Knock the corners off

Michael De Dora has replied to his critics. He’s much more responsive than Mooney, but I still disagree with him. I disagree with the underlying ideas.

I see that we are right, philosophically speaking — but I also care about collective, democratic, evidence-based discourse and progress (just as, say, Chris Mooney cares about scientific literacy). To that end, I think rallying around atheism presents problems both inherently (the word doesn’t say much) and in presentation and interaction with the 95 percent of the public who are not atheists.

One, ‘rallying around atheism’ isn’t really the issue, or an issue. I don’t know of any atheists who are atheists to the exclusion of everything else. I suppose attending conferences could be considered ‘rallying around’ – but it shouldn’t, really, because again, it’s not to the exclusion of everything else. The idea seems to be that if too many atheists are too interested in atheism then…the other 95% of the (US) public will not like atheists. That idea appears to me to be too flimsy to be worth worrying about. Two, what is all this about presentation and interaction with the 95 percent of the public who are not atheists? Presentation of what? I’m not presenting anything. I don’t have to hone and shape and style my ideas so that they come across better to 95% of the US public. I have no ambitions to make myself acceptable to 95% of the US public. They can take me or leave me; I don’t care. I’m not interested. They’re not my problem. I’m not running for office, I don’t work in advertising – I just don’t have any occupational or social need to file myself down to a more conforming shape. Not everyone does. De Dora seems to assume (he’s like Mooney in this) that we all do. Well why? What business is 95% of the US public of ours? Most people don’t meet 95% of the US public, we just meet people we know. We don’t creep around consulting polls in an attempt to figure out if the people we know will be able to put up with us. De Dora seems to think like a very hardened and worried politician, but here’s the good news: nobody other than politicians and their helpers has to think like that. We get to just think what we think and get on with it. We don’t have to be thinking about some amorphous ‘strategy’ all the time.

I murmured some of this, and Michael answered:

I am admittedly thinking about all of this through the eyes of a diplomat (that’s at least what I’ve been called), so that might be creating the room of disagreement between us. I have no interest in trying to stop people from critiquing beliefs; I do have an interest, however, in trying to set the conditions in which that is best done.

Aha; a diplomat. That could explain it. But why? Why think about atheism through the eyes of a diplomat, unless you are in fact a diplomat? We don’t all have to act like consular staff. We don’t have to tiptoe around, we don’t have to apologize for opening our mouths, we don’t have to placate and mollify and soothe. And as for trying to set the conditions in which people critique beliefs – that seems to me to be merely presumptuous. It’s not up to anyone to set the conditions in which people critique beliefs; we get to do that ourselves, each of us.

It’s a mug’s game. It’s just conformity and majoritarianism, that’s all. 95% of people don’t like the kind of thing you say, so stop saying it. No. One, 95% is way too high, and two, I don’t care anyway. We really are allowed to say things even if the majority dislikes them.

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