Gee, they just get here, and what do they immediately start writing about? Accommodationism. Both Greta Christina and Stephanie Zvan rip into the subject right out of the starting gate. Greta Christina makes the excellent point that there are shades of grey and that diplomacy is not the same as accommodationism, although the accommodationists would like you to think it is. Meanwhile, Zvan tears into the Tribal Scientist, who has a terrible post accusing all those confrontationalists of making a false dichotomy between two polarized extremes…I just want to tell him to go read Greta and be done with it.
But I have a different issue to bring up. Why are the professional communicators who lecture at us on how to communicate so goddamned bad at communicating? We saw it with Matt Nisbet and Chris Mooney, and now here’s the Tribal Scientist amorphously hectoring everyone — I read the whole thing and still don’t have the slightest idea what he wants.
It’s the usual rancid mix: while declaring that there are rational, scientific ways to communicate, all he does is sneer at the New Atheists, calling them unscientific and working through his thesaurus to come up with a nice body of abusive remarks about them. I don’t mind — I’m quite capable of working up a good head of steam myself — but it’s bizarre and hypocritical to see someone berating others for being ranty and insulting while doing his best to be ranty and insulting himself. Obviously this expert on communications finds this a useful approach — either that, or he’s so self-unaware his entire philosophy is suspect.
And then there’s the usual high-horse tactic, where whatever it is he is doing is superior. He acknowledges that many New Atheists argue for a multitude of approaches, he dismisses that, too.
Yet there is an element of intellectual laziness in this view. Of course, no one approach in communication will reach all demographics, or solve all problems. Diverse approaches are indeed necessary. Yet this is not the same as saying all approaches are necessary. Some will conflict. Some will be resource hungry and have no hope of success for one reason or another. Identifying solutions to the problem of how best to communicate science in the face of religion will take more than guessing, hoping and shouting into echo chambers. Like anything in science, it demands research, critical thinking and evaluation. No act of communication should be above criticism or beyond the need for evidence, clarity and precision.
That makes no sense at all.
OK, so there are conflicting approaches. Now what? Does he imagine some utopian state where everyone agrees on everything and there is no dissent anywhere? Are we somehow hampered if we lack uniformity? That isn’t very scientific.
I don’t even know what the basis of his claim that some approaches are “resource hungry” means. For instance, I’m off in my little domain, doing what I do, having a grand time and apparently succeeding in my little niche. How am I a drain on the resources of the atheist movement? What would it even mean to say I have no hope of success, when he doesn’t bother to define success? If I shut up, will that suddenly endow other voices with more resources?
Contrary to the “scientist”, guessing certainly is a good approach — if he’d prefer fancier terms, it’s called making a hypothesis, implementing a test, and assessing the empirical results. Richard Dawkins thought The God Delusion was a good idea, but he couldn’t know for sure until it was published…and then he discovered that it was hugely popular, that it resonated with many minds, and that a strong, vigorous denunciation of religion was actually an extremely effective tool for communication. This is now denounced by the “scientists” who reject the empirical evidence of something in the neighborhood of 10 million copies sold as irrelevant. That’s just “shouting into echo chambers”, apparently.
And if you haven’t noticed, none of the New Atheists have ever argued that their work is above criticism — that’s the tactic of religion, which demands a special privileging of their beliefs.
I’d ask the Tribal Scientist for “evidence, clarity and precision” in support of his views, but if you read his post, or any of his others, you’ll find nothing — I have no clue what his position is, what he’s advocating, or what he’s griping about, other than that he thinks New Atheists are a bunch of big bad meanies. That’s not very compelling.
I also think he’s missed a very important point. Communication is an art. It is not amenable to being condensed to a formula, although it’s fair to say that the outcomes of communication can and should be measured. If one could find a concrete, inarguable result that showed that there was a form of communication that was a hundred times better than what I do, it would make no difference at all to me — I am who I am, I write as I do because I enjoy it, and I cannot artificially wedge myself into another style without destroying what I myself do. It just means that someone else can step up and do their thing and win fame and success and popularity and conquer the world for atheism…and I have no problem with that at all.
I just wish some of these critics had the talent to do it, rather than constantly carping that people like myself shouldn’t be ourselves.