Archive for January, 2011

DC Universe Online: Starting Characters …

January 12, 2011

I won’t be able to pick up the game until at least the weekend, if not later (unless it sells out or something) but I’ve been browsing around and thinking about my starting characters.  And in reference to the previous post, I’m planning on fudging my description of the origin so that it matches the mentor, and actually choosing the mentor I want my character to work with.

1) I’m actually going to create a character inspired by Psylocke from Marvel, but made sufficiently different to be a different character.  I might keep the purple hair though, and am certainly going to keep Kwannon Psylocke’s um … endowments.  She’ll be a Mental: Illusion and One-Handed character, probably with acrobatics as a travel power.  I’m planning to make her a Flirty personality because, really, who doesn’t want to stick completely unserious characters into the very serious Batman team?   And, in-game, I plan on doing a couple of things to emphasize that:

a)  At some point, even if alone, if I get to stand beside Robin she will go up to him and say “(sultry)There’s something I’ve been wanting to say to you for a long time … Chirp, chirp.”

b) If you can do official battlecries, I want hers to be something like “(points at chest)Hey!  Eyes down here, buddy!”.

2) The second character is my serious villainous sorceress, aligned with Lex Luthor, with Sorcery: Destiny and Staff as her powers, with Fly as her travel power.  She’ll take on the stance that Luthor has supposedly taken at times — I don’t read a lot of DC comics — about Superman being the alien and being bad for the world.  Which explains why she wants to get rid of him.  She also thinks that the world needs a strong hand to guide it, and that Lex Luthor might be that hand … but if he isn’t, she’ll have no hesitation in putting him aside and putting someone else in that place.

I’m actually starting to look forward to the game, and it sounds like the launch went fairly well.  Please let the game not disappoint me …

The Origin and the Mentor don’t match …

January 10, 2011

So, I’m looking at DC Universe Online, and planning on getting it (not this week, probably next week if I don’t hear about it being a disaster), so I’ve started thinking about characters I might like to play.  And after finally understanding it, I think I like the “Powerset/Weapon” combination they have, although City of Heroes’ “Primary/Secondary” idea still seems preferable to me.

But one thing that is, in fact, really hampering my character creation is how they do origins and mentors.  Basically, you can go hero or villain side, and then you choose an origin … which then automatically chooses your mentor for you.  Which means, for example, that if I want to create a sorceress who’s using her magical abilities to help Lex Luthor against Superman (who’s generally been weak against magic), I can’t make my sorceress actually have a magical origin, because she’d end up being mentored by Circe instead.  She’d have to be metahuman instead, which might be hard to work into the backstory.  By the same token, if I wanted to have a character using mental powers helping Batman, that character would have to have a tech origin for their powers, which again limits my characterization.

Note that I’m getting this mostly from the wiki for DCUO and the page itself, so it seems accurate.  But it’s a really, really dumb idea.  Why couldn’t they have split the two?  Choose an origin, and then choose a mentor?  Then I could make a character with any origin I wanted and still choose any mentor I wanted, and you could easily add new mentors without having to care about aligning it by origins.  The way they’ve done it, the easiest way for me to build a character is to ignore one or the other, and either pick a mentor and ignore the origin or pick an origin and forget about the mentor.   But both are important and useful in building an actual character, and mechanically there isn’t much difference there, as far as I can tell.

This rather dumb mistake ruins what would have been a really interesting gimmick, with the potential for very interesting interactions between the two.  And there was no reason to do it like they did.

Whose homework is it?

January 6, 2011

So, I’ve been reading a bit more on “Butterflies and Wheels” because of a good discussion on civility there:

Today I poked around in the comments of other posts, and particularly the one about Chris Mooney and Playboy, just to see what people were saying, and came across this comment:

In the last part of it, Russell Blackford says this:


“And I’m totally with Abbie (ERV). Kirshenbaum has always struck me more as anti-sex, or at least squeamish about human sexuality, than as concerned in a serious way about sexism. Same with Mooney, actually. Look at the way they freaked out when some people made the innocent mistake of assuming they were a couple. Anyone else would just have laughed it off, but they got all earnest and hurt. (Those who don’t recall this incident can look it up for themselves, though. I spent enough time last night doing another commenter’s homework.)”


