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My feet, my neck, my head

No, this isn’t a list of my better features or my autapomorphies. It is a list of the things that really, really, hurt. For those who do not know, I am without employment, and so I have taken up a factory job that involves me walking for eight hours a day. Being as I am in my mid-50s, this is hard in any case, but I also have some other pains and injuries that magnify it. So, I am not blogging, largely because I get home, take pain killers and crash.

But Jocelyn, a frequent correspondent and collaborator, sent me this link: from Yeah, OK, But Still, “Why the Dawkins-Feminism Scandal is about Meta-Ethics”. I had seen it but not commented. This is what I said to Jocelyn:

I saw it in the flurry of posts at the time of Elevatorgate, but didn’t pay it much attention, because I had already come to roughly that conclusion. It is, I think, a good point to make, though. Facts and values do not necessarily travel together, and much of the skeptical movement is seriously ethically deficient (like much of most movements), in part because they are so focussed on the core problem set they think all else is subservient to that. An obvious example is the outgroup demonisation by the Gnu Atheists: if it’s religious it must be bad because the single most important issue in the world is ridding it of belief in Gods. Never mind the other major issues out there… and never mind the good that is often done by theists.

As to empathy, it seems to me that the “freethinker” community – atheists, skeptics, freelove advocates of earlier times, yes, and even some feminists – has a tendency to subordinate the interests of people and their rights and freedoms to the Cause. This permits them to overlook the all-too-human failings of their own heroes (Hitchens’ politics, Dawkins’ sexism, etc.) and themselves and the general human decency of most people, religious or not. I hold to what I call the 95/95 Rule: 95% of all people are decent 95% of the time. They do not. This is not so much just a meta-ethical problem but also an anthropological one – what view of human beings do you take? If you are an absolutist in any respect, as many of these Cause-Driven Believers are, then human beings will always fall short, just like the religious think. If you are  a relativist, as I am, then the humanness of people is what makes them so fascinating, maddening and generally wonderful.

It is for this reason that I call myself a humanist (but not of the Humanist Association variety; more like that of Erasmus of Rotterdam whose stoush with Luther is one of the great literary and intellectual episodes in western history). And on that note: Erasmus once wrote to a friend when he was a student that if he had any money he would buy books, and if there was anything left over, food. A man after my own heart…




  1. An obvious example is the outgroup demonisation by the Gnu Atheists: if it’s religious it must be bad because the single most important issue in the world is ridding it of belief in Gods.

    It doesn’t even have to be religious to be a demonic outgroup … ala “faitheists.”

    Take it easy on that job … even books aren’t worth that much.

  2. Take it easy on that job … even books aren’t worth that much.

    Not sleeping in gutters, however, is.

  3. jeff jeff

    I’ve been a factory worker. Where have you been, what did you dream? Welcome my son, welcome to the machine. But my best job was as a chicken shed cleaner, an experience I shared with the late Douglas Adams.

  4. So, I am not blogging, largely because I get home, take pain killers and crash.

    Excuses, excuses.

    Does that count as demonizing the out group (as in out-of-academia)?

    I largely agree with you on the demonization thing. I don’t much mind when PZ ridicules something ridiculous. But when, say, Jerry Coyne attacks Francis Collins for no good reason other than his religion, that does seem a bit excessive. Admittedly, the ID people are doing the same with their “Darwin lobby” language and similar; but, as the saying goes, two wrongs don’t make a right.

  5. cass_m cass_m

    Hope you get used to the manual labour soon. It usually take a few weeks. Stretch often, it helps as does very good work boots. On the upside, your general health will improve with an active job.

    I agree that many seem blind to the humanity of others. Perhaps is part of the extreme situation in the US, they seem to be well on the way to an elected theocracy (I hope I’m wrong of course)

  6. Susan Silberstein Susan Silberstein

    As you know, except that you insist on being a pesky agnostic, we are in sync, so I can’t add much.

    Most of the Pharyngulistas are rigidly intolerant; however, the majority seem to be anti-sexist. That being said, there is very little else positive to state about them.

  7. Damn, hope something else turns up for you soon.

  8. Neil Neil

    Actually third wave feminism suffers from the opposite problem: excessive deference to other women’s views (this is in part due to the rise of French philosophy: it would be ‘totalizing’ to speak of ‘women’ as a group. There’s a grain of truth in this, of course, but taken to extremes – as it often is – it is paralyzing. My only disagreement is even pickier: I think the right classification of this debate is first- order ethical theory and therefore normative ethics rather than meta-ethics.

  9. “and never mind the good that is often done by theists.”
    Isn’t there a fallacy to describe that kind of statement? Does the “good that is often done by theists” and theist organizations outweigh or excuse the bad?

    • alias Ernest Major alias Ernest Major

      Much good and much evil is done in the name of religion. The problem that arises when attempting to measure whether the good outweighs the bad, or vice versa, is the difficulty of ascertaining whether religion is a cause, a facilitator or an excuse.

  10. Mitchell Coffey Mitchell Coffey

    You Ausies have factory jobs? I thought that’s what Asia was for.

    On a related subject, there’s a 50-50 chance that the next President of the United States will be Rick Perry or someone approximately as bad. The single most important issue in the world is preventing that. A year November, a substantial cohort of libertarian Skeptical, Freethinker, Whatevers will vote for Rick Perry/whomever as the better of evils, while I shall join hands with many of the devout, certain of them creationists, and feel spotless as the lamb.

    To a degree, Elevatorgate is discussed as if Skeptics/Whatevers should be special kinds of people, like members or our family or members of our church. Actually, they’re just a bunch of people with whom we share a fraction of our beliefs.

    Women should be able to enter elevators without fear of boorish advances. Anywhere. And that’s the issue.

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