Well it was dark. Ish. »« The debut of the Heresy Club

What “everybody knows”

Eric MacDonald has a very good piece on Julian’s humanist manifesto. He makes the same point I kept making (and really, it’s hard not to – it’s so obvious):

Julian Baggini has now published his Heathen’s Manifesto, which he begs atheists to read. I wish I could understand the motivation behind it. It seems to be based on the premise that atheists, and new atheists in particular — an unidentified assemblage of nonbelievers who are, it seems, strident, obtuse, impolite, and seek to banish religion from the world  — need to grow up, be sensible and kind, and ally themselves with their allies amongst religious believers, something that, so far, they seem disinclined to do. I sometimes simply despair when I read Baggini, because he never really identifies any of these supposedly rude, self-centred, self-praising atheists, nor does he provide an example of the kind of thing that he seems to object to so much. In order to say that we need a change in attitude, he has to show who is exhibiting the attitude he so much deplores, and the entire series on Heathen’s progress over the last six months or so never identifies any particular person as the kind of unbeliever who needs to change his or her attitude. What Baggini seems to have done is to accept that the strident responses of religious believers to the so-called “new” atheism are unquestionably justified. However, in my own reading on both sides of this divide, I have to say that the most caustic voices, the shrillest and most strident condemnations have come from the religious side of this particular divide, and Baggini has yet to show that this is not so.

What Baggini seems to have done is to accept that the strident responses of religious believers to the so-called “new” atheism are unquestionably justified.

Exactly. His way of talking about the so-called “new” atheism simply assumed that everybody knows what it is and what is so terrible about it. That’s a very odd thing for a philosopher to do. Philosophers are generally very familiar with the idea that what “everybody knows” may well be wrong. Things that “everybody knows” can be drastic simplifications, or empty banalities, or uninformed prejudice, or based on misunderstanding, or confused, or incoherent, or propped up by nothing but long habit, or gut-level hatreds dressed up as knowledge.

The much-circulated hatred of outspoken atheists relies on a huge amount of dressing up mindless loathing as something more respectable, and once again it’s odd to see a philosopher playing along. It’s odd for a philosopher not to recognize the sheer banality of the hatred and thus avoid adding to it by producing more of the same.

There’s a lot of that kind of “everybody knows” floating around, after all. “Everybody knows” things about women, and immigrants, and poor people, and gays, and blacks, and Jews, and intellectuals, and liberals. The stuff that “everybody knows” about atheists is just more of the same old bigotry-masquerading-as-facts. It never fails to surprise me when even some atheists engage in it.

Comments

  1. Matt Penfold says

    The really stupid thing is that Richard Dawkins, who I suspect Baggini might consider the arch-“new atheist”, has shown he is quite capable of working with religious people when appropriate. For example, he has done so in order to oppose the teaching of creationism in UK schools.

    Of course when he has done so he has not seen any reason to stop criticising religion and I am pretty sure those who he allied with would neither expected him to, or demanded that he do so.

  2. julian says

    However, in my own reading on both sides of this divide, I have to say that the most caustic voices, the shrillest and most strident condemnations have come from the religious side of this particular divide, and Baggini has yet to show that this is not so. -Eric MacDonald

    I wonder if this isn’t just accomodationism’s double standard.

    The religious are naturally given the benefit of the doubt and standards of behavior will be modified to give them the best possible appearance. Generally when that happens it’s bending over backwards to interpret this or that religious tradition (text, cannon, whatever) as positive. Here though it’s entire swaths of the religious community being placed out of bounds while the whole of the atheist community is lumped into one group.

  3. says

    It’s certainly some kind of double standard, or just plain crazed standard. It’s like people who spend eye-popping amounts of time and attention fuming about Freethought blogs or four or five super-hated bloggers (or both) while ignoring countless kinds and examples of much worse Badness. What the hell is that about? I have no idea, but it sure is real.

  4. sailor1031 says

    Baggini went to the dark side long ago. No loss – I didn’t need him to tell me how not to believe in stuff anyway. I’m pretty sure I was an atheist before he was born.

  5. Sastra says

    Someone over at Dispatches posted the following link from a Christian site. It contains a video of the Reason Rally. Atheists are interviewed, and readers are asked to “watch the hilarity” in “What an Atheist Looks Like.”

    Well, the Christians certainly seem to think these people are ha-ha outrageous and using “insanely inappropriate language.” Maybe these are the horrifying examples of outrageous atheism Baggini thinks he needs to address.

  6. Peter Beattie says

    His way of talking about the so-called “new” atheism simply assumed that everybody knows what it is and what is so terrible about it.

    Maybe he just doesn’t want to discuss the issues from the ground up every single time he posts about them?

  7. jerthebarbarian says

    It’s certainly some kind of double standard, or just plain crazed standard. … What the hell is that about?

    Actually, I suspect that it’s very simple. I can’t say for sure, since I don’t know what’s going on in Baggini’s head, but I suspect that he has low expectations for the religious and he “expects better” from the non-religious.