Now, this comment would be enough for me to start making my point, but wouldn’t explain why this actually bothered me enough to make a whole blog post out if it.  But the other commenter he’s referring to is almost certainly me, from the thread referenced above.   And a short history of the issue is that I made an out-of-hand comment that Richard Dawkins says that teaching children religion is child abuse.  Blackford took exception to that — perhaps not just from me though, since there were others saying that too, or at least supporting me on it — and said that there were a lot of examples in interviews where Dawkins clarifies it and that I had it wrong.  I don’t want to go through that again, but suffice it to say at the end of all of that I agreed that at the very least the statement should be that Dawkins things that some of the accepted ways of teaching children religion are child abuse, but not all of them.  But the subtext is what I’m after here.

In my first reply to Blackford, I went through — quickly — my copy of “The God Delusion” to try to support my case.  I then said this:


“(BTW, if Dawkins has clarified this in more detail elsewhere, I would appreciate seeing it; I haven’t read that much of him outside of the book.)”


Now, if I was going to go on about tone, I’d have an issue here because someone else also asked for links and Blackford might have been replying to him and not me.  Fortunately, I’m after the content, as we’ll soon see.  And Blackford replied:


“He’s clarified it repeatedly in interviews and speeches, many of which are available on YouTube or on his site. He’s also said things in articles and on his TV programs. It would take me days of work to track it down for you. But you see, you have to do some of your own research before you make wild allegations, as you did in this thread.”


Well, see, the thing is … I had done my own research.  I read “The God Delusion”.  More than once, in fact.  Now, in hindsight I can’t remember if I formed my opinion of that statement from the book itself or from hearing what other people say about the book (so I might have fallen into the misconceptions and just never had it shake loose),  but then it seemed to me to be not inconsistent with that stance.  What reason would I have to do that extra research?  Why was it my responsibility?  This might be debatable, but the rest isn’t.

So I, rather annoyed at this point, replied more strongly on that point:


“Russell Blackford: If it would take you days to find one good example — which is all I asked — then it’s a bit much to say that I’m in any way dishonest or lacking in research for not having seen it.”


Actually, on reflection, I was actually nicer on that that I thought I was; I basically just said “stop calling me dishonest for not having seen it”.  And Blackford replied:


“Verbose Stoic It would take me days partly because there is so much of it, not because there is so little of it, as I made clear. Yes, I could go and rewatch television shows and look at YouTube to find you examples, but why should I? “


“Why should I?”.

See, I’ve heard this sort of thing before in informal discussions on other groups a few times.  Someone will be trying to defend someone or some claim or idea on policy or whatever, and will say that there’s lots of evidence to support it.  I’ll say “Where?  I’d like to see it.”  And the person will reply “Search for it/do a Google search/whatever” and will invariably, when pressed, reply exactly as Blackford did in the first comment above, with some sort of variation on “Why should I do your homework for you?”.  And this has usually been met with silence from everyone, even those most insistent on the burden of proof.

Which is what surprises me, because to me the chain of events always seems to be: I say something.  You say I’m wrong, and that you have proof.  I ask for the proof, and you say that you don’t have to provide it since I can “search for it”.  But if you have the proof, why am I obligated to go out and look and search for it?  Why is that my job?  If you claim that the truth is out there, shouldn’t you be the one obligated to find it?  Heck, even if I did look there’s no guarantee that I’d find the same thing you did, and so my doing so is quite likely to lead to this:

“I found this and it doesn’t prove your point!”

“Oh, that’s not the one I meant.”

“Oh, so which one did you mean?”

“Go search again”.

This could lead to a lovely recursive argument that never ends, an infinite loop of my looking for something that I can’t find.  If it isn’t actually there — not just because the person is lying, but because it’s the result of a particular impression they had but not fully stated — then it’s a wonderful waste of time for me.  If it is there, then it may take a long time for us to settle on the right one and for you to, then, finally convince me.

Now, sometimes this can happen.  Someone vaguely remembers something and realizes that they’ll have a hard time finding it, and they don’t have time to look for it.  But in that case, you shouldn’t say “It’s not my job to find it”.  You should accept that it is your job — since you made the claim — and then say “But unfortunately I don’t have time to look for it right now.  You might be able to find it if you search for X in Y”.  At least give where you’d start and start specifically, and then leave it up to them.  If they decide to do the search, great.  If not, and even if they maintain the view that you claim to be able to prove wrong, that’s not a strike on them.  It’s not their job to provide the evidence you’re claiming supports your contention.

The first quote about Kirshenbaum’s position on sex (hey!  Stop sniggering!) is a prime example of this.  Blackford says that he considers her more anti-sex than anti-sexism, and uses the example of their reaction to being called a couple.  Which he doesn’t provide.  But how can he claim that that is one of his main examples if he isn’t prepared to back it up by providing it?  How is providing that evidence doing someone else’s homework for them?  Ultimately, someone would be quite within their rights to demand that he show his work, and every teacher knows that showing your work is part of your homework, not anyone else’s

Asking someone to show their work, especially in philosophy, is not calling them a liar or expressing disbelief, as Blackford suggests.  It’s simply a matter of “I want to make sure I agree with your interpretation”.  Maybe I’ll see it differently.  Maybe my view is different than you think it is and the clarifications might support my position (but eventually lead us to figuring out what our positions actually are).  It’s something that all critical thinkers should have as an automatic reaction.  It’s not in any way bad or to be taken as an insult.

Now, to give Blackford credit, the rest of the comment was the result of an hour+ examination of the relevant chapter in “The God Delusion” to support his interpretation, which would on its own have been enough to get me to accept that I my statement was an oversimplification of his position (although we still disagree on particulars).  So it’s not that he was completely unwilling to show his work, just not by digging up interviews.  Which makes it more puzzling, actually, but that seems to be more a matter of tone than anything else.

But, to sum up, if you claim evidence exists you have to provide it.  If you can’t do it readily, cop to it.  But don’t ask those who disagree with you to do it for you.

Personally, I don’t usually have issues with that; my first reaction is to take the time to try to find it.  My problem would be that sometimes even when I don’t find it I don’t let up on the idea as easily and quickly as I should.  I’d make that a New Year’s Resolution if I did that sort of thing …

In which I repent …

January 6, 2011

Yesterday. I made this post with the title “Coyne doesn’t even get his own side right …”

Reading it today, I think the post was fair … but the title was not.  I shouldn’t have made the title that sort of comment on Coyne and his — in my view — misconceptions about Parsons’ decision to quit the field of philosophy of religion.  I wasn’t being fair to Coyne to do that, and I regret doing it.  And I apologize for it.

I’d go and change the title but the last time I did that I noticed that it changed the actually post permalink in WordPress, which would lead to link issues and perhaps double trackbacks.  So I won’t change the title.  But I’ll edit a similar comment into the post.

Coyne doesn’t even get his own side right …

January 5, 2011

EDIT:  On sober reflection, I think the title of this post is unfair, and should have been something more related to the state of philosophy of religion.  There’s already a trackback to another post of mine that says why in more detail.

I was in a quandry, and still am, actually.  I wanted desperately to comment on this post by Jerry Coyne about Keith Parsons’ decision — in September — to stop doing philosophy of religion, which presumably he’s quite well-known in.

 I personally don’t do a lot of philosophy of religion except on my blog, so I don’t really know him.  Maybe I should read one of Parsons’ books at some point.   But anyway, I thought that Coyne’s comments — and possibly, by extension, Parsons’ — were less than well-reasoned, but as usual I went to read the blog post where Parsons announced it:

And came across the quandry: reading the post and the comments, not only did I think that Parsons wasn’t really saying anything at all disagreeable, but imminently respectable.  I liked what he said and it didn’t in any way cause any direct issues for my view.  But after that, I felt even more certain that what Coyne was saying was wrong.  But could I make a post about this that wasn’t just bashing Coyne?  I didn’t want to drag Parsons into the muck by accident, since again I found his actual position completely respectable.  This was brought to the fore by my having a hard time finding a title that in any way represented my opinion of the two posts.

Eventually, though, I decided to just say “To heck with it” and went with going after Coyne.  I’ll try to be nice to Parsons, though, and highlight what I like about his post and comments.

So, Coyne makes a big issue out of the quote in Parsons’ post where he says that he’s leaving philosophy of religion because he thinks it’s a “fraud”.  He simply can’t in good conscience, Parsons says, teach a class where he can’t present the arguments for the theistic side fairly as if they had any chance of being true.  For him, they simply can’t be; he’s utterly convinced they’re false.

Now, I’ve had some professors, especially in philosophy of mind, who feel pretty much the same way about dualism — at least the substance form — but present it well.  So I’m not convinced that that was his main motivation.  I think his main motivation was likely this, which Coyne doesn’t mention at all:


“As I say there is also a sense of urgency. I just turned 58 and I want to devote the relatively few years remaining in my scholarly life to what I not only respect, but love. I love astronomy; I love geology; I love paleontology, and I find the history of those fields fascinating. I also am very interested in philosophical problems associated with the historical sciences. How we understand and reconstruct events that took place in deep time is a deep and abiding interest for me. I have published two books on the history of dinosaur paleontology, and I am going to get back into stuff like that.”


It sounds to me like he’s caught in a combination where he doesn’t think there’s anywhere interesting to go in the field, and he’s actually more interested in other fields and could be spending his time working in those.  And that’s a perfectly respectable position to take, and one that if I ever manage to get into academics that I might end up having to choose myself, since right now of my top 3 areas of interest (epistemology, philosophy of mind, and ethics) I seem to be more likely to get to work in my least favourite one: ethics.  Now, I like ethics, but I like the other two more.  While I don’t see ethics as being settled to my satisfaction in my lifetime, I can certainly see myself as working in it for a number of years and then saying “Heck with it; I wanna go do consciousness for a while!”.  I could also see myself getting sucked into philosophy of religion and wanting out, since it’s something like 5th – 7th on my list of what I actually like to do.  So, yeah, perfectly understandable.

But that doesn’t mean that he’s right that there’s nothing more to talk about, a fact that he himself admits in the comments in a reply to someone who asks him:


“Thanks for your question. First of all, let me make clear that personal asseverations about what one does or does not find vacuous–whether asserted by me, Richard Purtill, Peter Kreeft, or anybody–have zero epistemic significance. I take that to be obvious.

Anyway, back to your question: Had Purtill or Kreeft made such an announcement, my response would have been “meh,” and a shrug of the shoulders. That is exactly what I would expect from anyone hearing me assert that I regard the “case for theism” as vacuous if that person disagrees. Now if someone wanted to know the reasons I consider theistic arguments vacuous, I could refer them to a number of sources, some of which I have already indicated. If someone, theist or atheist, still finds the arguments for and against theism stimulating and worth their time and effort, then bully for them! I just plan to fry other fish from now on.”


And this is what gives me even more respect for him, where he clearly comes out and says that the fact that he thinks there’s no where to go in philosophy of religion should not be taken as indicative.  He thinks it correct, but is willing to let everyone else decide.  So while Coyne and his commenters are taking this as a sign that it really is all a “fraud”, Parsons himself isn’t; he thinks it is, thinks he can argue for it, but isn’t making his decision any sort of determinative factor.

So what about the fraud comment?  Well, here is where Coyne really seems to misinterpret him.  Coyne reacts to Parsons’ mini-retraction (saying that he regetted using that word) with:


“Parsons later said he regretted using the word “fraud,” but of course the case for God is a fraud. He just can’t say that publicly.”


Well, other than the fact that he did, what was Parsons retraction on the comments of his own blog post?


“As for the use of the term “fraud,” I tried to make clear that I am talking about the arguments, not the arguers. Actually, “fraud” was probably a bad choice of words since it inevitably connotes deceit and dishonesty. My view of the “case for theism” is not that it is a dishonest fabrication but that it is completely vacuous.”


So, he regrets using the word because it connotes deceit and dishonesty, and he wanted to avoid that.  The section in the post — that Coyne quoted — hits that point as well.  Instead, he says that he considers it vacuous.  Coyne basically says that Parsons retracts it because of some, what, I don’t know, political pressure or politeness or whatever (he never says) as opposed to what Parsons actually said for why he retracted it — essentially, claiming that the reason Parsons gives is not the real reason — and all the while ignoring that for Coyne’s purposes vacuous would work just as well in allowing him to crow over a well-respected philosopher finding nothing of use — and nothing true — in theistic religious arguments.

