Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Appeasement and Censorship

I am, like Christopher Hitchens and very much like Shalini, an "angry" atheist. I have nothing but contempt for religion, supernaturalism, woo-woo, and secular philosophical bullshit, and I'm more than willing to say so in no uncertain terms. I don't think simple rational argument is enough. If people really could be swayed by simple rational argument, we would have been rid of supernatural bullshit a thousand years ago. It's really not that difficult intellectually; you don't have to be a genius.

The fundamental problem that I see are the socially constructed values which promote supernaturalism and deprecate naturalism. The problem is not that we haven't thought the issues through well enough, the problem is that all human societies, including Western civilization, deprecate to some extent the activity of thinking things through and accepting the conclusions. Values are facts, not rational conclusions, and cannot be established by truth-seeking discourse. They must be established by propaganda and negotiation.

Truth-seeking discourse is still an important and indispensable tool. Many arguments for supernaturalist claims use truth-seeking discourse as a model, and it's important to be able to rationally deconstruct and disprove these truth-claims. If you're going to call someone a liar and a bullshit artists, it's important to be able to prove these labels. But, on the other hand, you need not stop at deconstruction and disproof: you can then go on to employ specifically pejorative labels.

I don't just think it's possible, I think it's important to do so. I think it's important to say out loud that there are not only millions of rational naturalists who disagree with the religious, superstitious and supernaturalists, but also that there are a lot of people who hold such ideas in contempt. I'm in favor of some degree of tolerance and pluralism, but I have my limits. And lies and bullshit, essential components of supernaturalism, cross some of those limits. So I speak up and say what I say.

Not everyone has the same opinion. Some atheists favor a more friendly approach. Good for them. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe you can catch more flies with honey than you can with vinegar. More power to 'em. I have been, on occasion, intolerant of such people in the past for no better reason than they choose a different approach to promoting rationalism and naturalism. I was wrong and I apologize.

Friendly atheists (as a class, not just Hemant) do not use pejorative words, but still hold the line that supernaturalism is still wrong. They may not call you a liar and a bullshit artist to your face, but they will still point out the falsity and fallacy in your supernaturalism and the suffering it creates. Fair enough.

I'm not, however, going to apologize for my hostility towards appeasement and rhetorical censorship. These positions go beyond mere advocacy of friendliness.

Appeasement entails that we recognize superstition and supernaturalism as "just as good" as rationalism and naturalism, that the conflict between supernaturalism and naturalism is a fundamentally irreconcilable difference of opinion, of no more moment than chocolate vs. vanilla, or classical vs. punk rock. Appeasement is often based on appeals to "pluralism" and "tolerance".

I'll hammer on DJW yet again: "A society that contains deep disagreements regarding these sorts of questions will be benefited by deep pluralism and ecumenicalism." There can be no misinterpreting DJW's position: If there is deep disagreement about "these sorts of questions" (questions on which DJW does not have a strong opinion?) no one should judge the other position.

I'll hammer on Robert Farley yet again: "Dawkins statement [that teaching Catholicism to children is more harmful than child sexual abuse]... isn't just illiberal; it's virtually totalitarian," for no better reason than that, if true, we might then use the violent oppression of the state to prohibit the religious indoctrination of children by the threat of torture.

The enormity of this appeasement is staggering. It is very clear that the truth or falsity of Dawkins' opinions is not immediately relevant to DJW's or Farley's argument. DJW says that "In addition to being demonstrably false, this view is an awful and appalling thing to say." In addition to is the key phrase here. If Dawkins view were simply false, why not condemn it for being false? Why condemn it for reasons other than its falsity? It's important to note that neither DJW nor Farley actually demonstrates the "demonstrable" falsity of Dawkins' statement.

If Dawkins' statement is bad for reasons other than its truth or falsity, we must therefore conclude that it would be bad even if it were true. Therefore, we must conclude that DJW and Robert Farley would (in theory) condone an activity as harmful as child sexual abuse in the name of "deep pluralism and ecumencalism."

I have to repeat: I don't condemn DJW and Farley for disagreeing with Dawkins. If Dawkins' statement really were false, it would be perfectly acceptable and entirely sufficient to demonstrate its falsity and then, if they were so moved, condemn Dawkins for error, stupidity or mendacity. But to condemn the statement because it is "virtually totalitarian*" or non-pluralist in addition to perhaps being false, is to imply that the condemnation would still stand even Dawkins were correct.

*I really would like Farley to explain precisely how it is "virtually totalitarian" to use the violent oppression of the state to prevent children from being threatened with hellfire and damnation. Especially since such threats establish priests' coercive authority facilitating the sexual abuse Dawkins uses as comparison.

Shalini objects to some atheists' rhetorical censorship: demands that angry atheists sit down and shut up, not because our position is false, but because it "hurts the cause". Rhetorical censorship is not so egregious and despicable as appeasement, but it's still profoundly objectionable.

It's a bullshit position for several reasons. First, it's not demonstrably true: how does anyone know angry atheism is hurting any cause other than the cause of appeasement, tolerance and respect for supernaturalism, which we're explicitly trying to hurt? Furthermore, precisely what cause are they talking about? My statements may hurt their cause, whatever it might be, but my cause is different: I'm not particularly interested in converting individual theists. I explicitly want to make it so that supernaturalists — i.e. theists, woo-woos, and bullshit artists in general — ashamed, embarrassed, defensive, and ultimately socially marginalized in polite society.

Third, why should I shut up just because I'm hurting any cause? One of the causes I support is that people should, with few restrictions*, say whatever the hell they damn well please. Advocate anything you please: Child molestation, Nazism, Stalinism, Catholicism, Islam, or mopery on the high seas. I'll tell you why I think you're wrong, I'll tell you that I disagree so profoundly that I hold your opinions in contempt and disgust, but I'll never explicitly demand that you shut up just because I don't like what you have to say.

*specifically advocating extra-legal violence, lying, and negligently repeating lies.

Please note that I don't demand the appeasers or censors shut up. I grant them every right to say what they please, and I demand only the same right to say that they're full of shit.

I'm an angry atheist, and damn proud of it. If you don't like it, tough. Go start your own blog.

6 comments:

  1. ubercheesehead12/29/07, 8:29 AM

    You seem to be fairly obsessed with how children ought to be brought up, especially with regards to worldview education. Since you appear to fall into that demographic which is producing children at a level below replacement, presumably it is other people's children whose education you wish to oversee. Thank God for the freedom I have in this country to not have my child rearing techniques dictated to me by an angry, noisy minority. You have the freedom to indoctrinate any of the children you father which are not either sucked into a sink or abandoned by you into whatever form of angry, militant atheism you wish, but fortunately you cannot impose your wishes on me.

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  2. Am I obsessed? The issue has come up specifically due to Richard Dawkins comments in The God Delusion and is a general topic of conversation.

    Of course I have an interest in how other people's children are educated and raised: Any empathic member of a civilized society routinely assumes such interests. Hence we have institutions such as school boards, compulsory education, and laws against physical and sexual abuse.

    Thank God for the freedom I have in this country to not have my child rearing techniques dictated to me by an angry, noisy minority.

    Of course. Majoritarian societies such as our own justly give few rights to minorities, and even fewer rights to dictate much of anything to the majority. I don't see any atheist demanding the minority power to dictate child-rearing techniques. Certainly we would like to persuade a majority of people to share our view, at which point your objection would obviously be inapplicable.

    And I think you are giving thanks to the wrong entity: You should be, I think, thanking those human beings who have contributed to Enlightenment notions of majoritarianism, democracy, and liberty as well as the human framers of the Constitution and American democracy.

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  3. ubercheesehead12/29/07, 12:04 PM

    It is interesting how you throw around abstract concepts like justice, while holding to purely naturalistic (and therefore deterministic) causes for our existence. How can concepts such as truth, beauty or justice have any meaning absent free will and real free moral agents? How can any such things as free will or free moral agency exist in a deterministically structured world?

    On another note, I notice that my response to your lame attempt at a reply to my post on your New Atheism essay has not been put up. Is your hot house militant atheism really so fragile that you can't allow a real dialogue? I thought gagging those who oppose your religion was something only Jesuits did.

    I would have thought a knuckle-dragging troglodyte fundie like me would be no match for an erudite, cosmopolitan whiz kid like you. Go ahead, why don't you post my comment and then slap me down with another display of your rapier wit? After all, you're here to have fun, and it surely must be fun to publicly humiliate an ignorant bumpkin like me.

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  4. It is interesting how you throw around abstract concepts like justice, while holding to purely naturalistic (and therefore deterministic) causes for our existence.

    Naturalism does not entail determinism, nor does naturalism deny abstraction.

    How can any such things as free will or free moral agency exist in a deterministically structured world?

    Perhaps you might explain these recondite concepts, concepts that have as yet eluded the understanding of millennia of philosophers and theologians. Perhaps the knuckle-dragging troglodyte perspective will prove the key.

    I notice that my response to your lame attempt at a reply to my post on your New Atheism essay has not been put up. Is your hot house militant atheism really so fragile that you can't allow a real dialogue?

    No. I depend on email notification for comments awaiting moderation; for some reason I did not receive the notification for this comment. Now that you've brought it to my attention, it has been published.

    [I]t surely must be fun to publicly humiliate an ignorant bumpkin like me.

    You know, it really is fun.

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  5. ubercheesehead12/30/07, 9:31 AM

    Most of what you wrote has been responded to on your "New Athiesm" thread, so I'll not rehash a lengthy post.

    Perhaps you might explain these recondite concepts, concepts that have as yet eluded the understanding of millennia of philosophers and theologians. Perhaps the knuckle-dragging troglodyte perspective will prove the key.

    *Picks a few fleas out of the hair on his back, munches them contemplatively while rolling his knuckles back and forth on the ground standing in as fully upright a position as he possibly can*

    Well, hmmm...I possess what for me passes for intelligence. I have emotions, desires, and exercise what sure looks to me like free will. These are all very real concepts to me. My observations inform me that other humans experience much the same thing. Looking at my dog I see sentience, so even animals to varying extents have something like consciousness and self awareness and seem to experience joy and pain.

    Now comes the question: are these experiences the inherent properties of the matter which composes living organisms? No, I answer. They appear to be wholly contingent.

    Next question: Since nonliving matter appears to exhibit no signs of self awareness and the range of experiences that accompany it, and since I am composed of nonliving matter, is my self awareness & c. real, or is it just an illusory property that evolved as a mechanism useful in perpetuating and adding further complexity to the randomly generated information matrix that I fondly refer to as myself? Answer: Well, hang it all, it sure feels real to me. And I am aware of no evidence to the contrary.

    Which leads to the follow-up question: Well, then where do all these abstract things come from?
    So I sit down and do the math and say to myself,(*pausing to pick a few more fleas to chew on*) hmmm...it seems just the teeniest, tiniest bit implausable to think that random forces produced this. In former times it could be fairly said that the theistic response that God created our immaterial parts (i.e. those properties which we possess which are not an inevitable outcome of the properties of the matter of which we are composed) was a "God of the gaps" argument. However, the advent of information theory and understanding our genetic composition demands that the complexity that we observe in living organisms must have had an intelligent agency. Furthermore the observations that we have intelligence, emotion, ability to appreciate beauty, have a strong sense that objective truth is a reality, and possess free will are entirely consistent with the idea that God created us and endowed us with immaterial qualities which He Himself possesses.

    Now if you will excuse me, I need to sharpen my flint spear and go skewer a wooly mammoth and drag it and my woman back to the cave by her hair so she can cook it for me.

    While I'm doing that why don't you explain to me where all these immaterial, abstract things come from using a purely materialistic worldview. (Hint: it isn't enough to just wave your hands in the air and say,"Naturalism does not entail determinism, nor does naturalism deny abstraction." But hey, if that doesn't work you can just hurl out a few more crude insults, declare victory and go home.)

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  6. Since I must immediately depart, I will let my response in the New Atheism thread suffice.

    I will be gone for the rest of the morning, so kindly keep your censorship knickers untwisted until the late afternoon. After that, if you do indeed post additional lies, feel free to get them as twisted as you please.

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