. Different perspective (slight but meaningful)

    The relationship that matters to my son is his best friend of many years. He *has* told his friend his honest perspective — that his girlfriend is delusional, and in this regard, stupid. His friend simply *needs* my son to *apologize* so that the girlfriend doesn’t dump him for being *friends with an evil atheist*.

    As far as manipulation goes – have you spent *any* time with teenagers? It’s what they do! (It’s what the girl in this case is doing to my son’s friend!)

    As far as *integrity* goes – my son makes no attempt to hide his position in all of this, but he *is* challenged by going to school in North Georgia (not a bastion of *freethought*). He is already *targeted* by being atheist in an almost 100% christian school. He conducts himself honestly. If you actually read the little dialog – you will note that the girl did not.

    My son is willing to ‘be the better man’ and make the form of an apology, to make the life of his friend easier. If the girlfriend becomes less delusional, perhaps she will then appreciate his true perspective – but that’s unlikely.

    So. Everyone *already* knows what my son *means*. They also *know* that he is an *evil atheist*. They also *know* that he is honest and trustworthy.

    And if they learn to comprehend English, they’ll recognize his continued honesty in his ‘apology’.

    Or perhaps you only care about TRUTH and damn the horses? As a social creature, my son is perfectly in tune with what he needs to do to lubricate his relationships. He knows just how far he needs to go. He also knows exactly how far he wont.

    Which is why this is also very much on-topic. (How many lies need an honest person tell, to maintain broader integrity and truth?)

  295. #295 Paul W.
    February 10, 2010

    Stephanie:

    Not quite, Spartan, although you’re close. I’m saying that Greg told people where to look to make up their own minds. Paul W. has not limited his statement beyond “tendency.” Where do you look for a tendency? How do you disagree in an informed manner?

    You may be right that I was unduly vague in a way that couldn’t be checked out. I think that matters less than you make it out to, and the parallel mostly holds, for a couple of reasons.

    One is that we have repeatedly asked you and Greg for specifics, and not gotten them. Instead we’ve gotten (from Greg) condescending dismissals about how he doesn’t need to cooperate with trolls like us. We don’t think we’re just trolling, and certainly weren’t when this thing blew up. We were raising serious issues sincerely, and we still basically are, despite the ongoing heatedness and snark.

    You, Stephanie, have repeatedly made claims to the effect that we got the specifics that we asked for; Greg has recently acknowledged that we haven’t.

    If you think it’s so easy to find the specific offending comments from SC, showing that she’s either antisemitic or easily mistaken by the purported “objective people” for such, please, by all means, point them out.

    I’ve been over the thread about pissing on Henry Gee’s rug repeatedly, and I honestly can’t find them—except perhaps one, which Greg did quote, which I think he misinterpreted.

    Here’s one crucial exchange that I think a lot of crap fell out of, where it appeared to several people that Greg was doing a Glen Beck, and to several others (including me) that he wasn’t doing it intentionally, but really stuck his foot in it:

    [Greg:]An interesting feature of the above discussion is the interesting problem of avoiding being racist/whateverist and being generally tolerant but being intolerant of religion. That turns out to be pretty tricky.

    [SC:]I don’t find it tricky at all

    [Greg:]Much of your commentary together with this statement could lead some people to assume that you have some serious antisemitic issues to deal with. I’m not saying that, but I just want you to know that it could look this way. (I don’t happen to think it is the case.)

    When I read that, I literally gasped a little and said “oh, fuck.” Not because it’s obviously a bad thing to say, but because it was non-obviously a very bad thing to say at that point in the conversation. I knew it could be quite plausibly interpreted in very different ways, and guessed it would be.

    To somebody who wasn’t following SC’s line of argument, and did not trust her, it could sound like SC was just being simplistically dismissive of subtle points of what Greg was saying, and that he was pointing out that she sounded bad. I don’t think that was the case.

    To somebody who was, like me, it could sound like Greg was missing SC’s point and misrepresenting it; his statement was unjustified even as a claim about other people’s perceptions. Hence the subsequent request for specifics.

    To somebody who didn’t particularly trust Greg, and was familiar with his multilayered, often ironic and snarky style, which his supporters here have pointed out, it could seem like a serious Glen Beck dick move—of course he’s not saying that, but reasonable people reasonably could think that. (Hence the subsequent outrage and demand for specifics.)

    On one hand, Greg did indeed deny that he thought that—twice, even.

    On the other hand, Glen Beck does that too.

    And as several of Greg’s supporters have pointed out in this discussion, that’s a common sleazy tactic among antisemites and their ilk. As has been noted, that sort of rhetoric thrives on insinuation and plausible deniability.

    And Greg didn’t just comment about a possible appearance of antisemitism—he talked about how “her commentary ” (note the vagueness) “together with this statement could lead some people to assume that you have some serious antisemitic issues to deal with“. (My emphasis, admittedly, but I found the phrase striking, especially in a context where SC was being painted as rather over-the-top kooky.) That could reasonably suggest to “objective people” that Greg is intentionally twisting the knife somebody he thinks deserves it, and who deserves no better treatment, such that the disclaimers might just be window dressing.

    Given the overall level of dismissiveness and snark from Greg and you and your ilk here, why should anybody who doesn’t already agree with you trust Greg or you not to pull a Glen Beck? We think that you’ve been rather evasive, and unfair, and maybe willfully so, justifying it with condescending dismissiveness toward us stupid trolls.

    Now I realize that you think you’ve been fair and evenhanded, and only answered snarkily when spoken to snarkily—you think you’ve only “matched our tone” when provoked.

    We honestly don’t think so. We think that all along, you’ve been more dismissive and snarky than we have, and that we’ve mostly displayed a serious engagement with the issues, which you haven’t. All along, we think, we’ve sometimes traded snark for snark, but we have also made points and arguments that have mostly gone unaddressed—some of them over and over. We’ve been arguing in good faith more than it appears to us that you have, and to us that’s an essential point of civility.

    (For example, you and I had a little exchange where instead of addressing substantive disagreement, you resorted to telling me I should “grow up.” Then, and only then did I say that you should “have your condescending head examined”; I was trying to communicate, however snarkily, that I was matching your condescending tone, when you were being unduly snarky and dismissive . But of course you got bent out of shape, in a way that you apparently think I shouldn’t when you tell me I should “grow up.” Sorry, Stephanie, but it doesn’t work that way. If you tell me to grow up, when I don’t think that’s an appropriate response, I’ll tell you you’re nuts for thinking that that’s an appropriate thing to say to me. Maybe I’m wrong, and do need to “grow up,” but if you go there, that’s what I’ll do; that’s how dismissive snark works; don’t dish it out if you can’t take it. Likewise for Greg and his tortured puppy analogy. If he wants respect, he’s got to show a little respect.)

    The request for specifics about what SC said that is so “antisemitic”-sounding is one of those things. That request is not going away, and your repeated claims that the point has been addressed sound like convenient revisionist history to us.

    I for one have skimmed through the older thread repeatedly, rereading everything that seemed relevant, and I still don’t know what you’re talking about.

    That makes it extremely annoying when you keep acting as though that’s a settled issue, and that SC is kook who deserved the condescending and dismissive treatment she got. (Not primarily in the above-quoted exchange, although I think that marked a turn for the worse.)

    Especially since Greg raised the same specter in this thread, saying

    I saw what I think a lot of objective people looking in might interpret as low level but definite anti-semitism on two posts on my blog which I believe were the result of this argumentative form displaced.

    He said that objective people might interpret things as low level but definite anti-semitism.

    Sorry, but that sounds a whole lot like a Glen Beck insinuation to me, trying to make it sound reasonable and even justified to draw such a definite conclusion, without quite saying so.

    If that is not what Greg meant to imply, and I give him the benefit of the doubt that it wasn’t, his phrasing was spectacularly poorly chosen. That is ironic for somebody who’s in the process of condescending about sensitivity to other people’s perceptions, while simultaneously marginalizing his own critics who sincerely see things differently. Quite a fuckup, IMHO.

    I think it’s instructive to look at J.B.’s entirely reasonable response to my intentionally Greg-like comment about Greg’s possible drinking problem, which was meant to resemble his comments about SC’s supposed apparent serious antisemitic issues.

    Note especially what J.B. chose to quote from me, to respond to:

    Now I’m not saying he has a drinking problem and I don’t believe he has a drinking problem, but you can see from this pattern how someone might interpret this as a drinking problem.

    Paul, that is outrageous. I know Greg. He does not have a drinking problem. He deserves an apology for that. In fact he is usually the sober one driving other people home.

    Well. that’s exactly how many of us felt about the possible insinuation that S.C. might be “antisemitic,” or even appear to any reasonable observer to have serious antisemitic issues. Holy crap, Greg stuck his foot in it there, even if it was an accident, and even if people were a little paranoid to take it badly. (It’s not like Greg and you and DuWayne haven’t demonstrated a similar level of paranoia toward critics here, IMHO. Cut SC a little slack!)

    We’ve known her for years, and we’ve know that she’s among the first to soberly drive the drunks home—er, to jump on antisemites, both at Pharyngula and on her own largely anti-racist anti-oppression blog. Opposing things like “antisemitism” (anti-ethnic Jewishness, really) is largely what SC is about.

    IMHO, that’s a worse accusation—or insinuation, or apparent insinuation—than suggesting that objective observers might reasonably conclude that Greg has a drinking problem. I suspect that for most people here, racism is morally worse than alcoholism, and that goes double for anybody who knows and likes SC.

    Notice how J.B. responded. J.B. didn’t bother to ask for evidence, much less specifics. J.B.—entirely reasonably, I think—immediately said that the insinuation was outrageous. Whether it was an accusation or an insinuation is not relevant. Whether I had specific evidence wasn’t immediately relevant either. I’d made an apparently below the belt, entirely uncivil statement, and I should fucking well take it back and apologize. If the insinuation was in fact justified, that’s my problem—implicitly, the insinuation was so outrageous that it could be assumed to be unjustified, and the burden of proof was squarely on me.

    And I think that’s exactly right.

    It’s true. Greg, I’m sorry for the over-the-top insinuation. (And J.B., I’m especially sorry for playing you that way; I hope you can understand why I did it.)

    By the same token, I think Greg should have apologized to SC, who was not terribly paranoid to take his statement the way she did, and to be outraged, as J.B. was, vicariously, for Greg.

    Greg should have quickly realized that however unintentionally, he’d Glen Becked SC in the minds of not only SC but several lookers-on. (This was pointed out to him by several people.)

    But Greg chose not to do that, and instead Greg and some others chose to vilify SC even further, making her out to be a kooky troll who deserved no such sensitivity.

    That had the effect of grossly compounding the fuckup. If your response to inadvertently Glen Becking someone is to make them out to be a kook, that may suggest in the minds of “objective people,” who are looking on without appropriate context, that the person in question might in fact be a despicable kook of the sort in question.

    Yikes.

    In this thread, Greg has chosen to call SC’s response a tantrum.

    I don’t think it was. It was very similar to J.B.’s response to me, with its outrage and talk about owing an apology, and I don’t think anybody’s suggested that that was a “tantrum.”

    IMHO, what’s going on is that Greg fostered a misunderstanding, and instead of giving an appopriate apology, he amplified the offense with dismissive contempt.

    I also think that what Greg and his supporters have been doing in these two threads largely amounts to an extended, slow-motion tantrum of sorts about not getting the respect and consideration they think they deserve, while dishing out scorn and contempt for their critics.

  296. #296 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    Greg, you have said so many different things that I can’t tell anymore *what* your meaning is.

    Actually, no, that is simply not true. If you start a comment with that, don’t expect much of a response!

  297. #297 Andrew Esch
    February 10, 2010

    Is it possible that every day I wake up and get out of bed, but unlike most people I get some sort of sick, unholy, subversive pleasure from it? Does that mean everyone else should stay asleep?

  298. #298 JuliaL
    February 10, 2010

    TonyC,

    this is also very much on-topic

    I agree with you. And to bring this back to what is apparently the very center of the topic, we need only imagine a very slightly different story:

    A girl is asked by a male classmate where she gets her ethical system. She replies that she derives it from the religious writings followed by her observant Jewish family. The classmate believes her on that basis alone to be delusional. So regardless of his actual words, he is dismissive and ‘superior’ while engaging in (to him) an intellectual argument. Given his linguistic skills, she, and onlookers, have no difficulty in assessing his implied perspective of her (she is stupid, and stupid to believe). She complains, with what in her classmate’s view is ranting and raving, about how the classmate is ‘persecuting her for her belief in god,’ but he continues. He never once mentions god, or belief, or indeed ‘religion’. Only the Jewish religious writings, as a reference, and her statements during the conversation.

    Later, an adult male writes on a blog that this girl is a “delusional bitch” who “DOES deserve a slap up-side the head.”

    And here is our new question: Is it possible/likely that one/some/many people may see the adult male’s comments as anti-Semitic when used to refer to a 14-year-old Jewish schoolgirl who follows her Jewish culture/relgion and strongly objects to implications that her culture/belief shows that she is not only stupid but inferior?

    My guess is that the answer is yes.

    A related question. Is the rhetoric “delusional bitch . . . who DOES deserve a slap up-side the head,’ when referring to a 14-year-old Jewish schoolgirl in an overlap area of atheist and anti-Semitic expression? Again, I think, probably yes.

  299. #299 squidworthy
    February 10, 2010

    Greg,

    You don’t get to judge whether or not another party can tell what your meaning is. That is up to them to decide.

    Also, the appropriate time to make your meaning clear is in the initial statement. When you have to follow up with so many explanations – well I think that speaks for itself.

  300. #300 octopod
    February 10, 2010

    Not going to touch this conversational disaster with a bloody long pole. I will, however, point out that you have two denialist blogs, Watts Up With That and Climate Audit, in your Wikio science blog widget. You might want to do something about that.

  301. #301 Nina
    February 10, 2010

    In a civilized and secular society, people can tell the difference between name calling groups of people, advocating their slaugher and actually slaughtering them.

    History and current day shows us that in a religious society, there’s isn’t any difference, since religion demands no tolerance for non-members of said religion.

  302. #302 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    JuliaL: PGA (Pretty good analysis).

  303. #303 Recall
    February 10, 2010

    I agree with you. And to bring this back to what is apparently the very center of the topic, we need only imagine a very slightly different story:

    Changing ‘Christian’ to ‘Jewish’ is a slight change? Christianity is privileged in a way that Judaism is not.

  304. #304 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    Squidworthy: think about what you’ve said and how dumb it is. Sorry, but really.

    The appropriate time for me to be understood is “at the beginning.” Fine. But what if half the people who read something I’ve read get it, the other half don’t. According to your rule, I did it wrong. I should have had 100% understanding.

    So into the time capsule I go, and I redo history. I rewrite to make it understood at the beginning.

    Now 89% of the readers get what I meant, 11% don’t. What do I do now? Am I supposed to achieve 100%? OK, back into the time capsule.

    Now I’ve got all but three of the 1000 people who read what I wrote understaning it. But to do so I’ve actually had to simplify my argument to leave out complexities that were originally part of what I wanted to say. And there are still these three people….

    And so on.

    So on, it is not the case that it is my responsibility is to get 100% of the people to understand what I wrote. Indeed, it may well be that my intention/expectationis that some people will get it right way, and some people will only get it if they ask some questions.

    That strategy is something I’ve been accused of before, as though it is a bad thing. I start out the process, I leave open some issues, I expect some conversation. It is actually a pretty good way of developing a dialog, and that is sometimes (often) signaled by adding a question or provocative statement to the post.

    The alternative … what you are demanding of me … is to write watered down wikipedia articles. I don’t do that. For that … consult wikipedia!

    When you have to follow up with so many explanations – well I think that speaks for itself.

    Is your problem that you are not a rational person with a scientific mind? Seriously. Do consider the meaning of “so many”

    The pharyngulistas are mad at me, so of course they are making piles of noise. But many people are saying that they get my points, and several thousand people read this post with no comment. In my view, this means that it is most likely that most reasonably intelligent people with no ax to grind basically got it.

    You don’t get to judge whether or not another party can tell what your meaning is. That is up to them to decide.

    I don’t quite get what you mean by this, but if you are referring to someone telling me that I meant X when I actually meant Y, and then I insist that I really meant Y, and said someone continues to insist that no, I meant X, then you are quite wrong.

    But maybe you meant something else. I guess you just weren’t clear. Please try to not ever be unclear again. Thank you very much.

  305. #305 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    Octopod: Did you read the paragraph above the list? Just curious as to whether people are even seeing that. You are the first person to mention this to me from having seen the sidebar.

    I did have a blog post about this a while back:

    http://scienceblogs.com/gregladen/2010/02/february_wikio_science_blog_to.php

    I appreciate your input. It is duly noted, and I think it will make a difference.

    (But feel free to leave an additional comment or note on that other post. That might be helpful.)

  306. #306 Elaine
    February 10, 2010

    Squidworthy = pwnd

  307. #307 Sven DiMilo
    February 10, 2010

    Laden: YFS (you’re full of shit)

    You’ve burnt some bridges in this thread. No reason why you should particularly care about any of them (e.g., me; I don’t expect to be missed), though, I guess.

    Greg, you have said so many different things that I can’t tell anymore *what* your meaning is.

    Actually, no, that is simply not true. If you start a comment with that, don’t expect much of a response!

    No, you know what? It is true. And it’s been true throughout. You think you’ve been making a consistent point here? Or, I guess, a consistent Socratic insinuation, or whatever? What. Is. It?

    Paul W. has attempted many times to sincerely explain his perspective (which is not too different from the perspectives of many others , e.g., me), at painstaking length, in great clarity, and in a calm manner. Your first, kind of mind-bogglingly off-base, response was:

    You are one sick puppy. It is hard to tell if your ranting is the result of deep misunderstanding, deep paranoia, or deep delusion…OK, in truth, I don’t know for sure if you are a ranting paranoid delusional maniac, but the words you use could lead an objective observer to think you are an utter nutjob.

    [yeah, I understand that last bit’s the recurring trope and all, but there’s deploying the trope make a point and there’s deploying the trope to be a dick. “Just sayin’.” Oh, and there’s also attempting to deploy the trope apparently solely to display one’s degree of not-getting-it-ness (e.g. Irene–if that is her real name–@#273).]

    and your second was to refuse to respond because you felt insulted(!) by his first sentence? Butthurt because he said–what was it?–“Greg, you have said so many different things that I can’t tell anymore *what* your meaning is.”?
    Ouchy!

    Plus, with regard to SC, you have moved from being possibly obliviously an asshole to being blatantly and intentionally an asshole and not caring. “Salty Cracks™”? Really? Somebody should say it, and so I guess I will: fuck you.

    um, what else?
    Well, there’s more but frankly who gives a shit. Essentially, I have to believe that it’s a big ol’ trolling expedition that you’ve allowed and encoursged to get out of control. If you weren’t being a fucking jerk to people I like, I wouldn’t say anything.

    So, um, please ask Sgt. Z. to muster me out, I’m going to flounce.

  308. #308 JuliaL
    February 10, 2010

    Recall,

    Changing ‘Christian’ to ‘Jewish’ is a slight change? Christianity is privileged in a way that Judaism is not.

    Of course you are right about privilege. That was an important part of my point. When I said it was a slight change in the story, I was referring to the fact that we need only do a substitution of one word for another in order to make a giant change in the reader’s reception of the story. I would guess that’s also why Greg’s post is about being perceived as anti-Semitic rather than about being perceived as anti-Christian.

    A one-word substitution (Jewish for Christian) in the language of a story we had already heard leads us to hear the other words differently: for example, the implication that the girl, her family, and her heritage group are inferior. This can for many lead to a dramatically different perception and evaluation of the rhetoric used by the adult commenter.

  309. #309 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    Sven, I don’t believe for a second that you are going anywhere.

  310. #310 Dixie
    February 10, 2010

    But many people are saying that they get my points, and several thousand people read this post with no comment. In my view, this means that it is most likely that most reasonably intelligent people with no ax to grind basically got it.
    blockquote

    Then I should speak up as one of the lurkers who regularly read here and Pharyngula. I think you owe SC an apology. That means your view is wrong concerning at least one reader whom you wish to describe as “reasonably intelligent with no ax to grind [and who] basically got it.”

    Unless you want to tell me that someone might interpret my comment as being unintelligent and secretly motivated against you?

  311. #311 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    Dixie, what do I owe her an apology for exactly?

  312. #312 Lurker Larry
    February 10, 2010

    /delurk

    I see your Dixie and I’ll raise you a Lurker Larry. I would appreciate it if you would at least make sure that Salty Current, if she comes back, and your friend Paul W, and the rest of ‘em confine themselves to these Pure Insanity thread so I, for one, do not have to be exposed to their lunacy.

    /relurk

  313. #313 1
    February 10, 2010

    and several thousand people read this post with no comment. In my view, this means that it is most likely that most reasonably intelligent people with no ax to grind basically got it.

    No sir, I don’t get it. I’m enjoying watching you wreck your train, though. Not all attention is positive, Greggie Poo, so don’t mistake attention for agreement.

  314. #314 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    1: If you are enjoying it, that is all that matters. I consider your participation a plus.

  315. #315 DuWayne
    February 10, 2010

    Is the rhetoric “delusional bitch . . . who DOES deserve a slap up-side the head…

    I really, truly, honestly think that it doesn’t matter what her faith is or what the fucking motivation for it is – we really don’t need to encourage men to commit acts of violence against women. No matter how much of a “delusional bitch” she might be…

    Paul W. whined some more –

    I also think that what Greg and his supporters have been doing in these two threads largely amounts to an extended, slow-motion tantrum of sorts about not getting the respect and consideration they think they deserve, while dishing out scorn and contempt for their critics.

    AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Yes this is all about respect – for ME!!!! While I may be an arrogant motherfucker, I couldn’t possibly care any less how much respect you have for me. I certainly don’t have much for you, so it really isn’t much of a loss. Nor do I expect much consideration. After my initial comment, I slipped into mocking you and those who were making pointless attacks, instead of paying attention and actually thinking about what Greg said.

    As in, read, consider and then, without assuming that it is all about you – ask questions. Even ask questions that are pointed, if you still don’t agree. Get rather pissed at Greg, when after you have asked, he doesn’t really clarify – though I will warn you that this is not the way to get Greg to respond. I know from experience that he would rather leave you sputtering than respond to anger.

    Here is a tip about this post. It is not about you, unless you communicate in a particular way and should probably be paying more attention to how you put things. I will gladly admit that this post is about me – I know it is because it is about things that I have struggled with in a number of contexts – including contexts that have nothing to do with religion.

    Given the language that they are inclined to use sometimes, this post is also about some other friends of Greg’s as well. While I am unaware of how a couple of them I have in mind would react, not having asked them, I would tend to assume that a) they would note that it could apply to them and b) wouldn’t be fucking whining about it.

    And having paid attention to a theme of Greg’s lately, I have my suspicion that Greg has considered this concept in the context of his own methods of communicating. I have noticed this, because in many regards this is becoming a big theme for me and more than because of the classes I am taking this semester that are heavy on language and culture – I took those classes because I am keenly interested in this discussion.

    I am not defending Greg because I am “on his side.” I am not defending Greg because he is my friend. While I am his friend, that does not automatically equal on his side. Nor am I defending him, because this post wasn’t something that I could reasonably apply to my own methods of communicating. To the contrary, I am defending him, because reading this post made some ideas that have been rumbling around in my head for some time now rather click into place.

    I’m defending Greg, because I am not particularly one of those nice citizens off to the side, fighting the death penalty, as it were. I am defending him, because I am on the motherfucking rhetorical firing squad he is talking about. Being a rather thoughtful person, someone who is rather loathe to hurt others – and being adamantly apposed to the death penalty, I do not want to be that person.

    I am sorry, but you are one arrogant – and I mean take the roof off the fucking house bigheaded, to think that this post was all about you and other Pharyngulites (or whatever you call yourselves). If it was all about just you folks, he would have fuckingwell said pharyngula. He did not, because that would have been exclusive and completely miss making a reasonable point at all.

  316. #316 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    DuWayne, for the record, I do have a hard time thinking of you as a follower. Without laughing.

    As for who this post applies to, as far as I know, it applies to me. Anyone else, you decide for yourself.

  317. #317 Lynxreign
    February 10, 2010

    The original post is rambling, sophomoric blather that tries far too hard to sound “deep” and thoughtful. It is more like what you’d hear if the previous sentence was “woah, that hippie’s starting to kick in”. (Since he seems to like out of context references.) It contains a blatant reference to another blog on this site with terms barely changed, not in order to “be representative of a larger community”, but more as an attempt to give the author plausible deniability when accused of making statements about that blog and its participants. When confronted about this in the comments, the author not claims that his blatantly transparent description isn’t about what it is clearly about, but does so in a childish and taunting manner

    As I have already stated elsewhere, it is not Pharyngula, but the larger community of atheist activist rational thinking bla bla bla.

    Bla, Bla, Bla indeed. The author himself doesn’t believe this nor does he actually expect the readers to.
    His “editor in another context” Stephanie Z strangely, for a supposed editor, doesn’t seem to understand language She states

    words never speak for themselves, and I can guarantee you that I can make your words speak in ways you never intended them to.

    Words mean things. They speak for themselves. Making them speak in ways you never intended them to is called “spin” or “twisting” or simply “lying”. When you do that, those words speak for themselves too. To think otherwise is to claim communication itself is impossible.
    The author’s responses to the comments in this post go on to be more abusive and violent as time goes on. The post and the following comments of the author read more like an insult designed to draw reaction from specific people and abuse towards those people when they arrive. It is like the internet rantings of a wounded teenager. Sullen, woolly-headed and unable to make reasoned arguments or state grievances honestly and plainly, the author does his readers a disservice.
    Writing of this sort does not belong on ScienceBlogs. It is disappointing to find it here and reflects badly on the site. This does not seem to be the first time the author has gone out of his way to piss off another blogger or another readership here. Perhaps this is not the venue for you. The internet is a large place, surely there is a more appropriate format for your blogging.

