26 August, 2010

Phil's Not Faring Too Well

I love Phil Plait.  I respect Phil Plait.  I follow him on Twitter, shall soon be following him on teevee, and enjoy him immensely.  But even the people I love best occasionally do things that earn them a gentle savaging from their peers.  And it seems that his Don't Be A Dick shenanigans (hereafter referred to as D-BAD) earned him said savaging.

Ophelia Benson, Richard Dawkins, PZ Myers, Jerry Coyne, and now even Peter Lipson (one of the least-dickish people I've ever read) have taken some not-so-subtle swipes, when not unloading with both barrels.  I'm sure there's plenty I've missed.  It doesn't matter anyway, because the whole thing makes me tired.  This "we must be nicey-nice to the poor delicate believers!" bullshit is threatening to condemn me to a life of early dentures.

Just a few thoughts that have been going about in my head during this whole D-BAD drama, and then I am hopefully done:

1.  If you run with the skeptics, your sacred oxen are at risk of getting gored.  If you faint at the sight of blood, better not run.

2.  There is no safety in numbers.  Just because several million people believe a delusion doesn't make it true.

3.  Niceness and respect have their place, but all too often, it enables the very woo and uncritical thinking skeptics are supposed to be against.

4.  Enable one woo, and you've just thrown the doors open wide with a big welcome sign for all the others.

And, most importantly to me personally:

5.  Those "dicks" were the people who snapped me out of woo-tainted thinking to begin with.  All of the happy-joy-joy nice warm fuzzy people kept me thinking for years that some pretty inane shit was legit, because hey, they didn't seem to mind.  And I'm not a very unique human being at all, so I highly doubt I'm an anomalous data point.  Without the dicks, I'd still be susceptible to pseudoscience and magical thinking.  Sometimes, what a person really needs is a good, sharp slap by an enormous dick to snap them out of it.

Oh, dear.  I suspect that last bit came out wrong, or led to mental images that have you reaching for the brain bleach.  Sorry 'bout that.

Anyway.  What I'm saying is, dickishness has a place and a purpose.  Religious sentiment should not and must not get a safe little reservation all walled off from skepticism.  (That goes triple for you, Quinn O'Neil, oh ye of the most bloody stupid argument I've read all week.)

Religious freedom is a Constitutional right in this country, and we dicks respect that.  But respect for a person's freedom to believe in irrational bullshit does not translate into treating irrational bullshit with kid gloves, nor should it, and as for those who aren't tough enough to take it - I've got a couple of religious friends you should consult, because they might be able to advise you how to take it on the chin and keep grinning anyway.  They don't burst into tears and run away blubbering whenever I say something not nice about their faith. 

You know what all that crying tells me?  That the weepy religious believers running with the skeptical crowd aren't sure their faith is legit.  They're doubting.  Why else do they need everyone to tiptoe around them?  And how do I know this?  Because I did the same sniveling when my faith started crumbling on its own faulty foundations. And everyone who didn't do their utmost to reinforce those foundations, or at least refrain from breathing on them, seemed like they were personally attacking me.  Guess what?  They weren't.  They were going after silly superstition.  If you think your superstition isn't silly, then shore up your own damned foundations, grow a pair, and deal with the dicks.

And don't tell me that a few unkind words about your favorite form of woo is enough to sour you on the whole skeptical movement.  That's just petty and ridiculous.  Besides, there are plenty of accomodationists out there happy to wrap you in their loving embrace.  Not all of us have to.  Not all of us should.

Life is full of slings, arrows, and dicks.  You deal, or you don't.  And if that sounds harsh, well, it is.  It seems that despite some anatomical disadvantages, I am an enormous fucking dick. 

Doesn't mean I don't love you, though, irrationality and all. 


rekenner said...

A friend put this better than I could have, but.
"It's the old adage. Creationist, intellectual, honest. Pick two. I won't be a dick to anyone who's honest, I don't think."
Directly to. You're right about third parties.

But, if I met the young woman who was honest in her beliefs that Plait talked about? I don't think just being a dick would be a good response.
But hell. I'm an angry asshole and just wish I could be more *elegant* in my vitriol, most times.
Awhile ago, I ended up kicking a bible, because a preacher in a plaza at my University had set a bible on the ground, and was doing the preacher in a plaza-y thing, yelling at people. As I walked by on my way to class, he was yelling something about how even an atheist, despite their supposed disbelief in God and lack of fear of, wouldn't kick a bible. So, I kicked it. I wish I would have had more time before class, but there you go.
It was a bit of a dick move. I got some applause for it, as it shut up a guy who was an even bigger dick. The guy who was in a public place, yelling at people.

Blake Stacey said...

Nice post.

I bought into some goofy stuff when I was younger (up to and including Non-Overlapping Magisteria), but I grew out of it during my teenage years. This happened before I had read much of the truly vitriolic tearing-into of said woo, so I don't know how I would have reacted. The vitriol did help later, though: you see Harlan Ellison say, "Forget that 'agnostic' nonsense, I'm an atheist", and you think, "Hey, that's me. I don't have to weasel around it, either!"

In 1927, the physicist Paul Dirac said, "If we are honest — and scientists have to be — we must admit that religion is a jumble of false assertions, with no basis in reality. The very idea of God is a product of the human imagination. It is quite understandable why primitive people, who were so much more exposed to the overpowering forces of nature than we are today, should have personified these forces in fear and trembling. But nowadays, when we understand so many natural processes, we have no need for such solutions. I can't for the life of me see how the postulate of an Almighty God helps us in any way."

Dirac's antitheism prompted Wolfgang Pauli to quip, "Our friend Dirac, too, has a religion, and its guiding principle is, There is no God and Dirac is His prophet." So, you see, not only is the "new" atheism decades old, but all the complaints about stridency and shrillness and dickishness were made the better part of a century ago, and with more style to boot.