There he [Ed Brayton] goes again, picking on the distinguished and august Thought Leaders of Atheism, in this case Sam Harris. It’s easy to do; there are a lot of buzzwords that trigger my rage, and Harris is fond of trotting out indicators of inanity like “identity politics” and “politically correct” and, of course, “divisive”.
I’m not on board with everything I read by PZ so of course I waited till I read Ed Brayton’s post myself:
I am not going to accuse Harris of being a white supremacist, as many have done. I’m going to take his argument at face value and presume, for the sake of argument, that he means well by it. But he’s still utterly, flagrantly, dangerously wrong. A quote from that podcast:
“My tweet was actually fairly carefully written. I mean, it starts with ‘In 2017 all identity politics is detestable.’ And of course I’m thinking about the West, and I’m thinking primarily about America, I was commenting on Charlottesville. And I believe this, you know, I think Black Lives Matter is a dangerous and divisive and retrograde movement, and it is a dishonest movement. I mean, that’s not to say that everyone associated with it is dishonest, but I find very little to recommend in what I’ve seen from Black Lives Matter. I think it is the wrong move for African Americans to be organizing around the variable of race now. It’s *obviously* the wrong move, it’s *obviously* destructive to civil society.”
I have just had the privilege of listening to an interview with South Africa’s eminent Justice and renowned campaigner for justice in apartheid South Africa, Albie Sachs. I recommend the interview to every one who aspires to a more civil and humane society. He woke up after someone tried to kill him with a bomb and was euphoric that he had only lost an arm. He later met and shook hands with the man who planted that bomb to kill him.
Albie Sachs came from a family that knew the Jew-murdering pogroms in Lithuania. He has always stood against racism and every form of discrimination and marginalization of minorities. I was impressed with his insights even to the positive contributions made by the tiny communist parties in South Africa and elsewhere.
We abhor the mocking of the physically handicapped. We hate racism. We protest against the discrimination against women. We now advocate for respect for gays. We demand rights and respect for all humanity.
But some of our public intellectuals, ironically even those who profess to be both public intellectuals and Christians, are not the least bothered by despising, publicly mocking, marginalizing, denigrating and slandering those who think differently from the way they do.
I am not a public intellectual but have had the benefit of a good formal education with some wonderful intellectual guides, and opportunities to learn much since. I have never “attacked” (or if I have I have regretted it) Christians or even Christianity or fundamentalists or those who believe in Atlantis or psychic phenomena or UFOs etc, but I have engaged many adherents of these in forthright and civil discussions. They deserve to be heard because they are not inciting hatred and are sincere. I was once a fundamentalist and anti-evolutionist myself, so I am in no position to ridicule anyone for the ideas they hold.
The noble thing about intellectuals like Richard Dawkins and Jerry Coyne and Michael Shermer is their ability to address creationist or intelligent design arguments — and therefore creationists themselves — with respect. They listen to what creationists say. Carefully. And they respond with civility and directness. Where they have found dishonesty, as verified in some cases by court-tested evidence, they have aired this information, too. They show how one can do that without adding unwarranted sneers or name-calling.
Yet some public intellectuals in the field of biblical studies — those who call themselves “Christians” even — have demonstrated the same sorts of ignorance and bigotry against those who challenge their arguments and assumptions as were once commonly directed against the physically handicapped, different races, gays, women. Example, against “Christ myth” arguments.
These public intellectuals also incite public disrespect, even saying that certain people don’t deserve to be listened to because of their different views about an intellectual topic of which they regard themselves the public guardians. This is not how evolutionary scientists defend science against creationists.
Public intellectuals have a responsibility to promote a civil society (meaning civil discourse at all levels) and intellectual integrity. There are too many New Testament scholars who fail dismally in both responsibilities. Even one is too many.
Josephus detested political dissidents. He saw nothing good in anyone going out of their way to protest against the government.
All sorts of misfortunes also sprang from these men, and the nation was infected with this doctrine to an incredible degree . . . . This was done in pretense indeed for the public welfare, but in reality for the hopes of gain to themselves; . . . . (Antiquities, 18.1)
The same meme that equates politial protest with selfishness is, of course, alive and well today. From a Singapore newspaper:
The timely enactment of the Public Order Act will be an effective legal tool to check groups out to disrupt the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit scheduled to be hosted in Singapore in November.
We should not allow others to hijack these pro-Singapore events to satisfy their own selfish political agendas.
Campaigners against cruelty to animals know how to get their message across. Graphic footage works. It is even said to have helped turn public support against the Vietnam war. Nothing worse than eating dinner and being confronted with footage of clubbing seals that look so damnably cute, mulesing sheep which still have that damnable iconic image of innocence, spearing and shooting whales until they eventually stop struggling against their fate, screaming naked children fleeing napalmed villages.
I can’t quite fathom the ethics that prohibit the publication of graphic pictures of humans being dismembered at times when governments call on publics to back their next war.
Why don’t we campaign for community standards that will favour the contempt of media for failing to show — “show”, that is, graphically — both sides of a story?
Anti-war campaigns rightly need to be salted with comedy, funny masks and silly costumes. But we anti-war campaigners could also take a leaf from the campaigners against cruelty to animals. Sure it upsets people. But that’s good. It should.
A year or so ago a friend and I had a little stall at an International Women’s Day function in a park with the usual literature and a nice quota of friends and few newbies taking a look. But nothing beat the results we got when we decided to hold up silly masks in front of our faces and walk through the streets and shopping malls handing out our little pieces of paper spiel. Continue reading “Eggheads need more clowns and theatre”