It’s probably a little foolish to continue this on a Saturday, but I’d like to wrap up the giant framing/ religion/ screechy monkeys mess and get back to more pleasant topics, at least for a while. Putting it off until Monday would make this more visible, but it would also drag things out, so I’m just going to get it out of the way now.
In the wake of my two recent posts about the “framing” controversy, I’ve gotten a number of comments and emails on the general topic of speaking out. These come in two basic forms, which I would paraphrase as:
It’s very important for people with more moderate views to speak out, to break the frame established by Dawkins/ Myers and the creationists that science vs. religion is an all-or-nothing choice. You should write more about this stuff.
How does the Dawkins/ Myers/ screechy monkey crowd prevent you from speaking up? Let them do their thing, you do your thing, and everybody wins.
(Those are not direct quotes, but I’ve set them off in blockquote tags for easier reference.)
Here’s the thing: the very fact that I have moderate views regarding the conflict between militant athiests and wing-nut fundamentalists makes it difficult to speak up. Not only because I tend to get drowned out by the monkey army, but because I often don’t have anything to say.
This is the problem with having moderate views. Most of the issues that work one side or the other into a lather just don’t excite me. Hardly a week passes without some religious leader or creationist figure saying something stupid that gets half of ScienceBlogs all a-twitter with “X is an Idiot” posts. In 90% of those cases, I just don’t care.
So some fundamentalist preacher said something stupid about atheists, or Muslims, or gays, or biology teachers. That’s what they do. They say stupid things all the time, and they have obnoxious views about all sorts of people. It’s not surprising, it’s not new, it’s not news.
So some cdesign proponentist said something stupid about biology, or geology. That’s what they do. They say stupid things all the time, and have completely idiotic ideas about science. It’s not surprising, it’s not new, it’s not news.
I don’t have anything interesting to say about either of those cases. They don’t evoke any particularly strong response in me– just a resigned shrug. I can’t work up any enthusiasm for ritually denouncing the outrage of the week, and that’s all I would be able to do– “Some religious wing nut said something stupid. They are wrong, this is bad, they do not represent the views of all religious people.” Whee.
I suppose that if I knew more about computers, I could hack together something along the lines of the del.icio.us links dumps that would give me a template to fill in with the details of the most recent outrage, but really, what would be the point?
If I see reports of people saying something stupid and offensive in a new and interesting way, I’ll comment on it. That happens about twice a year. I’m somewhat more likely to react to wing-nut denunciations of physics, but again, those tend to fall into entirely predictable categories, and any refutations I would write would be basically rote repetitions of previous explanations of how physics doesn’t work like that. I’d rather spend my time writing about interesting new physics or pop music, or just getting away from the computer for a bit to play with the dog or read a book.
Committed partisans on either side don’t have that problem. They can work themselves into an absolute froth over stuff that I find barely worth the time it takes to read. They’re naturally going to generate a whole lot more text on these issues than I will, because I just don’t have the passion for it.
This also plays into the problem of the monkey army, which is one of the points I was trying to get across in the second post, and some of my comments following it. I am significantly less likely to take part in the discussion or in efforts to oppose religious excesses, because of the way the deabte is dominated by extreme views.
On those occasions when I do post moderate denunciations of fundamentalist wing nuts, I either get a whole slew of comments saying “Right on! Religious people sure are stupid!” which I then have to disassociate myself from, or I get a slew of comments denouncing me for not being extreme enough in my denunciation. And we all know what happens to anyone who posts complaining about atheist excess.
As a result, I am significantly less likely to write about these issues at all, even after you account for my general lack of enthusiasm for the topic. Anything I write has to be incredibly carefully crafted and qualified and justified (in which case it usually sinks without comment), or else I end up spending a whole bunch of time dealing with screechy monkeys in my comments. Either way, it takes way too much time, and is more trouble than it’s worth. I generally just wash my hands of the whole thing, and leave the squabbling to the pigs and monkeys (I should come up with a slur for creationists, too, just to balance things out, so we’ll go with “ignorant pigs”).
As I said, I’m sufficiently disgusted by the whole debate that I no longer read most of the blogs that regularly write about science and religion issues. Which means that I’m much less likely to support even the sane and reasonable people and organizations dealing with these issues, because the screechy monkeys have made the whole subject unpalatable to me. I get occasional bulletins from organizations like the National Center for Science Education– which is not, to my knowledge, an obnoxious organization– but I generally don’t post about them because even that is too close to the whole sordid pig-and-monkey mess, and I don’t need the headache.
This is not specific to the science vs. religion fight– it’s a general phenomenon affecting people whose views fall between extreme positions. There are other topics I treat the same way– I don’t write much about gender issues in science, because I don’t feel that I can do so without being attacked. I don’t write much about issues of race and ethnicity, because I’m not confident I can do it well enough to avoid inadvertently offending somebody.
(I will, however, rant about issues of class with very little provocation, because that’s a subject I am passionate about. Likewise education policy, particularly where it veers into union-bashing. Those issues also generate a fair amount of heat in the comments, but I’m willing to deal with it because those are issues where I have strongly felt opinions.)
In all of these cases, I realize that I am passing up an opportunity to do some good. By speaking out on these subjects, I could potentially bring these issues to the attention of people who don’t already read the extremist blogs, and maybe help encourage positive change. The presence of the extremists, though, has a very real chilling effect, even when the extremists are on the same basic side that I am. When I can expect to be attacked not only by people whose views I oppose, but also by people who are ostensibly on my side, it’s just not worth the headache. So I don’t write about those issues, except in those rare cases when something upsets me enough that I’m willing to deal with the hassle.
It’s not like I have all that much trouble finding topics that are more pleasant to write about. They may not bring in the page views like the hot-button topics do, but they don’t result in me having to clean monkey crap out of my comment threads, either.