Over the past few days I’ve become increasingly distressed at the inability of our community to discuss an issue rationally and without rancor or name-calling. This “campaign”, which I agree with Miranda is vile and disgusting, seems more like a popularity contest: who has the greatest influence on the internet? It is about trying to bully people into agreement through name calling (“gender traitors”) and humiliation. It is not about rational discourse but about self promotion (“SCORE”) and censorship of ideas that some people don’t like.
The atheist community used to pride itself in holding no cows sacred: all topics were free and open for discussion, and that discussion was supposed to be civil, reasoned, and driven by evidence, not just anecdotes. Arguments were not decided by who could shout the loudest, recruit the most powerful blogger to their side, or humiliate the most famous person.
I would like to think that this community could survive this period unscathed, but I’m not optimistic. This “campaign” represents, to me, the antithesis of how we are supposed to behave.
Now, some of us out here have been saying that exact same first sentence for years. Literal years. The third and fourth sentences, too, not to mention the second and third paragraphs in their entirety.
And for our trouble, Coyne and others in his community have attacked us, even bullying us through our employers. He’s tried to win arguments by trumping empirical research with anecdotes. He’s coyned brand new pejoratives, and applied old ones. He’s made the discourse a shouting match, and used name-calling and bullying to get his way. He’s treated the whole thing as a popularity contest.
And again, for years, people have been calling him on this. He and his pals have dismissed those complaints, often by the simple expedient of saying some version of “Ethically challenged person X made the same charge, so you’re wrong.”
I was tempted to make this whole post a parody of that style, but life’s too short to parody the already absurd. I’m glad Coyne is able to recognize how bad this sort of behavior is sometimes. I’m not surprised it’s easier for him to see the problem when the name-calling and rancor is not directed at the Other, but at people he regards as being on his same side. That doesn’t excuse his blindness in other contexts, and I hope there’s some sort of more general lesson buried in all this.
Meanwhile, though, you get James van der Meme (above) and LoLcats: