A Swing and a Miss

Yesterday, Greta received some ugliness as a response to her criticizing Sam Harris as factually wrong on women in atheism. She tweeted about it and noted that this was a reaction to criticizing an atheist leader. Harris, who was copied on the tweet, spent some time being defensive about the situation, but finally tweeted that he didn’t want people harassing others on his behalf.

This morning I was seeing some people talking about a “wonderful” response to the situation by Peter Boghossian, one of freethought’s faces of philosophy, who specializes in “bringing the tools of professional philosophers to people in a wide variety of contexts.” So I thought I’d take a look. Always up for a bit of professionally thought-through criticism.

That was it? That was the “wonderful”, devastating rant? How to put this politely?

That’s a lot of words to waste, even for Twitter, on a hypothetical situation that isn’t remotely analogous. I’m 100% positive that, as soon as someone fracks, hunts a whale, or participates in a drive-by shooting as a defense of of any one of the people mentioned, they’ll condemn it the moment it’s brought to their attention.

That, however, hasn’t happened yet. Harassment of atheists, particularly women, who criticize anything said by the big names? That happens all the time. It is reasonable to make it clear that this is not behavior desired by the people being defended. Richard Dawkins, in fact, was particularly keen to clear this up in his joint statement with Ophelia.

So, no. Not impressed by the rant, since its premises are false. But maybe I shouldn’t have gotten my hopes up for some reasoned criticism. This was Boghossian’s response to Dawkins’ FtBullies Twitter rant.

He may be overly emotionally invested in the topic.

A Swing and a Miss

28 thoughts on “A Swing and a Miss

  1. 1

    I do think the assertion “A small group of under-accomplished, dyspeptic malcontents are finally being exposed as vicious ideologues. ” is correct though. And Boghossian is one of them.

  2. 2

    If this is their public proponents’ attempt at a reasoned argument, how disconcerting is that for both atheism and philosophy!

    What an utter embarrassment for us who are supposedly here to tell the religious peons how to think properly.

  3. 3

    If anyone’s keeping a list of no-longer-great-white-thinkers, I suggest they trade in their notebook for one of those neverending scrolls.

    This looks like yet another bottomless barrel of horrible statements by people you never expected to …

  4. 4

    If one of your fans thinks you would approve of shooting Ronald Reagan it is may not actually be related to anything you have said.

    If large numbers of your fans seem to think you would approve of shooting Ronald Reagan, it is reasonable to at least consider that you might want to clarify your position in this area.

  5. 5

    I’m going to have to pull up the episode of Atheists Talk that had him on. I don’t recall being too impressed with Dr. Boghossian then, either. Seemed a bit arrogant. His remark of “A small group of under-accomplished, dyspeptic malcontents” doesn’t help that impression.

    (And now that I’m listening to that episode, I’m reminded that he seems to take pride in being kicked out of the University of New Mexico. I haven’t been able to figure out why he was kicked out, though. Hmmm…could it have been because he was an “under-accomplished, dyspeptic malcontent”? Inquiring minds want to know!)

  6. 6

    Yeah, I unfollowed Bogosian’s Facebook feed when I saw the first message last night.

    How can so many self-described smart guys not see how dumb they’re being?

    Oh, well, a Deep Rift of some sort is ALWAYS the first step in evolution. May the better-adapted group survive.

  7. 9

    This guy is supposed to be an intellectual? Let’s try fixing his analogies…

    Atheist A goes drive-by shooting.

    Atheist B condemns Atheist A.

    Atheists C through M spend all their waking hours telling Atheist B ze should be raped and murdered.

    Atheist N speaks up in defense of Atheist A.

    Atheists O and P…

    Screw it. Sorry, Boghossian. I’m a Social Justice Warrior with an estrogen vibe, so I can’t simplify this beyond stating you’ve decided to choose the side that apparently thinks getting rape and death threats makes someone a “professional victim”.

  8. 10

    One can look at it another way.

    If one has generated a following that’s dis-proportionally high on KKK members, and low on Equal-rights group members, that sort of says something about you.

    If an atheist group had a huge following of whalers, yes, that would say something about their position on whaling… as opposed to a random statistically insignificant assortment of people with different views.

  9. 12

    I guess “You failed to produce an unprompted statement condemning an evil that’s outside your usual scope” == “When asked directly to comment on , you hemmed and hawed for 357842 tweets before squeezing forth a condemnation”, for a Great Atheist Thinker.

  10. 14

    Funnily enough, I can distantly recall PZ posting against fracking, whaling, and shootings / gun-ownership in general, though perhaps not specifically drive-by shootings? So even when someone’s trying to come up with random examples of “bad-things-you-don’t-condemn”, they … fail.
    I wonder why that is?

  11. 16

    where the fuck was this dude a while back when Silverman was whining about how there aren’t any rabbis condemning metzitzah b’peh (he was wrong, but that’s beside the point here)? Where was he every time someone demands that moderate Muslims condemn extremists?

  12. 17

    Isn’t it odd that a professional philosopher can’t see the difference between an individual speaking on their own hook (“Whale hunting is bad!”) and someone speaking with the borrowed, perceived legitimacy of another (“I follow Richard Dawkins everywhere and I agree with him that whale hunting is bad!”)?

    If someone were to “borrow” my name, use my nym to add weigh,t or what they might hope to be weight, to their argument and they say something I disagree with, I would distance my self from them: “Hey! I don’t know that guy from a hole in the ground. He doesn’t speak for me and I profoundly disagree with what he has to say”. My assumption and I assume the assumption of many others is that if someone invokes the name of another, especially if they include the person they’re invoking in the tweet, say something appalling and the invokee doesn’t speak up, they either missed it or they agree with what was said. If it’s called to their attention and either say nothing or brush it off, I will assume they agreed with what was said. Boghossian may be a “Street epistemologist” (according to his twitter), but he really needs to work on how people communicate.

  13. 19

    And as it happens, I don’t, in fact, think Sam Harris is responsible for everything that all of his fans say or do. I don’t think any writer is responsible for everything that all of our fans say or do. And I don’t think Sam Harris, or any writer, has a responsibility to speak out against absolutely every bad thing that ever happens. I understand that writers are busy — heck, I understand that people in general are busy — and I don’t expect everyone to speak about everything. I don’t think that, and I never said it. The mythology that’s been built up around this exchange — largely by Boghossian — is very strange indeed.

    Some Clarifications on the Mythology Springing Up Around My Recent Twitter Exchange with Sam Harris

  14. 24

    I agree, Greta. For the love of gravy, all people would be able to do is run around saying, “I don’t agree with that…or that…and especially not that!” But if someone called it to my attention and if it were a sizable group of people invoking me as if I were some sort of higher power to add legitimacy to whatever tripe they’re peddling, I’d make a general statement–as Harris finally, finally did. I’d also have a long look in the mirror to try and figure out why I was attracting those sorts of people, but that’s another discussion, entirely.

  15. 25

    Try as I might, I am literally incapable of figuring out what could drive a person to that level of reality-independent rage, especially when it’s a person who (whether implicitly or explicitly) holds themselves up as a shining paragon of rationality.

    It’s embarrassing. I am embarrassed on behalf of Boghossian et al., and I’m embarrassed to be associated with them by such woefully inept argumentation being offered in defense of a movement that claims to represent my interests.

    It clearly no longer does, if it ever did to begin with. As time goes on, I grow increasingly convinced that it never did. How else am I to interpret these actions by a group so adamantly opposed to even so much as taking the time to understand the critiques made by those they purport to represent if not “shut up, buy my books, and sing my praises”?

  16. 26

    I’ve noticed something.

    People in the atheist/skeptic movement who self-describe thus: “I try to use rational thought and evidence to approach the world”, tend to be very much better thinkers than those who self-describe as “I AM a rational, evidence-based thinker”.

    I also note which side of the Deep Rifts the two descriptors are mostly found upon…

  17. 27

    After reading the twitter exchange it looks more like Sam is clarifying what was happening. Sure he was defensive initially, because it appears that he thought those comments were being attributed to him. Had Greta formulated her tweet differently it may have elicited a different initial response. If I had been tagged in that manner I probably would have felt attacked too.

  18. 28

    And as it happens, I don’t, in fact, think Sam Harris is responsible for everything that all of his fans say or do.

    I do — Sam Harris has said some really bigoted and ignorant things, and he’s responsible for the consequences of what he says. And one of those consequences is that he attracts bigoted defenders who use his bigotry to justify their own.

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