Nothing really matters,
Anyone can see,
Nothing really matters,
Nothing really matters to meeeeeee!
For some reason, those lyrics came to mind as I listened to this video, only, unfortunately, it’s not Freddy Mercury reaching for those notes — it’s Brian Dalton, and no, I’m sorry, you don’t have anywhere near the range.
Let us all consider what is wrong with this rather patronizing monologue.
First, I went looking for the post that bothered him, which he pretends is some superficial tantrum, comparing it to a romantic breakup. It’s by Chris Sosa, and it isn’t some petty lovers’ quarrel as it is presented here. It’s a recognition of deep differences that require clarity.
As an atheist, I’m embarrassed that there are so few of us in public. Richard Dawkins is leader-by-default in a group that would reject such hierarchy but can’t due to lack of visibility. He’s holding atheists hostage. But angry, misogynistic white men who try to silence opposition through racial fearmongering already have a home base: the GOP. They don’t belong in movements that reject superstition in the interest of making a kinder, more rational world with fewer boundaries separating us from each other.
Richard Dawkins does not represent me. He doesn’t represent atheists. He doesn’t represent scientists. He’s a single person with too much power who’s clearly become enamored with himself and needs to be gracefully demoted by the movement he helped build, not followed off the cliff he’s marching it toward.
Let’s face reality here, Brian. To most of the world, Richard Dawkins is the most prominent atheist on the planet; he’s the guy the media goes running to for a juicy quote, and in particular, they go running to him because he has a predilection for not just saying something interesting, but sticking his foot in his mouth while he does it. This is something Jim Al-Khalili or Shappi Khorsandi or Andrew Copson don’t do; they also don’t hold positions that are often revealed to be shockingly regressive. There are good reasons many of us have to distance ourselves from Dawkins.
Richard never agreed to be your personal spokesman, let alone your boyfriend.
So it’s an interesting way to frame the article, to belittle people who strongly disagree with Dawkins as people frustrated by romance. Clever touch, too, to frame everyone who wants nothing to do with the man’s opinions as “the girl”, because that’s exactly what will appeal to the Dawkbros. For the rest of us, though, it just tells us that you haven’t been listening.
And you, pay more attention: Dawkins and Hitchens and Harris and Dennett appointed themselves the personal spokesmen for atheism with the “Four Horsemen” gambit. We all know it was just a clever PR move, but you would not believe the number of atheists who believe that that is some kind of official leadership position. I see all these atheists wondering, after Hitchens died, who was going to fill the position; I get people telling me all the time that I was somehow hoping to one day be appointed to the exalted tetrarchy; all I can say is that the “Four Horsemen” is what four friends who met for a recorded conversation one day called themselves, nothing more, but the hero-worshipping fan boys of atheism don’t seem to realize that.
But sheep gotta have a shepherd, I guess, and the sheep who defy the shepherd are gonna get called mutton.
And here’s something I find deeply objectionable, the trivializing of differences.
This is even more true when you’re “breaking up with” someone you agree with 97% of the time.
Here’s the thing: you can say that about everything. Put me next to an orangutan, take off your glasses, maybe take a few shots, and blur out all the differences, and we’re both just hairy bipeds. We both like a banana, we must be just the same.
Or better yet, put me next to Donald Trump. We’re even more similar! My god, the differences simply don’t matter at all, apparently! This simplifies the next presidential election greatly: just elect anyone. Heck, elect the orangutan. We all respire, eat bananas, poop, sleep, make funny noises, on a properly cosmic scale, our differences become sufficiently insignificant that they don’t matter any more. Why, if we looked at Kim Jong-un and Barack Obama from a telescope on the moon, they are completely indistinguishable.
Strangely, some of us care about the direction we take. We have ideas that we think are worth fighting for, and they’re different from the ideas that other people want to support. When someone comes along and tries to tell me that my opinions are irrelevant, that what I think is important is actually insignificant, that hey, invading Iraq or not invading Iraq are all the same on the geological time scale, I’m not stupid and can tell when someone is being dismissive and arguing dishonestly. This is the strategem used by people who want to sweep all differences under the rug, resist change, and go with the status quo.
So when someone tells me that the status of women and minorities is an unimportant matter, unworthy of strongly expressing dissent with the self-appointed saints of the atheist movement, it tells me a great deal about the person trying to silence me. It tells me that they regard what I consider a central issue of great importance is nothing to them, that they want it to mean nothing to me, and that perhaps we really aren’t the allies I thought we were.
And then to follow it up with this excuse:
We’re provocateurs, we’re contrarians.
The issues of feminism and how we’re going to address the Muslim world are minor diffences that we shouldn’t fight over, but we’re provocateurs and contrarians, so just accept that we are going to bicker over these no-account, trivial little things! Atheists are people who proudly fight over matters of no consequence, at least in Brian Dalton’s world.
In PZ Myers’ world, on the other hand, I fight over stuff I care about. I think it matters if we, as atheists, perpetuate the patriarchal hierarchy and regard the Western white man as the measure of all things.
I also think Dalton is being fundamentally dishonest with himself. He cares, too. He cares enough to be moved to post a belittling monologue in which he tells the people who find Richard Dawkins to be unrepresentative of their interests to sit down and be quiet and accept him as their lord and master, their better, more worthy king of atheism. It’s also telling that he is only so moved when the target of dissent is Richard Dawkins; absent are the similar videos where he tells all the smug dudes of atheism that their hatred of Rebecca Watson is unwarranted, or that the position of Freethoughtblogs or Atheism+ is a valid side of the atheist experience and all the abuse should stop, or that perhaps criticizing Sam Harris for his position on racial profiling is a good idea, and certainly not so divisive that we should be sending this Myers guy hate mail every day.
But no, I’ve noticed that the people who say differences don’t matter all seem to have differences so great that they think we all ought to accept their side without question.