  318. #318 Dixie
    February 10, 2010

    I answer in the hopes that this long back and forth has not poisoned the well, Greg. And, if you’ll allow me to begin with my state of mind: I–a lurker because I often feel that my stepping into things can’t really change them–couldn’t let you “drag” me into it on your side by characterizing silent readers as intelligent and reasonable and unbiased people. “That means,” I said to myself, “that the unintelligent, unreasonable, and biased are the ones who have spoken up.” I don’t think that is true at all.

    You owe her an apology for your belief in your privilege AFTER you wrote about the someone might think statement. I don’t know either of you personally; I read the exchange as if it were a dialog in a novel. I said, “Holy shit” to myself when you said it because my common sense editor saw the blowup coming a mile away. When it did, I was surprised only at how you seemed to want to focus on what you “meant” and the underlying systemic problems of antisemitism.

    But you stated it in a way that a reasonable person could take as a blindside attack on an individual. And from that individual, a group of commenters who might be harboring her–and her ilk.

    The length of time it has taken me to construct this reply (with trepidation) is another reason that I usually lurk.

  319. #319 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    Yes, obviously the well is poisoned, but I am interested in your thoughts.

    You owe her an apology for your belief in your privilege AFTER you wrote about the someone might think statement.

    … but I honestly do not know what you mean.

    Oh, and by the way, I have indicated to SC already, some time ago, that she is welcome on this blog. (contra various comments above.)

  320. #320 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    Lynxreign, thanks for your considered and thoughtful comments. I will tender my resignation from Scienceblogs effective immediately.

    Stephanie, you are fired as my editor in an other context. I expect you to look into these things … “words” … and find out what they are and stuff.

  321. #321 mk
    February 10, 2010

    Well said, Dixie.

  322. #322 Irene
    February 10, 2010

    SC deserves an apology like I deserve a kick in the head. Greg, don’t expect Dixie to provide a coherent clarification of what she means. She started off believing that you should apologize for something fairly simple but when she formulated her answer she realized that there was nothing intelligent to say. Or at least, that is my kind interpretation of her post hoc yammering.

    Yes, Dixie, the well was poisoned. With salt.

  323. #323 David
    February 10, 2010

    mk: “Well said, Dixie.”

    MK, I’m calling you on this. if you were forced to write a 200 word description of what Dixie meant, and Dixie was forced to do the same, they would not be the same description.

    Care to try?

  324. #324 Jared
    February 10, 2010

    DuWayne, all is forgiven; it seemed more ironic than anything else.

  325. #325 Enoch
    February 10, 2010

    The problem with blogs is that people are not held responsible for their hit and run bullshit. Look how many anonymous (effectively so, at least) sophomoric attacks (on Greg and on his behalf) are above. There really is something to the idea that when your identity is hidden you become an ass. (I can’t find the link to it but there is a cartoon to this effect.)

  326. #326 Dixie
    February 10, 2010

    It’s your blog; in view of past interactions with those who agree with you, tease you, disagree with you, you have an expectation of how things “should” go. I did the same thing in front of an 8th grade classroom for 30 years. Most of the time there was a disagreement, I was in the right and had the facts to prove it. Other times there was a difference of opinion that required me to adjust how and why I came to a decision. Fewer still (I am thankful to say), I didn’t mean to hurt anyone and actually felt that they were misunderstanding me totally to feel hurt. In those cases, I had to look closely at my privileges– successes in those classrooms, long-term standing in the community, recognition and achievement–to make sure I was discounting those things while seeing clearly only the misunderstanding and that one person–student, parent, colleague, or administrator–on the other side of it.

    If any part of the misunderstanding was my fault, I apologized for it. The apology made it mean something when I invited that person back to engage with me.

    If I were SC, I wouldn’t engage with you without one.

  327. #327 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    Salty Current, I am sorry that I did not reach into the fact that I had sufficient experience as a blogger to know that you were going to go all blewy if I pressed your buttons. I should have not allowed my experience as an interlocutor which is like that of a teacher, compared to your experience as an interlocutor, which is like that of a third grader …

    no, wait, that isn’t working.

    Salty current, I am sorry that I said something that made you feel bad and yell at me in all caps. I actually have enjoyed our prior relationship on the blogosphere and I feel badly that this happened.

    … well, that is what I said to her already and it didn’t matter then, but maybe she’ll like that better now. It is not what you suggested, Dixie, but I can’t really pull off what you were suggesting because I’m pretty sure it is offensive and patronizing. Unless I misunderstand it.

  328. #328 mk
    February 10, 2010

    Oh MY!!! I’ve been called out by someone named “david.” Aaaagh!

    *completely chastened and humiliated I slink away*

  329. #329 David
    February 10, 2010

    Q.E.D.

  330. #330 mk
    February 10, 2010

    What’s Richard Feynman got to do with it?

  331. #331 Recall
    February 10, 2010

    I would guess that’s also why Greg’s post is about being perceived as anti-Semitic rather than about being perceived as anti-Christian.

    To be honest, I initially percieved it as an attack on atheists in general. I only clicked on the most active link because the word ‘atheist’ in the title got my attention. I had no idea there was a spat going on between Laden and Pharyngula until I read the comments. I’m used to posting on religious blogs, so when I read posts that talk about atheists, firing squads, serial killers, and bigotry, I’m not in the habit of looking for a deeper point.

  332. #332 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    Recall, how can you possibly think that this is an attack on atheists? Do you suppose these Pharyngula commenters are thinking this? Is THAT why they’ve gone ballistic? Misplaced tribalism?

    Who would have thought.

    I guarantee you that this is not an attack on atheists. That whole idea is absurd. No thinking person could possibly read my post and come a way with that.

  333. #333 DuWayne
    February 10, 2010

    Lynxreign –

    Words mean things. They speak for themselves.

    Apparently you understand neither the nature of science or the nature of language.

    If you understood the nature of science, you would understand the critical importance of defining terms for every aspect of a study. Without defining terms in a study of who drinks more, people who’re alone or people in a group, how would you send people out to collect data? What does drinking more mean exactly? What is the measure for more drinking? And when you go to publish, how do those reading the paper work out replicating that study if you don’t define terms.

    If you understood the nature of language, you would understand that like culture, language evolves. You would also understand that specific words often have very different definitions for different people. The meaning of words can vary from region to region. Or country to country. The meaning of words also changes contextually. Take “huge” for example. What does huge mean? Words mean something, so as I am thinking about huge things, what does that mean – how big are those things?

    Words absolutely have meanings. Many words have no absolute meaning. What does asshole mean (the derogative, not the anatomical descriptive)? What does geek mean? Nerd? Queer? Little? Stupid?

    Writing of this sort does not belong on ScienceBlogs.

    Apparently the seed overloards disagree with you about that.

    Perhaps this is not the venue for you.

    Or just maybe, this is not the blog for you.

  334. #334 Recall
    February 10, 2010

    I guarantee you that this is not an attack on atheists. That whole idea is absurd. No thinking person could possibly read my post and come a way with that.

    As I said, I usually post on religious blogs, and as an atheist, I am very much used to being called a bigot.

    Here’s an example if you need one:

    http://www.streetprophets.com/story/2009/7/20/75152/0072

  335. #335 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    That made my head hurt.

  336. #336 Dixie
    February 10, 2010

    Salty Current, I am sorry that I did not reach into the fact that I had sufficient experience as a blogger to know that you were going to go all blewy if I pressed your buttons. I should have not allowed my experience as an interlocutor which is like that of a teacher, compared to your experience as an interlocutor, which is like that of a third grader …

    Eighth grader. You also missed the list “student, parent, colleague, and administrator.” I’ve never had any of the first fit into any of the other three categories at the same time, and even though I’ve had far more students during my career, the greater number (and therefore percentage) of disagreements have been from the other categories–even from the last category alone.

    Salty current, I am sorry that I said something that made you feel bad and yell at me in all caps. I actually have enjoyed our prior relationship on the blogosphere and I feel badly that this happened.

    Why go vague with the underlined part? And why say anything at all about SC’s response when this is supposed to be your apology?

    Now I’m beginning to feel like the assistant principals who would send the students back: “Mr. Humdrum said I had to apologize.”

    “Okay, then. Apologize.”

    “Huh?”

  337. #337 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    I’m just worried that it is condescending to apologize in this way. So that will be it.

    Now, are you going to make her come back here and start commenting again? That would be cool.

  338. #338 Blind Squirrel
    February 10, 2010

    Words mean things. They speak for themselves.

    Didn’t Humpty Dumpty address that very issue?

    BS

  339. #339 Recall
    February 10, 2010

    That made my head hurt.

    Well, that’s where I’m coming from, and it’s why my defenses are on a hair-trigger.

  340. #340 Greg Laden
    February 10, 2010

    It is very easy, and understandable, to be on a hair trigger if one encounters prejudiced contexts and hate like this, even when it is subtle (and not so subtle).

    An atheist on the internet, or in any town in the Midwestern US (and lots of other regions of course, but it does vary), an evolutionist on the faculty of a school in a conservative region where your fellow teachers wonder why you don’t include ID in the cirriculum, a Jew living in England, a skeptic surrounded by raging woo-meisters, all these things can put one in the hair-trigger state simply by engaging in the world around one.

  341. #341 Diane G.
    February 10, 2010

    316

    GL:” But many people are saying that they get my points, and several thousand people read this post with no comment. In my view, this means that it is most likely that most reasonably intelligent people with no ax to grind basically got it.”

    I for one think your initial post was complicated, unclear yet insulting and your analogy tortured. Your subsequent responses have only muddied the water. Interesting to see someone play the troll on their own blog.

    Just so you know.

    Posted by: Gator | February 10, 2010 7:34 PM

    + 1

  342. #342 Dixie
    February 11, 2010

    Who misunderstood? I did. In my mind, you were getting lost in “this SWOTI is about me!” mindset.

    I thought that you, lost in that mindset, hadn’t realized that separating the ONE individual to which your comment was directed from the generalized problem would be the way to continue discussing the problem without insult or injury. Without that separation, how is this poster child for antisemitism (that you set up) welcome to continue?

    But you don’t want to release SC as the poster child. I’ve belatedly realized that from #182. Her comments “look dangerously like” antisemiticism in one sentence. It “was nothing like the intent of those who were making the comments” in the next.

    I can’t hand a test paper back to a student with the loud comment, “That grade makes it look dangerously like you cheated” and THEN have a valid class discussion about cheating while expecting that singled-out student to participate.

    I was scornful of the stupid principal who would send back a child who did not 1) know how to apologize and/or 2) feel he needed to apologize. I was berating myself with that part of the comment because I found myself in those shoes. I should have realized I would end up in them.

    Will I make SC come back? Now that’s funny.

  343. #343 Greg Laden
    February 11, 2010

    So, Dixie, you are retracting your prior statement, changing your mind about what happened, or changing your demands on what you want me to do?

    Your metaphor is not working. Overall, I’d say you are much less clear now than you were before, and it was kind of muddy before.

  344. #344 clamboy
    February 11, 2010

    After a careful re-reading, I have decided that, actually, I quite like the original post. I thought that some of the metaphysical imagery was really particularly effective. And, er, interesting rhythmic devices too, which seemed to counterpoint the…er…er…counterpoint the surrealism of the underlying metaphor of the…er…humanity of the…ah, yes, Ladenity – sorry – of the poster’s compassionate soul, which contrives through the medium of the sentence structure to sublimate this, transcend that, and come to terms with the fundamental dichotomies of the other, and one is left with a profound and vivid insight into…into…er…into whatever it was the post was about!

  345. #345 Jared
    February 11, 2010

    clamboy:
    “So what you’re saying is that I write these posts because underneath my mean callous heartless exterior I really just want to be loved”

  346. #346 Dixie
    February 11, 2010

    Your “demand” characterization is made up of whole cloth. “I think you should…” does not constitute a demand. The rest was my muddled, unclear attempts at metaphor to explain what I was thinking.

    No, I am not retracting my prior statement, nor changing my mind about what happened; I am changing my estimation of what I am capable of communicating to you.

    OK, then. No metaphor, since I’m so bad at them. Questions only to avoid “demand” language. I’m no longer silent; I’ve had my intelligence questioned via my inability to handle metaphor (dang, I thought the “cheating discussion” one was clear), but I’ll try for reasonable:

    Salty current, I am sorry that I said something that made you feel bad and yell at me in all caps. I actually have enjoyed our prior relationship on the blogosphere and I feel badly that this happened.

    How would you complete the apology if you started with “Salty Current, I was wrong to say [add specifics]”? How would you feel about not adding her subsequent negative reaction to this apology? What might be added as a commitment to avoid or mitigate the problem in the future?

  347. #347 Greg Laden
    February 11, 2010

    Finally, somebody who understands me.

    I demand an apology!!!!

  348. #348 Cat Faber
    February 11, 2010

    (Cat)
    Greg, you have said so many different things that I can’t tell anymore *what* your meaning is.

    (Greg)
    Actually, no, that is simply not true. If you start a comment with that, don’t expect much of a response!

    Okay, here we have a learning experience. I pointed out an issue with your communication and provided evidence from actual exchanges and you dismissed what I had to say.

    From your example, I learn how seriously to take your worries about a supposed problem with other people’s communication.

  349. #349 Greg Laden
    February 11, 2010

    From your example, I learn how seriously to take your worries about a supposed problem with other people’s communication.

    That would not be the appropriate lesson to take from this. That is, rather, the lesson you came here to demonstrate for yourself. Heal thyself, skeptic.

  350. #350 Greg Laden
    February 11, 2010

    Dixie:

    How would you complete the apology if you started with “Salty Current, I was wrong to say [add specifics]”? How would you feel about not adding her subsequent negative reaction to this apology? What might be added as a commitment to avoid or mitigate the problem in the future?

    That is much better, much more clear, in fact, dead on. Now, we can get back to the issue. If I thought I had something to apologize to Salty Current for, I would have. But I didn’t. You are telling me I do. I’m willing to listen if you tell me. This has been hard. But now we are on the verge of success.

    “[add specifics]” Yes! Please tell me what you think goes here. I am very willing to hear your suggestion.

  351. #351 Stephanie Z
    February 11, 2010

    Paul W., grow up. If you really are concerned about what people need to do in order to be understood, stop announcing your presence in comment threads by screaming about how the blogger has done something irredeemable. If you really want Greg to apologize to SC, go tell her to apologize for accusing me and Greg of bias in talking or not about Henry and accusing Greg of singling her out for moderation, and tell John Morales to apologize for accusing me of malice.

    If you really think the things SC has done should be noted to her credit everywhere she goes, apply the same courtesy to me and to Greg. If you really think I need to understand your perspective on the things I’ve said, respect mine about the things others have said. If you really think I should pay some attention to how you feel about this situation, attend to the things you do that will shape how I feel about you.

    I’m tired of your double standards, Paul. I’m tired of this “we” business, which is either a bandwagon appeal or some kind of specious argument from authority. I’m tired of being told that “we” value objective, logical argumentation while the actual arguments people are making are being ignored in favor of how people feel about the words used. I’m tired of being told that people who are obsessively sniping away somewhere else and are perfectly capable of doing the same here have been silenced. I’m tired of people here being the only ones who are supposed to listen when told that the way they say things matters. I’m tired of being told that I have to explain myself (or Greg himself) while explanations get dismissed. I’m tired of being told I need to be on the side of people who make no effort to be on my side.

    In short, I’m tired of you. If you think I should give you any tiny little thing, it’s up to you to earn it. Here. In your dealings with me, because your dealings with other people only earn you consideration from them. And then it’s up to you to ask me for it, clearly, in a way that demonstrates that you understand and practice reciprocity. And then, if I’m feeling generous or it’s already in my best interest, I may set aside all the stupid shit you’ve already done in my presence and give it to you.

    Because that is actually how these things work.

  352. #352 Greg Laden
    February 11, 2010

    Shit, Paul-Dub, I think you finally got Stephanie mad. And, she’s pretty much dead on with this comment. Well said, Stephanie.

    (Que inappropriate comments about how Stephanie is working for Greg or is Greg’s minion or whatever, in three … two … one …)

  353. #353 daedalus2u
    February 11, 2010

    Reading #311, the meta-ness of the whole thread got to me. Those who are calling on Greg to apologize to SC for their perception that Greg insulted SC for Greg stating his perception that someone could perceive what SC said to be Antisemitic are doing exactly what they are accusing Greg of doing.

    Greg didn’t say that SC was Antisemitic, Greg said that what SC said could be perceived to be Antisemitic. What Greg has said has now been perceived to be saying that SC is Antisemitic.

    All communication requires two parties. Miscommunication cannot be allocated to one party or the other, communication and miscommunication are both shared attributes of the two party system that is attempting communication. There is the natural inclination to externalize misunderstanding and blame the other party, but that is an error. If you don’t understand what someone is meaning, then you don’t understand. Unfortunately human cognition often doesn’t allow for a default of not understanding, instead a meaning is imputed, a type 1 error, a false positive, the positive identification of an idea which is not supported by the evidence. In this case the idea that saying “what person X said might be perceived to be Antisemitic” actually means the same thing as saying “person X is antisemitic”.

    I think the natural inclination to blame the other for miscommunication is what is at the roots of xenophobia, bigotry and intolerance. If you don’t understand what someone is saying, the default is to attribute a bad, possibly the worst possible meaning to it, and so invoke xenophobia against the person not understood.

    This does relate to my NO research, but I don’t want to divert attention away from this thread to explain it in detail. It relates to my conceptualization of dividing cognition into a “theory of mind” which is about communication with other humans and a “theory of reality” which is about everything else.

  354. #354 Paul W.
    February 11, 2010

    Stephanie,

    I’m sorry, but I think we are just too far apart on this. I think that you frequently demand respect for yourself and Greg that you do not reciprocate, and hence do not deserve.

    I realize that you honestly think the same about me and my ilk.

    I don’t know what to do about that without resorting to specifics, and dredging through the backstory, which you are evidently quite resistant to.

    One of the problems with this post and thread is that the previous trainwreck of a thread got dragged into it.

    Greg makes it clear that his post is about Pharyngula (although not exclusively Pharyngula) and you made it made it explicitly about SC when you said “the discussion about antisemitism was kicked off in another post by someone with an Order of the Molly.”

    That’s a problem because we disagree about what went on in that thread, and if you and Greg start from the presupposition that you were right and we were wrong, and toss in little jabs as though anybody who disagreed with you was wrongheaded and stupid, this thread is doomed to be derailed back into that territory.

    Greg evidently does not trust me. He’s made several remarks about not believing that I’m sincere, and used that as a justification for refusing to address specific points and arguments. He is quite mistaken. And because of that, I cannot trust him, either, and it’s hard to have a cooperative, communicative discussion. We are at an impasse.

    I think that’s sad, because I like and respect Greg. I’ve been a sporadically regular and appreciative reader of this blog for years. Over the last few years, it’s one of the three or four blogs I’ve read most often.

    I’ve mostly lurked because I was just interested, and rarely disagreed enough to speak up, or had the relevant expertise to add a lot when I agreed with Greg, as I usually have. When I have spoken up, it’s generally been to agree with Greg, or just toss a little sidelight on some issue.

    So this isn’t a case of a Pharyngula troll out to fuck with Greg. It’s a case of a longtime fan who disagrees on some things, believe it or not.

    I think the post above, and some of the comments by you and by Greg, are flame bait in a certain sense.

    That’s not to say that I basically disagree with the post. I think it’s a very real concern how people are sometimes perceived as anti-Xist when they’re not, and whether groups like Pharyngula can provide cover for assholes who actually are, or are just vicious twits who don’t care, and the effect of whose actions are anti-Xist.

    It’s something I think about, too, and it’s one reason I’m sometimes a self-appointed Voice of Civility at Pharyngula.

    We’re really not that far apart, but any discussion of such things needs to be balanced; there are a lot of issues in play. And some of us think that there’s been a notable lack of balance around here, lately, with regard to Pharyngula and some sincere commenters here, notably SC.

    But put that aside for the moment and let me give an example of something that shows that I do in fact appreciate some of the issues that Greg is raising.

    A few years back, I took some mostly new grad students out for an end-of-semester drink at a pub, and we were talking about this and that, and about the mechanics of students working with professors.

    Somehow the conversation got around to a particular student I’d worked with a little, who was simply brilliant, but had a thick southern Indian accent that made him difficult to talk with the way I do most bright students. We didn’t have great meetings, with ideas flowing freely and lots of back-and-forth, like I like. It was awkward and slow.

    I realized at some point that three of the students I was talking—northern Indians—did not understand what I meant by that at all. They thought I was making fun of the guy’s accent. One of them thought it was funny, and threw in a snarky joke in that vein, and the other two looked a little uncomfortable.

    I was aghast. I was in no way making fun of the guy’s accent—it’s not his fault he grew up speaking a language with different ancient roots than theirs and mine, and there’s nothing at all wrong with such languages; they’re just different.

    I’d actually been expressing admiration of the student in question, and how he was brilliant and trucking along despite the disadvantage of language differences, and I thought it was tragic that he had an extra difficulty most of us, even foreigners, do not face—that was largely my point—but because it’s so common for people to make fun of other people’s “funny accents,” I’d been misunderstood to be dissing him.

    Yikes.

    Worse, I was doing it in a position of power and authority. The two students who looked uncomfortable were reluctant to speak up and call me on my perceived anti-Xist attitudes, because I was a professor and they were just students. Not only had I inadvertently talked like a racist, I’d inadvertently silenced dissent about it, just by virtue of who I was and who I was talking to.

    Double yikes.

    Even worse, I had inadvertently encouraged somebody to say anti-Xist things, making jokes at the expense of certain Southern Indians who grew up speaking languages from a different language group, as though they were stupid hicks or something.

    Triple yikes.

    So I tried to repair and maybe reverse the damage. I explained a little bit of historical linguistics, and I mentioned that the guy I was talking about has an excellent command of the English language, even for a native. (In fact, he’d aced the whole GRE, including an 800 on the verbal, but I didn’t mention that.) I made it clear that I thought the appropriate attitude was one of great respect for the guy and his differences, and of sympathy for his difficulties that were certainly no fault of his own.

    What I did not do was decide not to ever talk about such things again, because it might be perceived wrongly. The issues are real and important, and I think the right thing to do is not to just shy away from real issues, but to get them right.

    Now, to bring this back around to Pharyngula, or Blastula-like sites more generally, and the issue of antisemitism…

    Do I think that sort of thing happens at Pharyngula, sometimes?

    Yes, I do. I know it does. I know that sometimes some people use a broad brush and stupidly tar groups unfairly.

    I also know that at Pharyngula, one of the social norms is to try to notice that, and call out the asshats, and make it clear that racism and anstisemitism are not tolerated, and specifically, that you need to distinguish between criticizing views and criticizing ethnic or racial groups.

    Do I think that always works?

    No, I don’t. I think that sometimes at Pharyngula, there are too many unsubtle people who are ignorant of some relevant stuff, and insensitive to things like, say, the history of Talmudic scholarship and what it means to many Jews. They’re too quick to dismiss it as irrelevant to what they are saying.

    Often I think they’re basically “right” to dismiss it for the particular argument in question—it doesn’t, ultimately, bear much weight as to actual points in question—but that its insensitive and strategically wrong to do so, because it at least appears not to distinguish babies from bathwater.

    Do I think that sort of thing came up in the Henry Gee incident?

    Yes, I do. I think that Henry actually brought up a couple of good and interesting points about Jewishness that should have been explored, but weren’t. If I’d been there, or he’d stayed long enough for me and a few others to get involved, they would have been.

    Do I think that was the main story in the Henry Gee incident?

    No, I do not. I think Henry came in with a couple of big axes to grind, conflating a bunch of issues and making false accusations about Dawkins, the New Atheists, and Pharyngulans, and embarrassed himself. (Or would have if he wasn’t so shameless about it.) I think he was quite uncivil in some systematic ways, even before he Godwinned the thread with over-the-top accusations and stalked off.

    The reception he got wasn’t just because he accused us of seriously Nazi-like tendencies—which he did do, in an over-the-top way, despite Stephanie’s repeated insistence that that’s a “straw man.” It was because he was shifty and evasive, throwing anything he could at Dawkins and us, and avoiding addressing valid points being made.

    I, for one, don’t think Henry would have behaved much better no matter how nice and even-handed we’d been, or how much sensitivity we’d shown to Jewish culture as opposed to religious belief, and on the whole I think “we” did an okay job. (I wasn’t actually there at that moment.)

    I think that Henry used the antisemitism issue as a disingenous ploy, and played the victim and Godwin cards to avoid defending his other accusations, and his points.

    I could be wrong, but that’s how I see it, and to convince me otherwise would require taking the specifics seriously. I’ve read through that thread several times, and I think Henry pissed on our rug.

    If you just keep asserting that the problem is our antisemitism, even of the passive unintentional sort, I’ll either explain why you’re wrong, or just give up and assert that I think you’re wrong, and that repeating your assertions doesn’t get us around that.

    I think that the basic story is that Henry Gee came over and pissed on our rug, and if you want to convince me otherwise, start doing some convincing. If not, pick a different example.

    I don’t think that’s going to happen, because I think Greg wants to justify his interepretation of that case, by talking in high-level terms and implying that they obviously apply to that case. Even to the extent that I agree with a lot of Greg’s high-level abstractions, I disagree as to how they apply to the specifics of that case. That problem is not going away.

    Likewise, with the SC thing here, I’ve already explained in a fair amount of detail why I think you and Greg misperceived what happened, and were wrong to portray SC as some kind of kook throwing “a tantrum.” She responded in much the same way as J.B. did to similar apparent insinuations about Greg—and that wasn’t a tantrum, was it?—and for very similar reasons.

    You guys keep evading serious and carefully-argued points, as though nothing we say matters or is worth addressing. You keep repeating the same assertions that we’ve repeatedly debunked to at least our satisifaction.

