Monday, July 02, 2007

I'm mad as hell

... and I'm not going to take it anymore.[1]

I've received some feedback about my "vitriolic" tone, which has its most severe expression in my recent essay Sir Salman Rushdie, but has also been noted regarding my writing about religion in general, most recently my essay Rococo metaphysics. I'll not deny the charge, nor make excuses, but I would like to give my readers a little of the back-story.

I came to philosophy via religion: I started discussing both religion and philosophy at the Internet Infidels Discussion Board beginning in late 1999. Before that, I'd read a little philosophy and "spiritual" stuff, but I'd not thought or read deeply on the subject. I started off very abstract and dispassionate on Infidels, using my innate skepticism and skill at logical analysis developed as a computer programmer to discuss and criticize the canonical arguments for the existence of God. I worked out most of the rebuttals on my own; they're really not that difficult.

I noticed a curious thing... well, two curious things. The more logical flaws I found in religious people's philosophical and ethical reasoning, the worse their reasoning became and the more angry and contemptuous they became. I've lost count of the times I've been damned to hell or the had dust of my words shaken off someone's feet.

The other curious thing I noted was that the more I departed from the philosophy endorsed by the atheist philosophical gurus of Infidels—mostly regarding scientific epistemology and meta-ethical subjective relativism—the worse their reasoning became and the more angry and contemptuous they became. I was the subject of the most vicious personal attack I've ever witnessed merely because I left the board.

I came to the conclusion that no one, atheist or religious, enjoys having his or her own views criticized, and, absent a structure of enforcement, will often early abandon reasoned discourse for invective and personal attack.

As a case in point (on the religious side), look at Stephen's comment on the feedback post. I am called a "relentless prick", a "pain-in-the-ass", "obnoxious", "like a self-absorbed bully", "splenetic and insecure", "attention-hunger[ing], swaggering, and bullying", arrogant, mean-spirited, pissy, needy of attention, outrageous, egotistical, angry, and hateful. In an earlier comment, Stephen calls me "a take no prisoners troll". Kenneth has called me "a petulant man-child", "insulting", a "victim", "a classic bully", "a petulant, arrogant, bully", one who "a sound defeat as a stunning victory" [a lie; I never claimed "victory"]. He further calls me "snippy", an "ass", "closed-minded", "a playground bully", one who "crap[s] on my plate and call[s] it chocolate pudding," one who indulges in "playground name-calling", "rigid and so enslaved". (He correctly identifies where I was unclear to his detriment; had he simply pointed out the error, I would have apologized and corrected it.) And these are just a sample.

Now, I'm not in the least bit offended by Stephen's or Kenneth's comments; they have a right to whatever opinion of me they please and I'm happy to let them slide off my back. But compare and contrast their comments with my own in our conversation, especially the post which apparently drew his ire. Search as you will—I've linked to most of the posts on his blog on which I've commented—and you will not find a single unkind word only one unkind word (I called him an "insensitive creep" for suggesting I would be blasé about a loved one being raped) I've said about the man himself, only my honest opinion about his ideas. The worst (unprovoked) thing I said about him was that he couldn't handle criticism and having his ideas mocked, which is factually true: I mocked his ideas here and he banned me from his blog. (The only person I've banned from The Barefoot Bum, Perezoso, was banned for harassment, not for disagreeing with me or posting a personal attacks.)

I was banned asked to part ways from Subversive Christianity because I accused Kerry of typical intellectual laziness... for a post in which was nothing but a thinly disguised accusation—without a shred of argumentation—that atheists were fascist jackbooted thugs. This is the same person who called Richard Dawkins a "halfwit" on the same intellectual level as Ravi Zacharias. Again, Kerry is entitled to his opinion. But there it is.

I had a falling out with a theist friend because I said that employing the fall of Man (i.e. original sin) as a component of theodicy was too risible to be worthy of discussion.

(Just to compare, the vicious personal attacks on Infidels stemmed from a particular personal attack ostensibly regarding my use of "evidential" instead of "evidentiary" (or was it the other way around?); I was contradicting the dominant anti-Popper philosophy of the Infidels philosophical gurus.)

There are, of course, two sides (at least!) to every story; I'm not trying to justify myself; I'm just trying to tell you where I'm coming from, from my own subjective perspective.

I've drawn two conclusions: First, the philosophical underpinnings of religion are not merely mistaken, they are ridiculous. They are nothing but post hoc rationalizations to support the objective truth of the speaker's moral self-righteousness. (I am, of course, just as self-righteous as any religious person, but I have what I see as the honesty and sincerity to own my self-righteousness as my opinion, however strongly held.)

