As others see us

I found this comment, left on the blog of the negligible Bryan Appleyard, to be immensely entertaining. It’s the combination of hyperbole, unintentional irony, and oblivious incompetence, all spiced with a germ of truth, that makes it amusing.

Myers, like Dawkins when he’s tired and especially the gruesome Dennett, survives entirely on scorn and venom. His response to any challenge is simply to increase the number and volume of schoolyard taunts. These guys are intellectual alchemists who have perfected the art of using invective to turn philistinism into apparent sagacity. The formula goes something like this:

Step 1–Begin by describing a philosophical challenge with a mixture of anger and fatigue, much as you would describe discovering a termite in your house after the extermintor had been through and presumably destroyed them all. The contempt must ooze front and center before you even address the argument so that anyone who might be inclined to take the challenge seriously is forwarned and suitably cowed. Don’t skimp on the insulting adjectives.

Step 2–Deflect the issue from the profoundly philosophical to the mundane by suddenly talking lab gobbledegook about genes, mutations, etc. Use words like phenotype liberally and try to throw in a diagram. Extra points for insisting Darwin himself was well aware of what you are saying and would have agreed with you unreservedly;

Step 3–Insist that any argument that comes within a hundred miles of religion, no matter how ethereal or tentative, leads directly to biblical literalism, perferably as practiced in the American South. Show in one paragraph how it is the root of every atrocity in history, will lead to the end of scientific inquiry and justifies the bombing of innocent villagers by the U.S. Air Force.

Step 4–Bask in the glow of hundreds of one-sentence comments thanking you profusely for your courage and agreeing you have proven there is no need to read what your opponent said to know that the stupid twit isn’t even worth reading.

Step 1 must be a good one, since it’s the tactic the commenter is using. I wonder if he noticed?

Step 2 is my favorite. I like his admission that the “profoundly philosophical,” to his mind, is untainted with mundane reality, and that when talking about explanations for our origins (which is usually what prompts my scornful interventions), genes and mutations are mere “gobbledygook”. I know exactly where he is coming from, then — the land of the ignorant, where people are baffled and resentful of the intrusion of evidence. This must also be why he finds Dennett so gruesome.

Step 3, unfortunately, is way off base. I’m one of those guys who thinks even moderate, liberal theism is wacky in and of itself: I don’t need to tie Karen Armstrong to Ken Ham to make her look absurd. I also think people would commit atrocities without religion prodding them on, too. I don’t believe the South is particularly deserving of scorn; the Grand Old Man of Fundamentalism operated out of Minneapolis, Minnesota, for instance. I never endorse bombing any villages anywhere, sorry. His diatribe would have been improved if he’d left out this one point, which is so baseless it undermines the rest.

Step 4 has a tiny leavening of truth because there are lots of people who find common ground with me and are predisposed to agree with my interpretation of events, and so yes, this blog is a meeting place for mobs of atheists. So? Unfortunately for my ego, a few of the comments will be disagreements, while most are people wrangling with each other; the long threads get that way because I spark something that leads to discussion and argument. I don’t get to accept even all the insults, because I’m mostly irrelevant to the conversation within a few hours of starting it!

But otherwise, I’m afraid people don’t have the luxury of completely bypassing my target’s words. I link back and quote liberally (gosh, there they are, the commenter’s whole screed, right there in my post), and people are always tossing in fresh new absurdities from the source. A perfect example is right there in the post which made Bryan Appleyard indignant: I quoted him at length and rebutted him in detail, and poor Mr Appleyard is simply left mostly speechless, only able to screech that his feelings were hurt at being called a bad writer…and unable to address one whit of the substance of my criticisms.