    I hope you can see that I’m actually sensitive to a lot of the basic issues that Greg has been floating in these two threads, at least in the abstract. What we disagree on is cases, and exactly how the rubber meets the road, or fails to, in those cases:

    1. Did we wrong Henry Gee, to such an extent such that it’s basically our fault what happened in that case, or was he basically an over-the-top asshat? I think the latter. I don’t think his being Jewish gives him that much license.

    2. Was SC being unreasonable and kooky, and did she throw “a tantrum” for no good reaason, or was she being more reasonable than you realized, such that you proceeded to make things worse by compounding unfairness? I think the latter. I don’t think you guys are as insightful and evenhanded as you think you are. (I don’t think anybody is as insightful as Greg seems to think he is lately, such that it’s appropriate to pontificate and condescend in quite the way he’s been doing.)

    This conversation is going nowhere if you guys keep bringing up those examples, and acting as though your interpretations of those events are obviously the right ones.

    No matter how interesting and insightful we think Greg is at a certain abstract level, we’re not going to trust him any further than we can throw him, so long as he seems to be grinding axes based on misconceptions and bad examples of the actually admittedly interesting phenomena he’s talking about.

    And Stephanie, if you still think it’s appropriate to start a comment to me by saying Paul W., grow up,” I still think it’s appropriate for me to respond as I did before.

    Stephanie, get your condescending head examined.

  355. #355 Paul W.
    February 11, 2010

    Stephanie,

    In short, I’m tired of you. If you think I should give you any tiny little thing, it’s up to you to earn it.

    FWIW, I feel exactly the same way about you. I don’t feel any need to earn your respect at this point.

    If you want respect from me, you have to earn it.

    I used to have a lot of respect for you, and I’ve lost most of that by now.

    If you think I need to earn your respect, and you don’t need to earn mine, and can continue to argue evasively and by assertion, we are certainly at an impasse.

    Get your condescending head examined.

  356. #356 Isabel
    February 11, 2010

    “Somehow the conversation got around to a particular student I’d worked with a little”

    Why were you discussing specific problems of working with a particular grad student with other grad students over beers? Is this normal?

    It seems very inappropriate to me. No wonder they responded awkwardly.

  357. #357 Stephanie Z
    February 11, 2010

    Paul, if you really want to repeat arguments already had, I’m happy to note once more that I’m quite content to condescend to someone who emerges from nowhere to scream that Greg “Godwined” a whole blog thread by mentioning in the title the name of someone who was mean to his friends somewhere else almost two years ago. That kind of behavior just doesn’t warrant high hopes for intellectual discourse.

    Did continuing that argument help you in any way?

    Nor do I feel any need to participate in arguments over who was being the biggest asshole in some confrontation where everyone was being an asshole. It’s too subjective to merit me wasting my time pretending to have an objective argument over it.

    What is worth my time is looking forward and getting some work done. That means cutting out people who can’t discuss the matter at hand a long as they’re still nursing age-old injuries–real or imagined. That means ignoring people who are too sensitive to work past that first tiny misunderstanding. That means telling people who think they deserve more of my attention than the problem at hand does that, no, they really do not want that kind of attention. Period.

    Congratulations, however, on making at least part of your comment on topic.

  358. #358 mk
    February 11, 2010

    That means ignoring people who are too sensitive to work past that first tiny misunderstanding.

    Whoa! Hold the phone!…misunderstanding? A misunderstanding? That almost suggest you are taking some responsibility here. Is that possible… or did I once again misread you? Almost an acknowledgement that you might have been even a tiny little bit wrr… uh, wrrr…. er, wrrroong?

    Heh-heh.

  359. #359 Paul W.
    February 11, 2010

    Why were you discussing specific problems of working with a particular grad student with other grad students over beers? Is this normal?

    Actually, I think at that point it was more along the lines of expressing sympathy for the special difficulties of foreign graduate students, while talking to foreign graduate students.

    I didn’t think that was out of line, or the kind of thing one shouldn’t do. In general, I think it’s good for such things to be recognized as real issues. We should care about students’ difficulties, and the students should know we care.

    I certainly didn’t mean for it to reflect badly on that student; I thought it was clear that I thought he was awesome. (Still do.)

  360. #360 santa
    February 11, 2010

    In a sense, we (Pharyngulistas) are all anti-semitic, but only in the sense of anti-religious, not in the sense of anti-people. We are anti-santa, anti-islam and anti-homeopath. What PZ argues against is the belief in superstition and the concomitant damage it does through people that believe in it. You can love your son who throws a tantrum because he doesn’t get the present he wants from Santa and you can feel sympathy for the suicide bomber who feels his or her religion tells them to kill other people as well as themselves while recognizing the actions are wrong and the fundamental belief system they are based on is not true. And you can feel revulsion at pedophile priests and abortion doctor murderers. Atheists as a group are not free from the foolishness of racism but they are probably a bit less prone to it than others if for no other reason than it takes thoughtful reasoning in today’s society to come to atheistic conclusions.

  361. #361 Paul W.
    February 11, 2010

    Stephanie:

    Paul, if you really want to repeat arguments already had, I’m happy to note once more that I’m quite content to condescend to someone who emerges from nowhere to scream that Greg “Godwined” a whole blog thread by mentioning in the title the name of someone who was mean to his friends somewhere else almost two years ago. That kind of behavior just doesn’t warrant high hopes for intellectual discourse.

    Condescend away, Stephanie. I don’t care; I’ll just explain why you’re wrong and/or tell you to have your head examined, which I do think you ought to do.

    Greg didn’t just Godwin the thread by using Henry in the title. He and you did it in various comments that showed that he and you have a view of certain events that were quite at variance with ours, in a way that was entirely relevant to the core subject matter of the thread—namely, norms of civility on blogs.

    And Henry wasn’t just some incidental person we dragged in. He was the guy Greg was talking about, who’d said some interesting things about norms of civility on blogs. Pardon us for finding it striking and noteworthy that Henry seemed to have no concept of norms of civility on blogs.

    We probably could have let that go, except that once we voiced our view, you and Greg made it sound like we were wrong, out of line, clueless, and stupid, while systematically evading our arguments that we were not.

    Sorry, if you casually dis us and tell us we’re wrong, in unflattering ways, and then try to proceed with the discussion on the presumption that we’re wrong, we’re going to interrupt your little self-satisfied in-group chat.

    And in this thread, Greg and you have continued in that tradition. And so have we. That’s how it works; get used to it.

    It’s absolutely clear to anybody who’s been following recent stuff here that the post at the top of this thread relates to real or imagined antisemitism at Pharyngula. It’s pretty explicit.

    We’re not the only ones nursing an old grudge now. You and Greg are.

    If you think Greg’s point is not closely related to the controversy in the previous thread, and that his use of incredibly loaded analogies about genocidal firing squads and applying them to Pharyngula is nontheless crystal clear, such that nobody should object to what he’s really getting at

    Let me direct your attention to the very first comment in this thread by a certain staunch supporter of Greg’s, who seems to have woefully missed the boat:

    Good post, and it doesn’t even get into the other problems with capital punishment and investment of justice in the hands of a certain number of individuals.

    Who was that comment from? It was from Greg’s staunchest supporter, who’s even his editor in other contexts.

    Yes, it was you, Stephanie.

    Even you didn’t understand what Greg was saying and not saying, or if you did, most others on either “side” didn’t, even those who thought they understood what Greg was trying to say and were sympathetic to it.

    You thought the post was about capital punishment.

    I submit that that’s evidence that Greg was not writing terribly clearly, and was bringing in unnecessarily loaded analogies, such that even if we who disagree with him are mistaken about what exactly he is and isn’t saying, or is and isn’t suggesting, it should be forgivable.

    Or should we cut you out of the conversation, perhaps, given what you proceed to say, above:

    What is worth my time is looking forward and getting some work done. That means cutting out people who can’t discuss the matter at hand a long as they’re still nursing age-old injuries–real or imagined. That means ignoring people who are too sensitive to work past that first tiny misunderstanding. That means telling people who think they deserve more of my attention than the problem at hand does that, no, they really do not want that kind of attention. Period.

    I hope others notice the irony of you of all people talking about how people shouldn’t be distracted because they’re “nursing age-old injuries—real or imagined,” and should proceed to discuss the matter at hand.

    Which is apparently, bashing Pharyngulans (and their ilk) for being overly focused on an argument at hand at the expense of people who are distracted by nursing age-old injuries, real or imagined.

    Of course, that’s not the point of Greg’s post, exactly. It just seems to be where things tend to go, for some reason which I’m sure has nothing whatsoever to do with anybody nursing old injuries, real or imagined.

    Certainly not you. You’re above that, and fit to condescend to me.

    Good luck with that, Stephanie.

    Good luck playing thread cop and cutting me out of the discussion. It’s worked so well, so far. Keep at it, by all means.

    I’m sure Greg will approve, since the controversy raises his page hits.

    BTW, Greg, you owe me a cut.

  362. #362 Greg Laden
    February 11, 2010

    I think that you frequently demand respect for yourself and Greg that you do not reciprocate, and hence do not deserve.

    It is funny how sometimes it is the rational argument that trumps all, other times it is the reciprocity of behavior that trumps all, and which one is in play is determined entirely by the self interest of … well, in this case, Paul W.

  363. #363 Greg Laden
    February 11, 2010

    I think that’s sad, because I like and respect Greg.

    I like and respect you too. Can’t wait until we get past this shit.

  364. #364 Enoch
    February 11, 2010

    I certainly didn’t mean for it to reflect badly on that student; I thought it was clear that I thought he was awesome. (Still do.)

    It does not matter what you thought or what you meant. You violated an ethical standard and even to this day you seem unable to realize or admit that you did it.

    Do they still allow you near students?

  365. #365 Stephanie Z
    February 11, 2010

    mk, I asked you in another context what specific behavior of mine you objected to. You never answered me. Did you want to do that now?

    Paul, I did not think the post was about capital punishment. I do, however, speak metaphor, as I did somewhere later in this thread. You may search for it if you like.

    And you may speak as much as you like. However, your speech creates no obligation for me to respond. It doesn’t even create an obligation for me to read, particularly when you’ve already said you think it’s pointless. Sneer at me some more, if you like. I don’t care. I’ve got things to do, and you haven’t given me any reason to want your respect. I refer you once again to the lecture on reciprocity. I’m sure you can find the comment.

  366. #366 Paul W.
    February 11, 2010

    Enoch,

    I certainly didn’t mean for it to reflect badly on that student; I thought it was clear that I thought he was awesome. (Still do.)

    It does not matter what you thought or what you meant. You violated an ethical standard and even to this day you seem unable to realize or admit that you did it.

    Sorry, not buying it. Graduate students are largely apprentices, and part of the point of graduate study (at least for Ph.D.-bound students like the ones I was talking to) is to learn from professors about the issues in dealing with students, partly by observation and informal conversation.

    Part of ethos of that department was to treat graduate students largely as colleagues and peers in science, for most purposes; that’s why the free bidirectional flow of ideas in a group meeting is important—you don’t want passive students just listening to the professor. You want them to get involved in the science and to own it in a more collegial than subservient way. And you want them to learn what being a scientist involves, and that includes why you deal with students the way you do.

    Certainly, there are many things that I would never say to another student about a student, but might say to a faculty colleague. (E.g., worries about whether somebody’s cut out to be a scientist, or has personal problems going on, or whatever.)

    There are many other things I wouldn’t say, e.g., telling a student another student’s test scores. (Which is why I didn’t mention that that student had aced the GRE across the board.) There is privileged information, and there are invidious comparisons to avoid.

    In that particular case, I didn’t think I was violating a confidence. It wasn’t exactly secret that the guy in question had an accent that made it more difficult for some Americans and even Northern Indians to follow him.

    If I had it to do over, I’d certainly do it differently—I’d be more aware of how what I thought was sympathy for an entirely admirable underdog might come across as making fun of the underdog. That was a shocker, which is why it’s so memorable that I told the story over a decade later.

    I certainly did learn something from that experience, and temper my openness with students—which I think is usually a good thing—with a little more discretion and care.

    Do they still allow you near students?

    Not since the incident with the thong and the claw hammer.

  367. #367 Spartan
    February 11, 2010

    It is funny how sometimes it is the rational argument that trumps all, other times it is the reciprocity of behavior that trumps all, and which one is in play is determined entirely by the self interest

    Just curious, what is the rational argument that is competing with and being trumped by the reciprocity of behavior in this case? To be clear, I’m taking no stake in this epic pissing match, but if we assume PW’s point of view, ‘people who demand respect but do not reciprocate it are not deserving of the respect they demand’ seems pretty rational.

  368. #368 JuliaL
    February 11, 2010

    Paul W.,

    I realize that this thread has become so much a personal conversation between you and Stephanie that comments from anyone else (except of course Greg)begin to sound like an intrusion. Regardless, I call your attention to some of the language you used in #355:

    If you just keep asserting that the problem is our antisemitism, even of the passive unintentional sort, I’ll either explain why you’re wrong, or just give up and assert that I think you’re wrong, and that repeating your assertions doesn’t get us around that.

    I think that the basic story is that Henry Gee came over and pissed on our rug, and if you want to convince me otherwise, start doing some convincing. If not, pick a different example.

    Did we wrong Henry Gee, to such an extent such that it’s basically our fault what happened in that case, or was he basically an over-the-top asshat?

    There may be more than one equal problem at a time, or two equal and opposite facets to the same problem, and more than one person/groups may be at fault at the same time. You say “the problem” and “the basic story” and “Did we . . . or was he . . . .” This either/or formulation doesn’t seem to me, a complete outsider here, to represent all of what appeared to happen on that thread.

    And Enoch is absolutely right. It is unethical and in many cases illegal for a teacher/instructor/professor, without that student’s express permission, to discuss him/her with other students, and in the case of a student who is of age, even with that student’s own parents or spouse.

  369. #369 Isabel
    February 11, 2010

    Paul W. – It still sounds inappropriate; you were discussing your difficult interactions, however sympathetically, with another student. As a grad student, I have had beers many times with professors and have become friends with a few, but this would sound odd to me.

    As for this conversation, there seems to be two sets of rules, one for Christians and one for everybody else. What the hell is wrong with having one set of rules – isn’t that easier?

    eg showing “sympathy” for a suicide bomber but “revulsion” for an aqbortion doctor killer.

    eg. Mocking “Christians” but being careful to only mock “Islam” or “Judaism”

    Hypocrites, bigots and bullies need an outlet as usual.

    Welcome to Science Blogs :(

  370. #370 Recall
    February 11, 2010

    It is very easy, and understandable, to be on a hair trigger if one encounters prejudiced contexts and hate like this, even when it is subtle (and not so subtle).

    In this case, the hostility seemed to come as much from insularity as anything else. I’m sure you’re aware of the tendency for small internet communities to form their own specialized language that is inaccessible to outsiders.

  371. #371 Paul W.
    February 11, 2010

    Greg:

    I think that you frequently demand respect for yourself and Greg that you do not reciprocate, and hence do not deserve.

    It is funny how sometimes it is the rational argument that trumps all, other times it is the reciprocity of behavior that trumps all, and which one is in play is determined entirely by the self interest of … well, in this case, Paul W.

    It seems to me that you’re again missing something I’ve been saying all along through these two trainwreck threads.

    My point about respect is not that I particularly demand or need respect per se. The point is about the rational argument, and how you and Stephanie fairly explicitly say that you don’t respect me/us enough to have a rational argument. You don’t bother to address most of our points, because from your point of view, we’re not worth it and there’s no point. The matter is settled, and we’re just wrong, and you want to move on. We’re supposedly the irrational ones who need to be marginalized, and “cut out” of the conversation, to use Stephanie’s recent phrase for it.

    We are not buying that framing, and won’t. That is the nature of the impasse. And it’s not generally us refusing to address your points, it’s you refusing to address ours, and getting annoyed that we don’t accept your framing. That is how the issue of lack of respect keeps playing out, IMHO.

    You may be right that we are clueless boobs, and not cool enough to get your metaphors exactly the way you mean them, like your more insightful readers, and so on, and therefore not worth taking seriously enough to engage with. We’re unconvinced of that, so the impasse continues.

    In all of this, and going back to the Henry Gee thing, I think there’s been an important pattern there.

    There are some people who think that the problem (or a major problem) is with Pharyngulans and their ilk, who are focused on the p -> q argument, and miss the crucial connotations. There are feelings that matter.

    There are other people who think that “the problem” (or a major problem) is that some people miss the fact that the connotations, while important, shouldn’t generally a trump card that derails an argument. There are facts that matter.

    It is possible to see both of these things and the connections between them, in particular how too much emphasis on delicate feelings can be abused, and used to avoid settling matters of fact, so that nobody convinces anybody of anything, and everybody’s just pissed off and thinks the “others” are shitheads.

    Implicitly, Pharyngula is largely about a choice about the tradeoff between a focus on arguments at the expense of possible hurt feelings and alienation, and a focus on feelings at the expense of arguments ever getting to a serious point. There’s an Overton Window argument behind all that and it’s entirely relevant.

    (I know you know that, but you seem to write as though you don’t, or as though you don’t think we’re aware of such things, and that at least some of our choices are principled ones. And I realize that sometimes you do make comments in that general direction… but they don’t seem to connect up to the other things that you’re saying, and give an integrated, evenhanded impression.)

    Do I think Pharyngula strikes the perfect balance? No. Not even close, though I’m amazed that it works as well as it does. There are certain regulars at Pharyngula, and often a number of drive-by’s among the hordes that read and comment, who I think bring down the tone of the joint, and often alienate people they don’t need to. It bugs me no end.

    (There is one notorious regular I have regular run-ins with over this. He’s abusive toward everybody he disagrees with, and he disagrees with just about everybody sometimes, which at least is pretty even-handed, but that’s the kind of thing that’s not obvious to somebody new who stumbles in and suddenly gets abused. They don’t realize that he’s sometimes just as insulting toward PZ and the likes of me, and we just discount his abuse 95 percent; how could they?)

    In discussing such things, and the general Blastula Problem, I think it’s a good idea not to start with the most loaded cases, and quickly pull in the most recent grievances. I think it was a mistake for you to make the genocidal firing squad analogy, and to move quickly to the issue of antisemitism at Pharyngula. That inevitably raised the Henry and SC issues, which are unsettled, and are apparently going to remain unsettled for at least the time being; the hole’s just too deep now.

    I think there are plenty of applications of the ideas you’ve been floating that might actually fly, without setting off a shitstorm, and would be worth exploring before going there.

    And yes, I guess I’m “telling you how to blog,” in some sense; so what? It’s my two cents. I’ll also say that I think you can be and often are an extremely clear and even beautiful writer. (I was tremendously impressed by the Congo Memoirs, for example, as were a number of of other people at Pharyngula who think you put your foot in it this time.) I just don’t think this has been your best work, or even up to your typical standards.

  372. #372 Enoch
    February 11, 2010

    Paul W, you can’t just make up rules that suit you. Your department and university had/have HR rules and there are ethical considerations. Throwing the word “ethos” into your post hoc excuse does not suffice.

    Not since the incident with the thong and the claw hammer.

    Remarkably, there are very few Universities with rules about that sort of thing. You should see a lawyer about your inappropriate dismissal.

  373. #373 Paul W.
    February 11, 2010

    And Enoch is absolutely right. It is unethical and in many cases illegal for a teacher/instructor/professor, without that student’s express permission, to discuss him/her with other students, and in the case of a student who is of age, even with that student’s own parents or spouse.

    So sue me. :-) Or reread what I’ve said so far, and what I say below to Isabel:

    It still sounds inappropriate; you were discussing your difficult interactions, however sympathetically, with another student. As a grad student, I have had beers many times with professors and have become friends with a few, but this would sound odd to me.

    I’m not sure we’re disagreeing. Part of my point in that example was that I fucked up, by underestimating how fraught even such seemingly benign things were, and that I learned a lesson from it.

    I don’t think things are as black-and-white as some people want to make them out to be. (And I have to wonder if they’ve ever trained graduate students to do research, if they think it’s quite that simple.)

    Part of what students need to learn if they’re going to be professors and researchers is how to interact with their (future) students and colleagues.

    You can’t always play “grownup” and treat them like “children”; they need to know about the kinds of problems professors have with students and colleagues, and how they solve them. Graduate research isn’t like “school” with “teachers” in the sense that most students are used to, and many have trouble making the switch, partly because they don’t understand what the switch required is. They need to know about “grown-up” stuff, or they’ll be in trouble later.

    They need to know about faculty-student relations, and departmental and academic politics. To some extent, you have to leave them in the dark, especially with regard to particular persons most of the time, but to some extent, you have to clue them in to the grown-up issues. (For example, when a Ph.D. student ends up effectively managing some of the other students working on a project—as they sometimes should.) One of the ways that this sort of thing plays out in practice is that you sometimes hope that the student learns to read between lines, about things you can’t say, and does it correctly. (And when they do, you don’t correct them.) There are things they need to know, and more of them as they get near to going off to be professors with their own research programs.

    It’s actually a difficult line to walk.

  374. #374 Stephanie Z
    February 11, 2010

    Paul, you’ve got two sentences. Tell me what I would get out of reading the long post you addressed to Greg. Did you say something you haven’t already said? Did you get reflective about your own behavior? Did you acknowledge that you’re not asking SC or Morales to do the same things you’re telling me/us to do? Did you discover that you’re spending thousands of words on an internet scuffle? Were you funny? Did you refrain from using the word “we”?

    Two sentences to tell me how what you said is going to make a difference.

  375. #375 Enoch
    February 11, 2010

    Paul W. said I don’t think things are as black-and-white as some people want to make them out to be.

    and it is the job of every reader of this blog and Pharyngula to never allow him to forget that.

  376. #376 Paul W.
    February 11, 2010

    As for this conversation, there seems to be two sets of rules, one for Christians and one for everybody else. What the hell is wrong with having one set of rules – isn’t that easier?

    Excellent question, and one I would have raised long ago if we weren’t busy wranging over everything else.

    One of the things I find interesting is that Judaism usually gets off pretty lightly at Pharyngula, compared to Christianity.

    I find it peculiar to think of Pharyngula as an “antisemitic” place, as opposed to an antireligious one, and a largely anti-Christian one because the more widely-held views are the ones more worth rebutting.

    There are some relevant asymmetries, of course. One is that Jews were historically an oppressed minority in Western culture, and to some extent still are. Christianity has historically been the majoritym, and doing the oppressing, and to some extent still is and does. That really matters.

    Another asymmetry is that Jewishness doesn’t have the same relationship to Judaism and Christianness has to Christianity. Christianity is a religious belief system, and if you don’t believe, you’re not a Christian. (At least in popular usage, and taking into account that ideas about what counts as a Christian do vary.)

    That’s one of the things that can lead to misunderstandings of the sort that Greg is talking about, I think, especially if clueless or clueless-seeming people talk about “Jews” as thought it unambiguously mean the same kind of thing as “Christian.”

  377. #377 Paul W.
    February 11, 2010

    Paul, you’ve got two sentences. […] Two sentences to tell me how what you said is going to make a difference.

    Two sentences:

    Stephanie, you’re not in charge and I feel no more need to justify myself to you than you feel to justify yourself to me; got that?

    If you’re not going to ask nicely, I’m not going to cooperate.

    Two more sentences, gratis:

    Get your condescending head examined.

    Fuck off.

  378. #378 Paul not W
    February 11, 2010

    Paul W’s comments are so long they need abstracts and executive summaries.

  379. #379 Tulse
    February 11, 2010

    Paul, you’ve got two sentences. Tell me what I would get out of reading the long post you addressed to Greg.

    Given that Greg spent 1700 words in his original post, I find this request for brevity more than a little ironic.

  380. #380 Greg Laden
    February 11, 2010

    I find it peculiar to think of Pharyngula as an “antisemitic” place, as opposed to an antireligious one, and a largely anti-Christian one because the more widely-held views are the ones more worth rebutting.

    I would tend to agree with that, partly because Christians are so extra annoying and partly because “Ex-Christians” who are agnostic/atheists are not Christians, but Jews who happen to be agnostic/atheist tend to be still Jewish, because of the famous link between being Jewish and ethnicity. Kind of obvious but worth pointing out.

  381. #381 Kaz
    February 11, 2010

    It turns out an Atheist firing squad DOES look a lot like a “Polish firing squad”

  382. #382 Enoch
    February 11, 2010

    Tulse, do you base your statement on the assumption that Stephanie and Greg are the same person?

  383. #383 Saint Paulite
    February 11, 2010

    I just love the fact that the metaphor has come home to roost. Paul “W” for “We” has a modus operendus that works a certain way, involves a certain commitment to a certain community with certain expectations. When he leaves that community he continues to act the same exact way which in this case involves deciding who is in each of his two black and white categories: Pharyngula-esque, or anti-Pharyngula.

    But he got it wrong, because he is overly accustom to his own firing squad.

    He quite clearly picked the anti-Pharyngula hat for Dr. Laden, for some reason, and there is ample evidence on this thread for Paul “The We” W. and his friends and followers having done that. Dr. Laden has been accused of being in favor of accommodation, yet it was his aggressive attack on Mooney that led to the Framing Slapdown. Dr. Myers repeatedly said in those days “I hate this argument” and “I don’t know why we are doing this” while Dr. Laden continued the Framing discussion with full force.

    Someone said that Dr. Laden was going to “Bring up Crackergate” next, an obvious implication that he (Laden) was going to complain about Dr. Myers and crackergate. But it was Dr. Laden who uncovered the notorious 1-800-Hate-Flowers man, and it was Laden who interviewed Webster Cook’s associate, and it was Laden who blogged alongside Dr. Myers for that entire episode.

    And he (Laden) said above that he is much scarier in real life than Dr. Myers who is a teddy bear. I have seen them both in real life and it is true that Dr. Laden has laser eyes and sometimes kills people in the audience if he thinks they are praying. Do not forget that when you mock him.