    He has a strong bias that shows up – he has a bias towards “reasonableness”. He likes “reasonable” religious folks – good Church of England types who don’t really believe all of that religious nonsense but still believe in some kind of Divinity – and “reasonable” non-religious folks such as himself. He sees atheists who have based their non-belief on reason and thinks that therefore they should all be reasonable just like him. He has no expectations for the crazy religious types because they’re crazy. (A similar psychology explains why liberal groups in the US tend to spend most of their energies protesting liberal politicians rather than conservative ones).

    I think the one column I’ve read by him that might have jarred his sensibilities was the one where he had that informal poll of religious folks that showed him that religious people – even moderate religious people – really do believe the supernatural bits of their religions. That obviously shocked him, and is the kind of thing that leads me to believe that’s what’s going on here.

  8. says

    No, Peter Beattie – adorable though your comment is, it’s wrong. I can point to a whole slew of places where I (and others) have discussed the issues from the ground up. Julian can’t say the same.

    There’s another problem with your spiteful claim. “Sexist epithets” are things, not people. “New atheists” are people. Saying harsh things about sexist epithets is different from saying harsh things about new atheists.

    Then of course there’s the problem that you are (presumably) a man, and there’s something very ugly about a man repeatedly insisting to a woman that “cunt” is not a misogynist epithet. There’s something very ugly about being so invested in that ridiculous claim that you keep returning to it.

  9. Stonyground says

    Those reasonable CofE types may be oh so reasonable but at the same time as they are being reasonable they are hijacking large swathes of our tax-funded schools and using them to force their ideas onto our children and to discriminate against us. They have twenty six Bishops in the HoL who have no mandate but use their position to block progressive legislation.

  10. Peter Beattie says

    » Ophelia:
    … there’s something very ugly about a man repeatedly insisting to a woman that “cunt” is not a misogynist epithet. There’s something very ugly about being so invested in that ridiculous claim that you keep returning to it.

    I know I get the dishonesty for free, but what do I owe for the psychoanalysis? :)

  11. says

    I’m not lying. Don’t accuse me of dishonesty.

    Your claim:

    http://freethoughtblogs.com/butterfliesandwheels/2012/03/that-would-be-never/#comment-134579

    My point is that you (and others saying the same thing) carry the burden of proof here: you say something is sexist or misogynistic; others (like me) say, let’s not get too eager to ostracise people. You think a certain behaviour (or certain people) should be judged in a certain way, others say live and let live.

    “Let’s not get too eager to ostracise people”=”cunt” is not sexist. “Others say live and let live”=”cunt” is not sexist.

    As before: picture a commenter who regularly expresses anger at Obama (say) by calling him a “nigger.” I would be eager to ostracize such a commenter in the sense of not wanting such a commenter commenting on my site. The same would go for other epithets of the kind – kike, spic, faggot, towel-head, etc. The same goes for cunt, twat, bitch.

    Other may say live and let live. I don’t. There are reasons. I’ve talked about them in the past. I don’t want to type them all over again every time this comes up. I treat it as a social norm. I have absolutely no desire to live and let live when it comes to viciously demeaning epithets used to put “inferiors” in their place.

  12. Peter Beattie says

    » Ophelia:
    I’m not lying. Don’t accuse me of dishonesty.

    I chose that word advisedly, Ophelia. Had I wanted to assert an intention to deceive, I would have used ‘lying’. I didn’t.

    And why wouldn’t I accuse you of dishonesty when you

    a) give the evidence yourself when you equate my ‘Let’s not get too eager to ostracise people’ with ‘“cunt” is not sexist’, especially when you

    b) censored and deleted the comment in which I made even more explicit what I meant, namely:

    Here, read it again: “I simply insist that it is a value in itself that people who make accusations provide good reasons for them. To get all defensive and paint those asking questions as almost as bad as the alleged offenders, just because (just as allegedly) some of the offenders ask the same questions, is subversive of healthy discussion.”

    It’s about “deal-breakers”, etc.; it is about your judging people. It’s about your thinking you are a better person than those you don’t know anything about and whose usage of words you know next to nothing about.

    To pretend that my position is a simplistic ‘“cunt” is not a misogynist term’ is an obvious and gross misrepresentation. And since I have said explicitly and many times why that is (I’ll say it again: because the misogynist content is context-dependent, i.e. it can be there but doesn’t have to be), I take the misrepresentation to be gross negligence on your part. Intellectual honesty, I would submit, precludes that kind of gross negligence.

    » I have absolutely no desire to live and let live when it comes to viciously demeaning epithets used to put “inferiors” in their place.

    Which, of course, begs the question. Have I mentioned that? You pretend to be able to decree that this kind of demeaning is always a part of the intended and/or perceived meaning of for example “cunt”. Or you pretend to know that this interpretation is uncontested even in the US. As I also said in the post you conveniently didn’t mention you censored:

    That is a simple empirical sociological question, and … easily falsified. Just yesterday, for example, I watched an episode of Game of Thrones, in which “cunt” was applied to a man, and obviously without any women-denigrating subtext. Mind you, this is a series written, produced, and aired in the US. And that’s not to mention the dozens of Americans on discussion threads during last year’s fracas who said they felt the same. On this count, you simply have not a leg to stand on. And yet you pretend otherwise and make apodictic statements about what this or that word means or is—as if you didn’t know that meaning is a sociological phenomenon and based in convention.

    Hence, I think it is reasonable to say that it is dishonest of you to say that I in any way, shape, or form condone the putting of “inferiors” in their place.

  13. says

    Well, same to you, Peter, because that’s not what I’m saying, and you should know that if you’ve read for instance the reasoned discussion article last summer – and I think you said you had read it.

    Of course “cunt” can be used non-misogynistically in some contexts. Between lovers; ironically; jokingly between friends; etc. I know that. Everybody knows that. That’s not the issue.

    And this is exactly why I don’t want to start all over at the beginning every time it comes up.

  14. says

    You turned up to argue about this again on the thread where I disagreed with Bill Maher’s ridiculous self-serving claim that it’s not Limbaugh-esque for him to call Sarah Palin a cunt.

    A male comedian calling Sarah Palin a cunt is misogynist – unless he’s her lover or husband or besty and using the word ironically, which of course Bill Maher wasn’t.

    Your return to insist that this is some kind of crazed dogmatism is pathetic.

  15. Peter Beattie says

    » Ophelia:
    Well, same to you, Peter, because that’s not what I’m saying

    I’m afraid it is:

    » there’s something very ugly about a man repeatedly insisting to a woman that “cunt” is not a misogynist epithet

    That says, on the face of it, that you think that “cunt” is a misogynist epithet. If that is not what you wanted to say, fine, I’m okay with your revising that statement. (I’ll even refrain from calling the revision a “later gloss”, because I am honestly interested in what you actually mean. ;>)

    My guess then would be that you mean that when a man uses the word to refer to a woman, it is automatically misogynist? If so, I am curious why suddenly all context becomes irrelevant. If a man says about a man that he is a cunt (because he is a right arsehole, in a spiteful kind of way), you’d be okay with it but not if he said it about a woman, even if for exactly the same reason? This would seem to be inconsistent, or at least in need of an explicit argument in favour of it.

  16. Peter Beattie says

    Oh, and I should like to stress that, if you are willing to admit that your assertion that I condoned or even defended putting women in their place (instead of, at best, condoning the use of certain words equally towards men and women, under the assumption that no denigration towards women need be intended and/or perceived) was unfounded, I’ll be perfectly happy to take back the accusation that you were being dishonest. Don’t let it be said that I am not trying to mend fences. :)

  17. says

    No,I’m not ok with a man using it of a man to mean “asshole.”

    Again: this has been discussed here, exhaustively, before. Again: I don’t want to go over the ABCs again just for you. If you want to know what I think in detail, you can look it up.

    If people call each other “cunts” affectionately in private, fine. Lovely. No problem. That’s not what Maher was doing. That’s obvious.

    If this is all you meant, fine. Lovely. I’ll withdraw anything that said or implied otherwise. But you could have saved both of us the trouble by looking it up, as I urged you to from the outset.

  18. 'Tis Himself says

    Okay, Peter, we understand that you feel it outrageous that you can’t call someone a cunt any time you feel like it. We also understand that in Bumfukistan or wherever you come from, cunt is used as a term of mild approbation and there are Bumfukistanis who would pay good money for you to call them a cunt.

    Now would you do us all the great courtesy of taking your misogynism and going elsewhere. The adults want to hold a conversation.

  19. julian says

    He has a strong bias that shows up – he has a bias towards “reasonableness”.

    It isn’t all that uncommon especially among liberals and people who style themselves as fair thinkers. We want to see ourselves as not only open minded but nuanced and thoughtful. Nothing wrong with that. A nuance-friendly critical mind is something we should all aim for.

    But wanting a nuance-friendly critical mind is not the same as having such a mind. In fact, with how readily we overlook our prejudices, there’s no reason to assume we’re going to be wholly objective. This is doubly true when we are dealing with concepts or views that are accepted by the majority of people uncritically. Like the righteousness of the believer or the insolent non-believer.

    Anyone who has dealt with missionaries, Pentecostal pastor’s and, honestly, religious people in general, has seen the insolent believer. We’ve seen their dismissiveness. We’ve seen how readily they assume they’ve hit the complete truth of what everything is.

    There should be no question about ‘who’s more shrill’ or dogmatic or whatever. It’s plain as day the type of insolence and disrespect for the opinions of others that Dr. Baggini objects to is universal. It breaks barriers of color, language and ideals. It breaks them going 130 in a 45 zone.

  20. Dan L. says

    @Peter:

    Don’t let it be said that I am not trying to mend fences.

    If you were trying to mend fences you would apologize for trying to justify the use of language that simply isn’t welcome in this venue and drop it. Not your house, not your rules.

    And honestly, I have to wonder about the sincerity of anyone who puts as much effort as you do in defending the use of what is prima facie a misogynist slur. You don’t think it is, apparently, but thousands of people including OB think it is. But you think those people’s opinions don’t matter, the only thing that matters is that you get to use your favorite word. Right.

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