If you do decide to go meta

Russell says why metametametameta discussions about Why Gnu Atheists Are So Horrible are likely to be irritating to gnu atheists.

If people who don’t believe they have been especially uncivil are chided not to be “a dick”, or if lies are told about people like them behaving in public in outrageously uncivil ways, and if stories are told that suggest they are uncivil in the manner of the children in Jean’s story, it produces certain emotions. To be blunt, it creates anger and ill-will.

Well yes it does rather. It does that all the more when all these things, and other things too, happen over and over and over again, saying the same thing, pointing at the same people, tutting the same tut. The people who don’t believe they have been especially uncivil start to wonder why the people who keep scolding them for incivility are so obsessed with them. They start to wonder why the scolders are so obsessed, and they start to wonder why they are so obsessed with them.

I wondered that about the post that Russell is answering, for example. I wondered, not for the first time, why Jean Kazez pays such close attention to me.

I wrote the post on January 25, 2011, and I was actually thinking about what I’d been reading at atheist blogs in the weeks and months before that.  There had been lots of talk about “adults” who are critical of “gnus”.

The “adults” are…whom [sic]?  At Butterflies and Wheels, Phil Plait came under withering criticism on Dec. 6, partly because he wasn’t sufficiently critical of Chris Mooney and (see the comments) also  because of his “Don’t be a Dick” speech.  I take it Plait is against contempt, but not against candor.  There was also upsetness (October 17) about Julian Baggini’s speech at Westminister Abbey, in which he encouraged atheists not to be anti-theists.  As the author of an excellent book about atheism he’s hardly a should not be said kind of a guy.   There was also upsetness about Andrew Lovley (Jan. 6), who wrote a post encouraging atheists to be conciliatory instead of antagonistic.  He’s for lots of interfaith talk, not atheists shutting up.

Three posts, all of them mine. Nobody else mentioned. That’s a lot of attention. It makes me feel Special, and I do love to feel Special, but when I look closely I have to acknowledge that the attention is not altogether admiring. It’s more like getting a lot of attention from an undercover cop.

Russell explains why this kind of thing tends to be…provocative.

…there’s a danger in going meta. Once you move away from debating the truth or falsity of ideas to discussing other people’s behaviour, what should or should not be said, and so on, you almost inevitably add to whatever degree of incivility was around in the first place. That’s not to say that going meta is never appropriate. But people who decide to go meta should be aware of the likely outcome – an escalation of ill-feeling, and even feelings of injustice and moralistic anger – and take this into account. If you do decide to go meta, you’d be advised to show a lot of explicit humility and trepidation. If you then use the annoyed responses of others as evidence of their inherent uncivil tendencies, you’d better be aware that this will be seen by them as further unfairness or injustice … and will provoke even more annoyance.

I could be wrong, but I think provoking even more annoyance is usually the point.

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