Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Stupid Is As Stupid Does

When I wrote this post about atheist snobbery, I didn’t aim it at one atheist or blog. I certainly had many specific ones in mind, and one was Camels With Hammers, written by Dr. Daniel Fincke over at Free Thought Blogs.

In fact, you can basically lump in most of the FTB contributors. I say most, not all, because I’m not familiar with all of them (only most… an ambiguous term I imply to mean over half).

This isn’t to say I don’t like what many of them have written. Take Jen at Blag Hag. I think a lot of what she wrote is right up my alley. I’m unabashedly pro-feminism, I thought Boobquake was rather clever, I even grew up in Indiana. But she banned me from commenting on her old site because I stood up for DM’s free speech right to say whatever he wants without some fascists sending the cops to his door to silence him. When someone censors others and then censors me for standing up for free speech, I write them off as little more than a lazy fool, and I think I’m correct in doing so.

If you can’t handle someone telling you, “You’re wrong,” without them even so much as using one bit of obscene language, you’re a lazy fool. If I had gone on her blog and started calling people cunts and faggots, I would feel she had a point in not wanting that sort of discourse, but she decided to ban me for pointing out that no one has the right to not feel threatened, otherwise you could kick black people off the bus when a scared white person was riding. No big loss for me, but it speaks volumes to her lack of character.

But I’m not just some noble free speech advocate out protecting the rights of religious nuts to tell atheists they will burn for eternity. I also get upset when atheists are being silenced. While I anticipated telling religious people to “fuck off” when they try to silence atheists, I have to say… I did not foresee having to stand up for myself against fellow atheists as often as I do.

And yet, that’s what I find myself doing while blogging about atheism or reading the blogs of other atheists. In all seriousness, the infighting I see among atheists is the most counter-productive activity I could ever imagine. We don’t even believe anything in particular, but for some reason there are atheists who are dogmatic enough in their non-belief and presumptuous enough in their own views that they have the audacity to essentially tell people, “I’m holier than thou.”

Fuck you. No seriously, if you honestly see yourself as somehow superior to another atheist because you refrain from what you imagine to be lowly behavior that is unbecoming of an atheist, please go fuck yourself roughly with an unlubricated fire hydrant.

There are few things in this world more pathetic than an atheist who thinks atheism is somehow virtuous, and the glorifying of atheism as some sort of higher intellectual view may actually be the biggest threat to atheism. It is putting atheism up on a pedestal, like it were some sort of god to be worshipped and venerated, and only in a certain, dignified way. And wear nicer clothes when you come to atheist Church. What are you, some sort of slob?

Which leads me to Camels with Hammers. I’m not familiar with this blog enough to make the bold claim that this blog in any way personifies what I’m talking about. From a cursory perusal of it, I think it’s not at all. The only reason I bring it up is because I wanted to talk about one particular aspect of rhetoric, and Dr. Fincke wrote the counter-argument to my own view (I doubt it was because of me, I assume he just holds this view independent of anything I have ever done or said).

While I don’t tend to call religious people stupid (I bet I could find at least one instance where I have somewhere in the over 1000 posts I have written), I don’t see anything wrong with calling religious people stupid. This isn’t because I think most religious people are, in fact, stupid (though most are, in fact), but because I don’t look down upon name-calling. Besides, being stupid isn’t the worst thing in the world; being an asshole is much worse. I’m both stupid and an asshole (as are many Christians), but when it comes to atheism, at least I’m right. In my view, it’s more important to be correct than intelligent or nice. Maybe I’m wrong about that, I am stupid after all, but I am positively correct about atheism, and the fact that I am not nice about it plays no part in the veracity of my position.

I can think of a few reasons why an atheist would call religious people stupid. For one thing, most are. Most religious people aren’t stupid because they are religious, most religious people are stupid because, on the whole, the vast majority of people are just incredibly stupid. It’s probably safe to say there are many stupid atheists, and indeed, there are plenty of atheists I have known who couldn’t coherently explain why they are an atheist (especially second generation atheists).

However, I have noticed a strange phenomenon… and maybe this explains why there is this focus on stupid religious people and not stupid atheists. Stupid atheists tend to keep to themselves, while stupid religious people seem to never shut the fuck up.

Of all the stupid atheists I ever met, I’m the only one who ever talks about atheism. Strangely, talking about it so much has made me a sort of lay-expert (by which I mean that I am knowledgeable without much formal training… I have atheist “street smarts,” not so much “book smarts,” or maybe I could go so far as to say I have “Wikipedia smarts”). But on the whole, I’m still pretty stupid.

Take me out of the realm of politics and religion, and you’ll see how stupid I am. I need to consult written instructions when boiling water. I honestly get lost while driving to places I have been dozens of times. I have wandered the house for twenty minutes looking for a wallet that was in my back pocket the whole time. And most damning of all, I still use Microsoft’s Internet Explorer.

Now, like most stupid people, I grew up not wanting to be called stupid. Luckily, I do well on standardized tests (so, I seemed to have a very high IQ, but I assure you, it is grossly inflated). Growing up, I thought I was soooo smart. My parents told me I was smart, and they know everything, so clearly I was a genius. Ahh, the logic of a stupid person… it makes just enough sense to be believable, if it’s appealing.

Before I stopped being religious, I thought of religion as stupid. I thought the rituals were stupid, I thought many of the religious people I knew were stupid, I thought the nuns in my private school were stupid… even in my own family, my dad is clearly smarter than my mom (as evidenced by the fact that he lets her go on thinking otherwise), and he’s an atheist, while my mother is a Catholic. Growing up, my mom was wrong on a lot of things, but I can’t recall any error my dad ever made. This all accumulates and begins to form a world view based on what intelligent people call “anecdotal evidence.”

Enter the comedians I grew up idolizing on TV for being so funny and confident. Many of them mock religion and religious people as being stupid. It didn’t take a leap in [il]logic to come to the conclusion, “Well… it appears that, in fact, religion is stupid. If religion is stupid and I am smart, I shouldn’t be religious anymore.” Because obviously, if your prejudice is confirmed by a person who makes you laugh, it’s clearly the truth…

When I see people like Dr. Fincke telling atheists to stop calling religious people stupid, my first impulse is to say, “Stop being a fucking pussy.” After I count to 20 and take my medication, I am inclined to point out that really, there is nothing wrong with exercising your freedom of speech to state an opinion. I know Dr. Fincke, who has a Ph. D in philosophy, must be utterly turned off by the level of discourse characterized by stooping to ad hominem arguments, but to those of us not sipping scotch in an ivory tower (a gross exaggeration, I am sure), it’s actually not only a statement that rings true enough to warrant saying, but is also incredibly cathartic to the one saying it.

Religious people are stupid.

God, that feels good to write. It feels even better to say it to a religious person’s face, and I have done it many times in my more brazen youth (and a few times when presented with the appropriate opportunity as an adult). I actually saw my youth counselor from my church once while I was home from college years ago, and he asked if I would be at mass (I think it was right before Christmas). I told him, while in some store at the mall, “Naw, religion is for idiots.”

He didn’t even have anything to say in response, and since I had no intention of getting into a big discussion about it there, my comment did its job. There was no further attempt to get me to go to church, no further plea. No carefully worded apologetics slipped from his lips. He just gave me a stunned look and we both went about our day. And I would like to think he thought twice about approaching a random person he taught lies to about going to church, but I doubt this is the case.

Say what you want, my comment succeeded. I wasn’t out to “convert” him, and I made it abundantly clear right up front that I had no interest in his religious pressuring. To this day, I think it was the perfect comment for that situation. Maybe it’s not the best thing to say at all times to all people, but then and there, I couldn’t have formulated a better response that would garner the results I wanted.

But this gets to the other, more important note. I’m not aiming to “convert” anyone. I use quotes because I don’t know what else to call it, and I don’t want to suggest I see atheism as something to which you can actually convert. It’s more of a deconversion to nothing, so maybe I should use that terminology. However, I don’t think I can “deconvert” someone, either. One’s views are very much internal, and they must be changed by the individual. Even if some external idea from someone else manages to light a spark, the individual must tend the flame to keep it going. At any rate, I’m not actively trying to make anyone an atheist, I just want to say things people find worth reading.

Of course, if something I write makes someone question their views, or an idea I present culls some doubt from the ignored darker recesses of the mind, I’m happy to have played some tiny part in someone uncovering a tiny portion of truth.

I don’t want to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t say. I refuse to do it. If you want to tell other atheists who disagree with you on some particular concept or method to shut up, you’re free to do so. I don’t advocate being crude to religious people as a means to any particular end, I merely support the idea of diversity in thought and approach. I think the more different ways atheists have of representing themselves, the better.

The Bible caters quite often to fools, perhaps because most people are fools, but there are undoubtedly profound truths and intelligent arguments made in the Bible, which is why there are some intelligent people who are religious. This is all the evidence I need that an ideology can harbor both good and bad arguments to great success.

If atheism ever hopes to branch out beyond a highly educated, intellectual elite (which I think they already have to some degree… and I’m living proof), atheism must simultaneously cater to both intelligent people and fools, not to mention those lucky ones in the middle who are neither too stupid to be failures, nor too intelligent to be depressed. There needs to be a full spectrum of atheist argumentation.

Or, you can alienate the vast majority and never get your way. Personally, I see atheism not as an intellectual virtue, but as a social institution that can act as a vehicle for ending the abuses of religion. There is no excuse for the influence religion holds over the non-religious. Those who want nothing to do with religion should have freedom from religious morals and teachings.

I think this is a common aim shared by all atheists, regardless of how smart they are. To achieve this, we need more than just the smartest 1%, or even the smartest 5, 10, 25, or even 45%. Mathematically, we need to delve into the “below average intelligence” category if we ever hope to have the influence necessary for actually changing anything.

I’m not one for making logical arguments, but there you have it: statistical proof we need stupid people who are atheists.

The good news is, stupid people are easy to sway. Stupid people tend to respond to strong speakers and strong ideas. They would say strong, most intelligent people might call it “domineering” or “ostentatious.” Stupid people don’t understand what those mean; they understand “strong.” Stupid people respond to confident and concise messages repeated a thousand times more than you think is necessary. You will get sick of saying something before a stupid person gets sick of hearing it.

If you need help, look at someone stupid people like. I think Larry the Cable Guy is a good example. He has a catch phrase which people love to say, even though no one knows what the hell it means. There’s no logic in that, only sheer, visceral primalism. He even tells his audience when to laugh, “Now that’s funny right there.” He literally points his audience in the direction of the punchlines because they are just that stupid, and Larry the Cable Guy is smart enough to know it.

Doesn’t that just piss off some of you intellectual atheists a teeny, tiny, little bit? A man as dumb as [the guy who plays the character of] Larry the Cable Guy is smart enough to reach an entire class of people on a level you never could. Doesn’t that just sour your frappucinos?

I am thankful to Dr. Fincke for what is, as of the moment of me writing this, over 250 unique visitors to my site thanks to a link he made to a Top Ten list of mine that criticizes conservatives. I enjoy reading your blog and I wouldn’t dream of having you so much as move a single comma on my account. But maybe you, and all other atheists who deign to bless the atheist blogosphere with your intelligent discourse, may come to see those of us eating at the rowdy table as valuable allies, every bit as important as you are. Not more, not less, just equally important for the role we play, for we have different skills, and we apply them in ways I doubt you could even stomach.

I like to think of things in terms of analogies. If atheism was a hockey team, the intelligent atheists are the center and the forwards. Among the defensemen, there are often a couple guys on the roster known as “enforcers.”

The enforcer’s job is to make the game difficult for the other team’s best players. He gets in their faces, tells them how sweet their mom’s pussy was last night, and just generally crawls under their skin. Ideally, the enforcer gets into a fist fight with the other team’s best player, goading him into throwing punches and thereby sending not only the enforcer, but also the other team’s star player to the penalty box (possibly even injuring the talented opponent, if the enforcer is good enough). Some enforcers just play cut-throat defense and stick to him closer than a Southern principal would allow couples to dance at a prom. But the very best are known for being able to get the coolest head to throw the first punch.

Is the enforcer a worse hockey player than most on the team? Of course he is, that’s why he isn’t playing another role. But what he does is no less valuable for the team as a whole, and his cheap tactics in no way detract from any win the team earns, nor from the skills of the other individuals who play in the same jerseys. A win is a win, and there are no points for playing the game clean.

I think atheists need to open their tent up and realize that they are missing out on some large demographics, all in the pursuit of respect they’ll never earn from people who believe we’re going to burn in hell forever. Quit trying to impress people who have no intent on ever respecting you. I’m not saying, “Be disrespectful,” but don’t pretend that if you are kind and polite, Christians may one day think of you as anything more than potential Christians or eternal kindling.


  1. I just made an argument that was somewhat similar to this, though less aggressive, on another site, a very liberal one who had posted charts that completely exaggerated a charges against the GOP.

    I ended my "attack" with a quote from one of the wisest men in history, commander Spock:

    Those who cannot hear an angry shout, may strain to hear a whisper."

    I know I am straying off topic (may I burn in hell), but:

    Subtly and acceptable are key when trying to persuade the enemy. Gross exaggeration of the enemy's position is useful only in energizing your base. As soon as we exaggerate someone's position, they find our argument to be a legitimate target and yet another reason why they don't agree with our "nutty" ideas is reinforced.

  2. The First Amendment applies to the government's attempt to censor its citizens.

    On a blog, however, the blogger is monarch, supreme leader, and commander-in-chief. The owner doesn't have to let anyone comment on their blog.

    People like Heathen and myself tolerate you because our daily comment loads aren't even in the same ballpark as what Blag Hag gets. When you get that kind of traffic, you can afford (and, in fact, have a strong incentive) to be choosy about who gets to comment.

    I fully understand someone not wanting to waste their time and energy on the type of discourse you sometimes bring to a thread.

  3. On a blog, however, the blogger is monarch, supreme leader, and commander-in-chief. The owner doesn't have to let anyone comment on their blog.

    They do have to let everyone comment if they want to not be a censor. If they want to be a little fascist in their corner of the internet, of course they can, but I can call them a cunt for doing it. If they want to come here, where I do respect anyone's right to say anything, they're always welcome.

    That's how I do things, and I happen to think it makes me better than those who don't (at least in some small way... I'm still a bit of a prick in most other ways). I don't see PZ Meyers deleting comments substantive posts that merely disagree with him, and his comment threads frequently extend in into the hundreds.

    Also, no one has to tolerate anything. I've been asked to stop commenting on sites, and I do so without so much as a childishly insulting good bye. If someone doesn't want me commenting, they can just ask (they don't even have to be polie about it). There's no sense in wasting the time of all involved. Hell, if someone doesn't respond to my comment, I generally take the hint and stop commenting.

    I've seen aggressive bloggers. Pop over to my wife's blog and check out Jewish Philosopher.

    Have I pissed you off with my comments at your blog?

  4. Hey, um, don't assume that those of us who usually speak in a civil tone are frappachino (whatever that is) drinking effete intellectual elites in ivory towers. And don't assume that we're trying to impress people who have no intent of ever respecting us.

    Shit. You think we see no difference? You think we can't distinguish between people who have no use for us, and people who don't understand us but are able to listen if we don't abuse them and tear them a new asshole?

    I'm quite capable of being rowdy and snarky and downright obscene and rude when the situation warrants it. But I'm not going to parade my rowdiness by badmouthing people like Camels With Hammers. And yes, you did say that you aren't telling us to "be disrespectful". But your argument sounds like a cousin of the "dumb and proud of it" stance. Rowdy and proud of it, proud to not be an effete intellectual in an ivory tower, as if that were what civil people are.

  5. I never would have thought to use it, but I like that, rowdy.

    And I'm not proud to be dumb. I'm still working on it, because I haven't given up hope on me yet (what choice do I have though, right?).

  6. Also, let me be clear: I harbor no hostility for Dr. Fincke at Camels With Hammers. He does what I have neither the patience nor the education to do.

  7. It's me, Anonymous again. I didn't want to put two topics in one comment.

    You wrote, "I would feel she had a point in not wanting that sort of discourse, but she decided to ban me for pointing out that no one has the right to not feel threatened, otherwise you could kick black people off the bus when a scared white person was riding."

    I didn't see the blog, so I don't know what her point was or what she meant by being threatened.

    As for me, I was on the receiving end of domestic violence. It went on for a year before I was able to get free. It damaged me and left me terrified of men for some time.

    Bear with me here.

    I was out, and was hungry, and went into a diner. There were men there. I didn't see any couples. I felt threatened and frightened, and I promptly left.

    In that diner, did I have the right to not feel threatened? Did I have the right to expect all those men to leave so I wouldn't feel uncomfortable?

    Hell no! Of course not! My fear was MY problem, not theirs, and as long as they were minding their own business and not coming on to me or trying to intimidate me, they owed me nothing.

    But how about at home? That's another matter. I don't think I'm wrong for not wanting to be threatened in my own house, in my own kitchen, in my own bed. No. You're not entitled to grab me by the neck and throw me on the floor. No. You aren't entitled to wave a knife at me. No, you aren't entitled to make me feel threatened in my own home by coming in and bullying me.

    As I said, I am not familiar with the blog, and I don't know what the woman said. If you have a link, please enlighten me.

  8. As for me, I was on the receiving end of domestic violence. It went on for a year before I was able to get free. It damaged me and left me terrified of men for some time.

    This was about someone who spammed people's websites. She felt threatened by a spammer who lived in another country. She helped promote a petition that sent the police to his door.

    I'm sorry for any physical abuse you suffered in your life. It's unfortunate that happened to you and I hope you're safe.

  9. You haven't ever pissed me off on my blog - your comments in favor of vandalism that one time annoyed me a bit, but didn't piss me off. I don't think my blog has ever pissed you off enough to bring your troll side out - I've just observed comments you've made elsewhere.

  10. When I write on the blogs of fools, I tend to speak foolish. It's not because I'm foolish, it's because I'm talking to foolish people. I can assume we all have at least room temperature IQs at your blog.

    And I don't technically support vandalism... I mean, legally. I have too much to lose these days, but if anyone out there, maybe who is under 18 and will still be tried as a minor... I'm just saying, I find it amusing when done creatively.

  11. You have a very simple comment policy, but it contradicts itself. You say that you "will never moderate comments," but then say that you will remove spam. As far as blog comments goes, spam is pretty subjective.

    I banned DM on my blog too. If what he was posting on Blag Hag was similar to what he was posting on my blog, then it was justified. All I'd get was a link to a forum somewhere with no explanation of why it's relevant to the post it's in response to, then following the link I'd see that it wasn't relevant. I consider that spam, adding insults or threats too it doesn't make it any different.

    I hope that makes sense. Work's been exhausting lately.


  12. As far as blog comments goes, spam is pretty subjective.

    I define spam as a message copy and pasted to my blog for the purposes of advertising something, while not making a point. If someone contributes to the discussion and wants to plug their blog, I don't mind.

    I also deleted DM's comments and don't care if someone deletes his comments or bans him from posting in their site. What I took issue with was that atheists banded together to, quite literally and ironically, spam the Montreal police department in an effort that ended with Dennis Markuze being arrested and charged with unrelated drug offenses and, last I heard, sentenced to rehab and psychiatric treatment.

    That is kind of messed up, and what makes it even more messed up is all of the atheists afterwards patting themselves on the back for making sure this guy "got the help he needed." I'm sure he really appreciates the criminal record stacked on top of his mental illness and apparent drug addiction. I'm sure his life will really turn around, now...

    But I digress. I don't mind people deciding to silence DM through their blogs, I just can't believe they would harass the police in an effort to make a federal -make that, international- case out of it.

  13. The complaints weren't based on his spamming of blogs, but his threatening of violence towards the bloggers. The fact that he spent all day, every day spamming atheists blogs, twitter accounts, and email just helped point to the fact that he's quite deranged.