The other conclusion is that once someone has become attached to any philosophical idea, they view any criticism of that idea as a personal attack and react defensively. Religious people tend to be more attached to more ideas which are more stupid and ridiculous, but the defensive reaction is not limited to theists.

I have an extremely passionate nature, and I'm becoming more passionate as I grow older. Were I not gifted with a degree of analytical skill and, perhaps more importantly, had I not received a pacifistic and liberal upbringing, I might well have become violent to some degree. But I do have analytical skill, and I was raised as a pacifist, and I'm not violent, not in the least. I'm not going to apologize or feel the slightest shred of guilt or shame for who I am; I'm ethically responsible only for the choices I make in how to express my nature.

I very passionately loathe stupidity, falsehood and error. I abhor human suffering and despise that which causes it. Half of all human suffering is caused just by people being mean and dumb, but a goodly portion is at least amplified, if not directly caused, by ideological stupidity. Religion doesn't have a monopoly on ideological stupidity—I oppose more-or-less secular American exceptionalism, and I would oppose Soviet-style Marxism were it still a live philosophy—but religion has been, in my opinion, the longest-established and biggest supplier of evil-causing bullshit.

I admit to rather more personal grievance against Islamic culture and religion. My wife is an apostate from Islam (and thus subject to the death penalty in any Islamic country), and the level of suffering she has endured at the hands of this culture and religion angers me to this day. Her experiences have prompted considerable research, and the more I read about Islam, the more I become angered by its medieval ethics, pervasive misogyny and violent response to the lightest criticism.

But other things really piss me off too. The millions of Iraqis killed—and tens of millions injured and made homeless—by our regime of sanctions and two wars. The destruction by the Republican party of what few Enlightenment gains made in my country over two hundred years, the enthusiastic Christianist support for this destruction, and the shameful complicity of the Democratic party in not opposing this destruction.

I don't believe that anything changes until people get really pissed off about it, until they stick their heads out the window and say, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore." The men in Islam are not going to treat their women better—and the women in Islam cannot fight for their ordinary human rights—until the weight of world's contempt exceeds the male privilege of that culture. As valuable as is dispassionate, abstract discourse, we're not going to stop wars of aggression, torture, and the destruction of our civil liberties with abstractions and bend-over-backwards politeness.

I do not attempt to disguise my contempt for stupidity, but I do my best to talk in detail about what I am contemptuous of and to justify and explain my contempt. I hope you will never see a simple pejorative without (excepting common knowledge) a detailed substantiation underneath it.

What you read here is me, good and bad. I write for myself only, and to an audience of one (my wife, with whom I do not always agree). Keep reading my blog, gentle reader, and I will contradict some dearly held idea of yours. If you defend your idea poorly, I will mock your defense; if your idea supports human suffering I will express my contempt. You have been warned.


[1] "Howard Beale", Network, 1976, Paddy Chayefsky. Happy, Jimi?

29 comments:

  1. potentilla7/2/07, 9:17 AM

    The part I would take issue with is The men in Islam is not going to treat its women better.....until the weight of world's contempt exceeds the male privilege of that culture.

    Men (and to a lesser extent women) being what they are, the world's contempt will only cause them to be more convinced they're right and more closed-minded to any other viewpoint.

    Specifically in this case, the more the world is contemptuous of "Islam", an ill-defined concept with which many people of quite widely divergent attitudes identify, the more people who do so self-identify will become politicised and radicalised. Especially - especially - young people. Because of human coalitional psychology.

    Of course, if you are writing primarily for yourself and your wife, none of the above is terribly relevant. But if you write in any small way to change the world, I would say that some of your posts are changing it in the wrong direction.

    It's hard to convey in a comment, but I am not in any way trying to criticize here, or to tell you what you SHOULD be doing, which is none of my business at all; just providing an alternative view.

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  2. potentilla: I understand; I value your comments and take no offense whatsoever.

    If I thought you were correct, I'd probably moderate my tone, regardless of my inner nature. But I do disagree—although I respect your opinion—and so I write as I do.

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  3. To be honest, I don't think the men in Islam are going to treat their women any better until a century after Islam collapses of its own weight in a bloody conflagration reminiscent of the centuries of European religious warfare.

    I think both dispassionate discourse and my own severe moral condemnation are pretty much irrelevant.

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  4. I really hate to sound like such a fanboy here, but I feel compelled.

    "Dude, you rock!"

    (But don't forget, I'm fickle.)

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  5. I appreciate the compliment. But don't worry, Owen: There's little chance I'll pander to you.

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  6. I most always agree, honey. Any differences are trivial and purely academic.

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  7. My favorite polemicists are always the ones who are contemptuous of their ideological foes and any balderdash that rears its head. While I don't mean to compare you directly to men like Bierce, Mencken, or Hitchens, you share a similar style. And really, who needs to agree with anyone all the time? Such things make life boring.

    Do I think you're infuriating sometimes? Sure. A tad belligerent beyond what's called for? Pot, meet Kettle. One must enjoy or be stimulated by what they read, otherwise they should stop reading. I'm always one, and frequently both, when I visit here.

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  8. Do I think you're infuriating sometimes? Sure. A tad belligerent beyond what's called for? Pot, meet Kettle.

    Kinder words have not been spoken!

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  9. Larry,

    Did you or did you not say "I'll receive all criticism without defensiveness or rebuttal—although I might not take it to heart"? Isn't this post a rebuttal?

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  10. Perhaps it is. <shrug> In my mind, it's a clarification inspired by the feedback.

    I'm not saying you or potentilla are wrong. You're right: I'm snarky and contemptuous of many people I disagree with.

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  11. Although I never expected to cyberspeak with you again, BB, an acquaintance alerted me to your reference to me in this post. Just for the record: you were never banned from SubChrist. I removed you from my blogroll because, in all honesty, I couldn't in good conscience continue directing people to your blog. My last post to you, if I remember correctly, was a suggestion that it was time for us to go our separate ways. But I never said, nor did it occur to me, to ban you, and I'm sorry if you assumed otherwise (although, actually, doing so appears to give you pleasure). My point was that it would be better for us to cease what I took to be an increasingly fruitless and frustrating conversation.

    Just one question, running a quick eye over the recent hornet's nest here. You say that you're a pacifist. I wonder what you mean by the word. Nonviolence in thought, word, and deed?

    A Deacon

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  12. Kerry, you made a point about saying we had to go our separate ways. As I noted in my reply to you, the only sense in which your request was coherent was that I not comment on your blog. I take that as a ban. You wouldn't have needed to communicate with me at all to not read my blog nor to remove the link from your own blog. (I kept the link to your blog active until you removed the content.)

    I find it puzzling that after you asked us to go our separate ways, you posted at least once on ethical topics that form one of my central positions. Of course, you're free to write anything you please.

    I don't know why you were frustrated at our conversation; as I mentioned earlier, I try to refrain (at least publicly) from psychological speculation.

    BTW: I was raised a pacifist. I'm not currently a pacifist, although I remain mostly peaceable. In any event, I do not consider mockery or moral condemnation to constitute violence.

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  13. In any event, Kerry, you're free to read and comment—or not—here on The Barefoot Bum.

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  14. Regardless of your perception, I'm telling you that I banned neither you nor anyone else from SubChrist. I'd be grateful if you'd simply take my word for it without snarkiness and stop proclaiming that I did. You are, of course, perfectly free to say that you felt as if you were banned.

    Thanks for the invitation, but I won't be back.

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  15. <shrugs> Where am I being snarky, Kerry?

    You're getting bent out of shape out of a point of semantics: I don't know any other way of interpreting your comment other than as a request to not comment on your blog; how else are we "to go our separate ways?"

    But since this seemingly trivial point is so important to you, I'll put a note in the appropriate posts.

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  16. You're getting bent out of shape out of a point of semantics: I don't know any other way of interpreting your comment other than as a request to not comment on your blog; how else are we "to go our separate ways?"

    Well, here's a test case earlier than I expected: BB, I think you're wrong here.

    Your assertion "I've been banned from his blog" is false-to-fact. He did use the expression "go our separate ways", but a reasonable interpretation in the circumstances (having just re-read the comments in question) was that he simply wouldn't be visiting your site, or engaging you in discussions on his. It was quite reasonable of you to take it further, but I read that as your decision, not his. Here's what you actually said:

    The only meaningful, relevant sense in which we can go our separate ways is for me to not comment on your blog, which I will refrain from doing in the future.

    It's clear, surely? Even the words you use here imply he didn't explicitly ban you. That you voluntarily would keep away, without being asked?

    It may well be a necessary consequence of his words that the only way they make sense is for you to stay away, but I'm quite happy to believe he didn't see that at the time (and, for what it's worth, neither did I). In my experience, when someone is being banned, it's normally made a bit more explicit.

    Respectfully,

    O

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  17. I understand your position. Since I've already amended the content in question, the question is academic, though.

    Here's my position: I call any explicit exclusion a "ban". I don't go where I've been asked to leave by someone in a position of authority. If I explicitly ask someone to leave my blog and not comment, however gently or diplomatically I might do so, I've banned them. It's the explicit shutting down of the conversation that's the crux of the biscuit.

    It's clear, surely? Even the words you use here imply he didn't explicitly ban you. That you voluntarily would keep away, without being asked?