  384. #384 Stephanie Z
    February 11, 2010

    Tulse, if Greg were in the habit of repeating himself while assuming I didn’t agree with him just because I hadn’t heard what he had to say (instead of valuing things differently than he does, as is actually the case), he might get a similar response. Actually, he would probably get a much nicer, funnier response because he’s generally been pretty nice to me and entertains me pretty regularly. It’s that reciprocity thing.

    It was not a request for brevity. It was a notice that he’ll no longer be allowed to waste my time, which I value.

    Isabel, I think there’s probably also an element (albeit a small one) of being willing to poke at the myth that Christians are, as a class, persecuted in the U.S.

  385. #385 Paul W.
    February 11, 2010

    Saint Paulite,

    I think you’re mistaken about my views of Greg. There are reasons why I’ve been a regular and admiring reader of his blog for years, and I’m not nearly as clueless about his stances on several related things, including atheism and accommodationism, as you seem to think.

    That’s one of the reasons I find the whole thing interesting. If I didn’t respect Greg and most of his views as much as I do—and that’s a lot, seriously—I wouldn’t care in the same way.

    One of the reasons I’m so verbose and sometimes repetitive is that in and adversarial situation—and we have had an adversarial situation on certain points, despite our basic agreement on many others—I’m averse to being quote-mined, or saying anything that will be misunderstood by people who haven’t carefully read and understood what I’ve said before. The context may have been stated, but gotten lost. That has evidently happened a number of times, on both “sides” here. (And I’m not claiming anybody’s been perfect on our side, including me. Oh no.)

    I do write defensively, and with some good reasons. Some people like the fact that I at least try to be careful to make it clear what I am and am not saying or suggesting, and crucial things I do understand about what others are saying. Others just wish I’d shut the fuck up and go away. Different strokes, and Overton Windows apply.

  386. #386 Paul W.
    February 11, 2010

    It was a notice that he’ll no longer be allowed to waste my time, which I value.

    Note taken, and notice appreciated. If you don’t waste any more time on me, that’s fine, and at this point, I think it’s the right thing to (not) do.

  387. #387 Sioux Laris
    February 11, 2010

    [What follows is equally profound, well-reasoned, and infinitely briefer that the usually very interesting G.L.’s posting. If you don’t think so, it’s YOU who can’t see it!]

    You ever REALLY look at you hand, man? I mean, REALLY LOOK at it?

    [sips a White Russian]

  388. #388 Haplodiploid
    February 11, 2010

    Paul [386]:

    “One of the reasons I’m so … adversarial —I’m averse to being quote-mined. I’m not … good, careful crucial. Others just fuck strokes.”

    Pwned.

  389. #389 Ray
    February 11, 2010

    Paul [386] said:

    There are reasons why I’ve been clueless about several things, including atheism and accommodationism.

    I respect Greg and his views a lot.

    I’m so verbose that I’m misunderstood by people a number of times. Oh no.

    I do fuck up.

  390. #390 Paul W.
    February 11, 2010

    Ray, that was totally unnecessary!

    Haplodiploid already totally pwned me.

    *slinks away*

  391. #392 Isabel
    February 11, 2010

    “Kind of obvious but worth pointing out. ”

    Yes an obvious answer that means nothing. I wasn’t born yesterday…I’ve only heard all those excuses about 10,000 times. Also, Jews are way overrepresented in the upper classes, and have been lording it over me for decades in the two fields I have pursued so my sympathy is wearing a bit thin.*

    Here’s a hypothetical: I’m at dinner with a bunch of upper-middle class Jews and atheists (in other words a typical UMC liberal get together). My family is working class Catholic, many religious, all very nice people btw, and I enjoy my identity as a “cultural Catholic”.

    During the meal lots of sarcastic comments are made about Christians and even Catholics. Is it totally beyond your comprehension to see why this would be uncomfortable and alienating for me? Even though they would all insist that they are not talking about me. And there is no getting around the fact that they are definitely talking about my family.

    I can’t wait to hear the cliched reasons for not dissing Muslims.

    Lastly, conflating fundamentalist Christians with all “Christians” is pretty fucking ridiculous and a poor excuse for bigotry.

    *I am finding The Culture of Critique by Kevin MacDonald to be an interesting read.

  392. #393 Mike from Ottawa
    February 12, 2010

    A potpourri:

    The skeptics on Blastula don’t think of religious people as non-human, they think of them as deluded humans, but still humans and deserving of all human rights as laid out in the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

    Of course, in many places, deluded people may be locked up, are the objects of derision, hostility and fear and generally are seen as not being fully human the way the non-deluded are. But then no true atheists holds such views of anyone, do they.

    There is a fine line between the language of tolerance and the language of appeasement, and I think atheists generally do not want to go near that line, so they (we) avoid it. This can result in intolerant speech sometimes, even if inadvertently.

    I can be a cynical sort at times and, considering the canonical example of “appeasement”, view the above example as demonization by likening the religious to Hitler. Or I would if I weren’t pretty sure the writer is an atheist and no true atheist would demonize anyone by likening them to Hitler, would they. I’m almost certain that AnneT, assuming she was of an age to have contemplated such things, regarded the use of “appeasement” and “appeaser” by the proponents of the Iraq war just a few years ago as invoking the image of Hitler. Maybe the writer’s conviction of her own purity prevents her seeing the intolerance in her own post even as she’s writing about thin lines.

    It is the moderates of any group, be it Atheist, Christian, Jewish, Islamic who provide the power base for extremism. imho.

    Nice, subtle joke there.

  393. #394 Paul W.
    February 12, 2010

    Mike,

    I think you’re quite right to be concerned about the connotations of the terms “deluded” and “appeasement.”

    Unfortunately, connotations aside, they’re the right terms for what’s being discussed—or at least, as good as any I know.

    The uncomfortable truth is that New Atheists do generally believe that religious people are, technically speaking, deluded. They’re not generally deluded in the clinical sense of the paranoid delusions of a paranoid schizophrenic, but they are in the grip of a complex of beliefs that is resistant to evidence.

    When I use the term “deluded,” and I sometimes do, I try to talk about a popular delusion in basically the sense of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.

    People in the grip of a popular delusion are not generally personally insane, or even close. They are victims of social feedbacks that have much the same bottom-line effect. That is why popular delusions are very interesting—they show that perfectly normal people can in fact be deluded, given the right social circumstances. I believe that religions are generally (and literally) popular delusions in that sense.

    Whether or not they’d use the word, even religious people typically think the same thing of people who subscribe to very different religions; e.g., Christians commonly think Muslims are victims of a popular delusion for believing that Mohammed is the definitive prophet of Allah (God), and Muslims commonly think that Christians are deluded for thinking that Jesus was God incarnate, and that Muhammad was not a greater prophet.

    Part of the awkwardness there is that some atheists are willing to call a spade a spade, and use the correct term—delusion—for what most other people also think, but sugarcoat.

    As for “appeasement,” you’re right that it has terrible connotations, and that gets in the way sometimes.

    Unfortunately, it too is often the correct term, connotations aside, for what is being discussed.

    I find it interesting that a few years ago, what we now call “accommodationism” was often called “appeasement,” which it largely was, and is. The term “appeasement” was mostly dropped because it was too loaded—and even the anti-accommodationist New Atheists mostly went along with that.

    I think that’s mostly a good thing. We don’t want to make it sound like the people who are or are not being “accommodated” (or “appeased”) are Nazis; we don’t think they are. We also don’t want to prejudge whether appeasement (literally speaking) is a bad thing. Sometimes it’s a good thing, up to a point.

    Unfortunately, no matter what terms you choose, you have problems with connotations. For example, I think using the term “accommodationism” is misleading, because what we are talking about isn’t denying people reasonable accommodation—it’s about whether to bend over backwards to appease them.

    If I say that I’m an “anti-accommodationist,” that sorta makes it sound like I won’t make reasonable accommodations for religious people, which I don’t think is true. I think I will, and I do. I just don’t want to bend over backwards and self-censor a lot to appease them, and thereby give away the store.

    So, IMHO, the fact is that we’re talking about delusions, and whether to appease deluded people.

    Unfortunately, stating that fact correctly and plainly is very misleading, because few people understand the literal meanings of those terms, and most people will think we’re talking about cravenly accommodating raving lunatics, or even Nazi-like folks. We’re not.

  394. #395 JuliaL
    February 12, 2010

    Paul W.

    The uncomfortable truth is that New Atheists do generally believe that religious people are, technically speaking, deluded. They’re not generally deluded in the clinical sense of the paranoid delusions of a paranoid schizophrenic, but they are in the grip of a complex of beliefs that is resistant to evidence.

    This is very interesting. You say that people who believe that God exists qualify as “delusional” because their “belief is resistant to evidence.” Tell me, please, about the evidence that God doesn’t exist, or at least point me to some source where I may read about it. I had been under the (apparently) mistaken impression that the reason atheists (at least those of the logical type) don’t accept the existence of God is that there is no scientific evidence. I had not read of the existence of the evidence you mention.

  395. #396 Tulse
    February 12, 2010

    Tell me, please, about the evidence that God doesn’t exist

    There is certainly evidence that the historical actions and qualities that various particular religions associate with god or gods are not true — for example, there was no worldwide flood. One can retreat to special pleading and say that this doesn’t rule out the existence of any god, merely gods with those qualities or who were alleged to perform those actions, but by those criteria, you can’t rule out the existence of leprechauns and invisible fairies in my backyard.

  396. #397 JuliaL
    February 12, 2010

    Tulse,

    So you think that there is no evidence that God doesn’t exist?

    Please note that I’m trying to understand Paul W’s definition and use of “delusion.” He has said, I think, that the word “delusion” refers to a belief held in defiance of evidence. And that a belief that God exists is a delusion. Logically it follows that he is claiming that there is evidence that God does not exist.

    Either there is evidence that God does not exist, or else “delusion,” according to Paul W.’s own definition, is not correctly used in reference to people on the grounds that they believe that God exists.

    All this is so without regard to whether God does actually exist. We are talking about the meaning of a word.

    No side discussion of floods and leprechauns can change the fact that Paul W., by means of his definition and his use of the word “delusion,” has made an extraordinary claim. If he is correct, I would think everyone, atheists and theists alike, would want to hear the evidence he has.

  397. #398 Spartan
    February 12, 2010

    No side discussion of floods and leprechauns can change the fact that Paul W., by means of his definition and his use of the word “delusion,” has made an extraordinary claim.

    I don’t think the statement relies so much on a definition of ‘delusion’ as it does of ‘God’. Depending on how you define ‘God’ and most importantly what he has supposedly done, talking about floods is not a side discussion. There is evidence that there was no world-wide flood, yet some people still assert that a God exists who did flood the world, and that does stand in defiance of the evidence.

  398. #399 Greg Laden
    February 12, 2010

    This might be a case where the definition matters. Webster on line:

    2 a : something that is falsely or delusively believed or propagated b : a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary; also : the abnormal state marked by such beliefs

  399. #400 Tulse
    February 12, 2010

    He has said, I think, that the word “delusion” refers to a belief held in defiance of evidence. And that a belief that God exists is a delusion. Logically it follows that he is claiming that there is evidence that God does not exist.

    When one used “delusion” in a clinical sense, it is often used for beliefs for which there is no evidence. For example, if I believe that aliens have come down and performed surgery on me to remove my organs and replace them with others, without leaving any scars (a delusion that is no uncommon in paranoid schizophrenia), one does not have to point to evidence that such a belief is false, merely that there is absolutely no evidence that it is true. “Defiance of evidence” includes believing in extraordinary notions without any evidentiary foundation.

    No side discussion of floods and leprechauns can change the fact that Paul W., by means of his definition and his use of the word “delusion,” has made an extraordinary claim.

    The claim is no more extraordinary than the claim that it would be delusional to think that leprechauns exist.

  400. #401 JuliaL
    February 12, 2010

    Tulse,

    When one used “delusion” in a clinical sense, it is often used for beliefs for which there is no evidence.

    That is not what the published clinical definitions (that I have been able to find) say. More to the point, it is not what Paul W. claimed.

    The claim is no more extraordinary than the claim that it would be delusional to think that leprechauns exist.

    I don’t know what this thing is that you have about leprechauns, but I will leave you to it. I’m sorry that I can’t seem to develop any interest in them, but I am very interested in Paul W.’s claim that there is evidence that God doesn’t exist.

  401. #402 Spartan
    February 12, 2010

    “The uncomfortable truth is that most people do generally believe that invisible leprechaun believers are, technically speaking, deluded. They’re not generally deluded in the clinical sense of the paranoid delusions of a paranoid schizophrenic, but they are in the grip of a complex of beliefs that is resistant to evidence.”

    Julia, do you also find that to be an extraordinary claim? If not, what’s the difference when we plug in ‘religious people’?

  402. #403 JuliaL
    February 12, 2010

    Greg,

    I have heard atheists say that people who believe God exists are “delusional” (those are quote-quotes, not scare quotes) according to what amounts to a paraphrase of the “Definition a” that you gave. My response has been that their use of the word “delusional” can mislead others into thinking they mean “Definition b,” thereby creating a false implication of mental illness. I have suggested that rather than using “delusional” to mean “false belief,” it would be less misleading, and therefore more honest, to say “false belief,” or just “wrong,” or “mistaken.”

    I find myself fascinated that here in a thread asking, in part, whether some rhetoric used by atheists shares ground with anti-Semitism, Paul W. has actually explicitly equated his use of “delusional” with clinical mental illness, thus clearly implying that observant Jews are, on that ground alone, mentally ill – an implication that strongly overlaps with anti-Semitic rhetoric.

    The only way I see out of that problem for Paul W. is for there actually to be evidence that God does not exist. For me at least, that would tend to move Paul W.’s comment back toward simple fact, and away from anti-Semitic rhetoric.

  403. #404 Spartan
    February 12, 2010

    Paul W. has actually explicitly equated his use of “delusional” with clinical mental illness,

    Hmmm, did he? In what you quoted from him, he explicitly said: “They’re not generally deluded in the clinical sense of the paranoid delusions of a paranoid schizophrenic,”
    and his post talks about ‘popular delusion’ being different from insanity. Maybe I missed a post of his though.

  404. #405 JuliaL
    February 12, 2010

    Spartan,

    You are now apparently claiming there is scientific evidence that leprechauns do not exist. And you also make the claim that what “most people do generally believe” about leprechauns is somehow relevant to Paul W.’s claim that there is evidence that God does not exist?

    I’m sorry, but I repeat that I have no interest in leprechauns. Nor am I interested in the argument that because “most people do generally believe” that something does or does not exist, that their belief must of necessity have some validity. I am interested in the evidence that Paul W. claims to have knowledge of.

  405. #406 Spartan
    February 12, 2010

    No Julia, I technically claimed no such thing, and even more technically, I didn’t say a thing about ‘scientific’ evidence. In this conversation your inclusion of that adjective strikes me as a little odd, since we’re talking about God, for which there is no scientific evidence either, just supposedly ‘evidence’. I think you are interested in the evidence that you claim Paul W claims to have knowledge of. I would be interested in that evidence also, but I don’t think Paul W made such a claim.

  406. #407 JuliaL
    February 12, 2010

    Spartan,

    Paranoid schizophrenia is not the only form of a delusional clinical syndrome. Paul W. “says that “they [referring to people who believe that God exists] are in the grip of a complex of beliefs that is resistant to evidence,” which is a key definition for clinical delusion, as provided by Greg. The fact that Paul W. then goes on to imply that the word “insane” has a different range of meanings is irrelevant. I did not say that Paul W. claimed that people who believe that God exists are “insane.” I said, correctly, that he claims they are “delusional,” and that he defines that word by using the clinical definition.

    Paul W. has clearly indicated that there is evidence that God does not exist. I want to know what it is. I should think that most of us would find such evidence to be of great significance.

  407. #408 Spartan
    February 12, 2010

    Well I definitely disagree that Paul ‘clearly’ indicated that. As a contrast, which is what the purpose of bringing up leprechauns is, what would be an example to you of a delusional belief that you would consider not clinical? What belief would fit strictly under definition ‘a’ of Greg’s?

  408. #409 Tulse
    February 12, 2010

    I don’t know what this thing is that you have about leprechauns, but I will leave you to it. I’m sorry that I can’t seem to develop any interest in them, but I am very interested in Paul W.’s claim that there is evidence that God doesn’t exist.

    You keep dodging the point, which is that belief in a god has the same evidentiary base as belief in leprechauns. I presume that you don’t believe in leprechauns, and would consider someone who did so seriously and sincerely, despite an inability to produce any evidence for their belief, as being delusional in the colloquial if not clinical sense. Perhaps I am wrong in that presumption — is that a fair characterization of your approach to leprechaun-belief?

    (Of course, all this presumes that you’re interested in debating this issue in good faith…)

  409. #410 JuliaL
    February 12, 2010

    Spartan,

    we’re talking about God, for which there is no scientific evidence either, just
    supposedly ‘evidence’

    That’s interesting. You think, then, that when Paul W. says, “they [people who believe that God exists] are in the grip of a complex of beliefs that is resistant to evidence” that he does not mean scientific evidence? That he means things like “I looked out from the mountaintop and had this overwhelming feeling of emptiness in the universe”?

    Actually, a belief in the existence of God is not “resistent to [that kind of] evidence.” And it seems unlikely to me that the clincial definition is relying on such a vague concept of “evidence.” Yes, I had assumed that the “evidence” referred to both in the clinical definition and in Paul W.’s comments is scientific evidence.

    If he is in fact, as you seem to suggest saying that people who believe that God exists should be called “delusional” because they are in the grip of a belief that somebody-or-other’s vague feelings and personal experiences and subjective impressions have proven wrong,” then I’ll have to just say that Paul W. is not making any sense. I think, though, that unless he himself says otherwise, I will stick to my assumption that he meant scientifc evidence.

  410. #411 JuliaL
    February 12, 2010

    You keep dodging the point, which is that belief in a god has the same evidentiary base as belief in leprechauns

    The point? THE point? You are telling me what THE point is in my questioning of Paul W.? I am certainly willing to agree that leprechauns are YOUR point. However, MY point is that I would like to know what evidence Paul W. has that God does not exist.

    Now if you have evidence that leprechauns do not exist, no doubt many, many people will be interested in that. I’m not sure I would be one of them, but I do acknowledge that it would certainly be a worthwhile scientific contribution on your part.

    I have not been discussing the issue of lack of evidence. If it helps, I will state here and now that, to the best of my knowledge, there is no scientific evidence whatsoever that God or (in concession to your personal interests) leprechauns exist. I add “scientific” here in concession to Spartan who has brought up the notion of non-scientific evidence. Since I’m not clear what Spartan means by that, for now at least, I’ll stick to the scientific use of the term.

    MY point is that Paul W. claimed that “delusional” is the correct term for people who believe that God exists because “they are in the grip of a complex of beliefs that is resistant to evidence.” The only way this claim can be more than word salad is if Paul W. believes that he knows of evidence that God does not exist. I’d like to know what that evidence is.

    I’m sorry that as we are expecting both snow and company shortly, I must say good-bye for the time being to discussion of all these not-what-Paul-W.-said topics. I will add to both Spartan and Tulse that I appreciate your courteous and calm comments (how’s that for alliteration?), as I know you both to be effective and fierce fighters, with keen wit and potentially sharp tongues.

  411. #412 Spartan
    February 12, 2010

    I do see what you’re saying Julia, and I do understand how you view it that way. As I stated above though, there are some common conceptions of God (Earth flooder) that are resistant to counter-evidence, so the truth of his statement is dependent on which flavor we are using. I do agree with you that there are some very common conceptions of God for which there is no scientific counter-evidence, which I agree, ‘resistant to evidence’, does imply exists.

    We’ll just have to differ on ‘delusional’ and how it’s being used; I thought the purpose of Paul’s mentioning schizophrenia and insanity was specifically to try and clear up that he is not using the clinical definition, but the popular one.

    My point about ‘scientific’ evidence vs evidence is that I was wondering aloud that if we use the same, what I consider ‘looser’, standard of evidence that supports belief in God, is there then no ‘loose’ evidence that counters it. I don’t know, but it depends on exactly why one believes that God exists despite their being no scientific evidence for such. If one believes that God exists because of an internal religious experience they had for instance, is the fact that other people also claim to have internal experiences that lead them to wildly different conclusions qualify as counter-‘evidence’ under this non-scientific definition of ‘evidence’? Again, I don’t know, just throwing it out there.

  412. #413 Spartan
    February 12, 2010

    And likewise, Julia; I appreciate your equally calm and courteous comments also. See, civility is attainable. It might take 400+ comments, but it’s not a pipe-dream.

  413. #414 Tulse
    February 12, 2010

    MY point is that Paul W. claimed that “delusional” is the correct term for people who believe that God exists because “they are in the grip of a complex of beliefs that is resistant to evidence.”

    So, as I understand it, your point is about being resistant to extant evidence, whereas mine is believing in something in absence of evidence. Fair enough, although I think that the issue I raise is quite relevant to the notion of delusion in both the clinical and colloquial sense, which is why I raised the issue of leprechauns. In other words, I think you’ve raised a narrow semantic point about what Paul said regarding delusions, whereas I’m speaking to the broader issue of whether the label “delusion” is in general supportable.

  414. #415 Paul W.
    February 13, 2010

    Sorry I haven’t kept up with this thread… too much going on elsewhere.

    JuliaL asked some good questions.

    I do not think that there is scientific proof of the nonexistence of God, but proving the nonexistence of God is not and never has been what atheism is actually about.

    I do think that there’s good scientific evidence that most religions are wrong, and systematically wrong for scientifically explicable reasons.

    I don’t think that most people have been exposed to the relevant science and philosophy, and that’s part of what I mean about religion being a kind of popular delusion; a lot of the mechanisms that entrench religion and make it clearly religious are intrinsically social, and don’t imply that individuals are delusory in the same sense as a normal personal delusion.

  415. #416 Recall
    February 13, 2010

    The question becomes simplier if you take it as a given that people with an atheistic, materialistic worldview are allowed in the conversation, regardless of whether it’s ultimately justifiable or not. Then it’s just a matter of looking at the paticular options such a person has to create a theory of mind that can describe claims of religious experience.

  416. #418 Rorschach
    December 27, 2010

    QED, bitches.

    “The requested topic does not exist.”

    *blink*

  417. #419 Stephanie Z
    December 27, 2010

    Blink? Have you forgotten the to do over changing the Dawkins forum? Have you forgotten declaring loudly how Dawkins was spoiled for them forever? Have you forgotten the silly sight of someone repeatedly telling PZ that “It’s okay. I know you have political reasons why you feel compelled to support Dawkins in his decision because you couldn’t really support him on the merits”?

    Yes, things change and disappear on the internet, but I’d think that whole fiasco would have made an impression.

  418. #420 Greg Laden
    December 27, 2010

    That’s the problem with these retrospective posts. On the other hand, as Stephanie points out, things change and perhaps that dynamic is the important reality.

    Suffice it to say that the last comment on a long sequence in which a half dozen neurotic commenters were screaming about how wrong I was was, indeed, the last word, almost as though I had been right all along … I guess we’ll all just have to assume that I was! Bwa ha ha ha hahahaah ha. .. ha.

  419. #421 Angela
    December 27, 2010

    I find atheists the same as everyone else. To think because you are atheist you are more logical, less judgmental, or less likely to extremist view would be to put yourself above others and think you are better. To say that all but atheist views are wrong is no different than any one else judges all but his beliefs as inferior and insubstantial. From what I’ve seen acceptance of others beliefs is not easily done by anyone, including atheists.

  420. #422 Steph
    December 27, 2010

    Being an atheist removes a significant source of stupidity the religious are hampered with.

  421. #423 Stephanie Z
    December 27, 2010

    Steph, I have to disagree with you–somewhat. I’d say that the problematic thing that religion provides is certainty. Plenty of smart people believe in religion and end up doing all sorts of fascinating mental gymnastics to support their certain beliefs.

    Unfortunately, you can see a similar certainty at work in this thread with the idea that there’s only one way for a blog community to work or only one thing that any statement can mean. When you get people suggesting others are insane or dishonest over a disagreement about social interactions, you have to know there’s something a bit wonky at the root.

  422. #424 stoppedclock
    December 27, 2010

    Being an atheist removes a significant source of stupidity the religious are hampered with.

  423. #425 Greg Laden
    December 27, 2010

    Being an atheist removes a significant source of stupidity. Unfortunately, for many, it adds a source of unfounded and inappropriate hubris. It is often impossible to tell a privileged middle class but a culturally uneducated racist Christian from a self assured arrogant atheist when either is speaking of ignorant primitive superstitious brown people living like dumb animals in Bungbungaland. Neither has a clue what they are talking about. When we hear some news story from another culture where some silly humans are doing some dumb-ass thing, both individuals will expand the presumption of utter stupidity to all aspects of the life and lifeways of the subject of the news story, yet that is rarely the case. Those primitive Bungabungalanders are often quite a bit smarter in their day to day lives than the average Westerner, and are often just as much interested in cutting out the bullshit and crap as anyone else. The arrogant atheist or the christian with the crappy attitude will forgive themselves for having an unfounded idiotic belief but will use the same sort of thing to accuse, try, and convict entire cultures of having everything wrong. One thing that is missing that allows this to happen is recognition of the fact that the mundane of one culture is the stand-out bizarre for another. This is one of the main contributions of field Anthropology, though it’s significance was tossed out 30 years ago when sociocultural anthropologists went soft on ethnography.

  424. #426 Pat
    December 27, 2010

    Could this thread go to 500 comments?

  425. #427 Steph
    December 27, 2010

    Anybody who’s been around ScienceBlogs for a while and followed the Framing Wars and the Accommodationism Wars—as Greg has to some extent—will understand

    This is VERY funny. Greg STARTED the framing wars IIRC with a post on how Mooney and Nisbet had framing wrong. This then led to a series of blog fights and the famous Slapdown in Minnesota.

    I am not sure it is a good idea to dredge up these old posts, tho.

Current ye@r *