    If somebody exhibit's threatening psychotic behavior then they should be evaluated before they harm someone. In his case the Montreal Police didn't take it seriously until he made threats towards one of their own locals. I agree that spamming their email wasn't the best way of dealing with it, but they should have taken the reports of harassment more seriously.

    On a side note, when he was able to spam me he made his way to my blog using the link you have to it (which I sincerely thank you for) and posted the exact same dibble on my most recent post as he did to yours. That made it easy to identify him as a spammer even before I was able to identify him as DM.

  14. I got into this quite in depth with several posts, but without rehashing all that...

    I don't think you should take internet comments into real life. If he had, I would have condemned him, but it was atheists who used force first, coercing a police department dragging him away to be detoxed (as apparently he was a user of some kind) and I presume re-medicated, all because people didn't like what he said. It's all very Orwellian to me, and I can say this not as a neutral outside observer, but as someone who quite frequently got his spam.

    The problem, in my estimation, is not in DM himself, but in his "victims," as I am one but I was able to go years without feeling the need to compel the use of force against him. People claim they "felt threatened" by DM. I feel threatened by a world where people are dragged off to funny farms for comments they make online. I guess I'm just nuts, too.

  15. How would you define taking those comments into real life?

  16. Well, in DM's case, he talked about lighting people on fire. If he lit someone on fire... that would certainly be going beyond internet comments.

    Honestly, this whole thing is reminiscent of if someone made a joke about sleeping with my mother, and I tried to slap them with a libel suit. I would say "frivolous word policing is a slippery slope," but there is so much of it on the internet, there is no way of me even imagining it going away.

    It's the internet. If someone has not threatened your life this week, you probably said nothing of any real substance.

  17. Those are not the same in the slightest. If someone's sleeping with your mother and it's consensual then there is no harm. In the case of someone threatening to light people on fire and considering who he was making the threats towards, he would have struck at an atheist conference (like the AAI convention he went to in 2009) and would have killed or injured hundreds.

  18. Dustin, you sound like George W. Bush. You don't strike first because you're scared. In a free society, you actually have to wait until a crime has occurred and prosecute the crime, not imprison them just because they scare you.

  19. You are correct (about that last part), but the point you're missing is that threatening people is illegal. Quebec in particular has some very strict harassment laws (that probably go too far), but Montreal PD was content to ignore that law for quite some time.

    Maintaining a free society is not simple because often you have to balance one person's rights against another's. You almost sound like you're promoting anarchy, a system that is far from free because whoever can best intimidate everyone else has all the power.

  20. *sigh*

    I should have directed you to the links of where I said this in the comments once and in a post another time...

    It's not a matter of whether you can, it's a matter of whether you should. The police ignore online threats because they happen thousands of times a day, and to act on them all would be an effort in futility. And I side with them on this.

    My bottom line is this: it's not about the law, it's not about other people's feelings. It is my view that no words are illegal, and to police language is inherently wrong in all situations.

    I'm not advocating anarchy, I'm just opposed to a police state where a knock on the door from complaints coming largely from outside my own country could result in my incarceration when I have harmed no one. That seems too be the precedent, and it's wrong.

  21. Got it. I understand you position, but personally I'm torn on the matter. For the sake of argument I was taking a much more contrarian view than I personally hold.

    The legal code seriously needs to be updated to better address how the web ties in with speech and the press. As it stands bloggers only have the protection of free speech, but I think should have the protections of free press, which includes more protection as far as libel and slander goes. Unfortunately due to the global nature of the internet it would probably be best accomplished through treaties, but those have a bad track record.

  22. Wouldn't it just be easier to only arrest people for real crimes, not thought crimes? We could call it the "Sticks and Stones... Act."

  23. In an ideal world I would say so, but if people are threatening to kill someone, actively planning it (conspiracy), or plotting a terrorist attack I'm all for foiling their plots.

  24. Even in this world, I would rather legislate action alone, and leave words to be fought with nothing but more words. I don't fear terrorism, I fear censorship, maybe because few people die from terrorism, but countless ideas die to censorship.


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