    I submit he did ask me to keep away. I kept away voluntarily in the sense that he didn't have to force me to keep away, but I did keep away because I was asked. The request was (somewhat) diplomatic, to be sure, but it was still a request. And I honored his request because I'm a civilized person, I respect people's property, and his blog is his property.

    I believe that had I commented on his blog (even without my reply) I would have been violating the spirit and intention of his request. If some indirect request has the exact same effect as a forceful ban, I think it's trivial semantic quibbling to claim it isn't actually a ban.

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  18. I'm just spent two hours drafting and re-drafting a reasoned response, and I've just binned the last one. I try to capture all possible answers you might give, so I can address them in advance. It's too hard (especially in a comment box this small)!

    I'll try just stating some points, and not working too hard to back them up. We'll see how it goes. To whit:

    1. A refusal to engage is not a ban. Kerry refused to engage. You could still have commented, therefore you were not banned. Lurkers and other commenters may have been grateful (I know I would have been).

    2. I have no problem with your behaviour regarding staying away at his request. My problem is that I don't believe he made that request.

    3. I agree it would indeed be semantic quibbling if I argued an indirect request with the effect of a ban was or was not equivalent to a ban. My point is that there was no such request. If such a request had been made, there would be no need for me to comment, as your behavior was fine in that light.

    4. I didn't read him as meaning you couldn't comment. He himself claims he didn't mean that. His words could have meant you shouldn't even comment, but only if conversing with him was the only reason for making comments.

    5. It's clear you genuinely believed you were banned.

    6. There is no point number 6.

    7. Believing he meant you were banned on the evidence available is not unreasonable. Just wrong.

    8. I've run out of energy for this sideshow. I imagine you have too. I just had to scratch this damn itch.

    (Yes, this is the cut down version!)

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  19. On the one hand, I read it as a ban. Kerry claims it wasn't a ban. I'm frankly still in the dark as to how to interpret his request reasonably as anything other than a de facto ban. I still think we're arguing fine details of semantics. Fundamentally, why shouldn't Kerry ban me? It's his blog, after all.

    On the other hand Kerry simply couldn't handle—for whatever reason—not being taken seriously. He's a philosophy professor and a church authority, and I doubt he's had anyone call his ideas ridiculous to his face in twenty years. Rather than discuss the issue, he chose to shut down the discussion, which was the whole point of this post.

    On the gripping hand, I'm unwilling to put any more time into an issue that has already been resolved (presumably) to Kerry's satisfaction.

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  20. On the other hand Kerry simply couldn't handle—for whatever reason—not being taken seriously. He's a philosophy professor and a church authority, and I doubt he's had anyone call his ideas ridiculous to his face in twenty years. Rather than discuss the issue, he chose to shut down the discussion, which was the whole point of this post.

    Yes. Emphatically, yes.

    Seems it's quite hard to remain detached in a discussion in which your core beliefs are challenged. I've found out through a mix of observing other people's discussions and painful personal introspection, that the more affronted I am by someone's argument the less certain I should be of myself.

    I've got much better at not being an obnoxious *rse in such cirumstances now (i.e. when I'm the one who's affronted). I don't think I'll ever be perfect, but further effort will bring diminishing returns. What I'm focussing on now is how to handle things on the other side, when I'm the one doing the challenging.

    It's hard. Watching you go up against both Kerry and Kenneth has been fascinating and informative, but ultimately a bit depressing. They aren't stupid people, but I don't know how to discuss (or rather, challenge) their beliefs without them taking offence and shutting things down. In a recent post, Kenneth even says it explicitly: a challenge to his religious beliefs is equivalent to an attack on him personally! How are you supposed to deal with that?

    On the gripping hand, I'm unwilling to put any more time into an issue that has already been resolved (presumably) to Kerry's satisfaction.

    Oh absolutely. I wish I could have let it go earlier, but I've got closure issues :-).

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  21. "I very passionately loath stupidity, falsehood and error."

    It's l-o-a-t-h-e. Loath is an adjective. You loathe error...just not enough to use proper grammar and spelling and correct typos.

    You have to get the little shit right if you want to be acknowledged as an analytical/logical genius. I actually like a lot of the content but the errors distract the reader and undermine you.

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  22. David: The article has been edited.

    Thanks for the help on the little shit: As you seem to be one yourself, your expertise is thereby established.

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  23. I guess I just don't attempt to hide my contempt for stupidity, gentle--and incompetent--"writer."

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  24. And I don't hide my contempt for rod-up-the-ass nitpickers.

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  26. The comments on this blog are not a platform for asshattery. You've made your point twice, David; I see no need to continue to publish your idiocy.

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Please pick a handle or moniker for your comment. It's much easier to address someone by a name or pseudonym than simply "hey you". I have the option of requiring a "hard" identity, but I don't want to turn that on... yet.

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