Now, despite my getting to the original post from a link in Coyne’s own post, it’s possible that he didn’t read the blog post or the comments.  So here’s an independent line of argumentation for him:  It would be an appeal to authority to claim that anything of real argumentative interest can be derived from the comments by one expert.  Parsons, himself, doesn’t do that and to his credit points out that that is a flawed perception when asked.  Coyne, it seems, doesn’t.

And in doing so, he misrepresents what someone who was and still is on his side actually said.  That can’t be good.

Okay, maybe I’m a little attracted …

January 5, 2011

Thanks to Doyle from Angel for the title quote.

I’m getting interested in SW: TOR again, after being shaky on it because I was worried that it wouldn’t satisfy my alt-o-holism.  But now, I’m thinking that it might not be that bad.  What did they reveal, or at least what have people been talking about a bit on the boards?


Yep, the ability to have an E-romance with one of your companions has been bandied about.  I don’t know if it is actually in the game, but it is Bioware so it probably is.  And if they make it so that you can have a relationship with multiple companions (um, by which I mean that you can have one romance but you get to choose from more than one companion for each class) then I’m interested, because now there might be a reason to play as a trooper or Jedi or whatever more than once, even if I don’t change the moral stance of that character: to have a character that better fits one of the other companions.

Now, since this all gets tied up in the “moral choice” thing that Bioware loves to do, this isn’t likely to be as free as, say, the Personas where you could date anyone that would date you at any time.  At least some of them are likely tied to alignment/morality.  But if you can get choices inside of that alignment, but with different personalities … well, I’m in.

And probably a little attracted.  To the game, I mean.

I’m a Teenage Frankenstein; She’s Like the Swallow …

January 5, 2011

So, at work, I like to listen to music while working.   Today, I was listening to Alice Cooper, and decided that I’d had enough and wanted to change.  I considered looking for Ozzy Osbourne, but then came across Eleanor McCain, which is more of an opera/musicalish type of thing, remembered that I hadn’t listened to it in a while, and so plunked it in.

So I went from the hard rock stylings of Alice Cooper to the simple melodic vocals of Eleanor McCain.  I think that demonstrates that my musical tastes are sufficiently broad [grin].

Care ‘n’ Sympathy …

January 4, 2011

Following on the abortion case in Phoenix has been this sort of statement from people like Russell Blackford about how the more rule-based morality of the Catholic Church here is bad and how we should move to a model more in line with sympathy and compassion:


“Once you look clearly at the facts involved in almost any abortion – forgetting about the moral claims of priests, presbyters, and the like – it’s obvious where your sympathies should lie. In any real-world case, they should lie with the woman, rather than with a biological entity that is incapable of grief, anxiety, or terror, or of having plans and hopes for the future … and which, in the vast majority of cases, is not even sufficiently neurologically developed to feel physical pain.”


Now, being Stoic leaning, I’m going to distrust any moral view based on emotion, and sympathy seems to be based on emotion in spades, as is compassion.  And I think the case of abortion is a prime example of why those views are, in fact, very, very bad.

Blackford’s main claim seems to be that we should be guided by sympathy and compassion in our actions, but that in this case the zygote/embryo/foetus is not, in fact, a valid object of sympathy.  We don’t feel sympathy for it and we shouldn’t, and since we don’t feel sympathy for it but we do for the woman, we should choose the woman over that biological entity.  That seems a reasonably fair interpretation, although I do read a little bit in, as Blackford above mostly says that we shouldn’t, not that we don’t.   But it seems, to me, close enough for rock and roll.

Ultimately, then, doesn’t Blackford’s position come down to “I don’t protect or care about the foetus because I don’t feel sympathy for it”?  I’ll get into the “should” part later, but ultimately if he wants to and is basing his decision on sympathy and compassion doesn’t that imply that he’s basing it on that sympathy that he’s actually feeling, and not some rational abstract sympathy?  And if this is so, then he walks into one of the big problems with sympathy, which is that if you won’t stand with someone that you aren’t sympathetic to you will treat people that you happen to dislike badly, and more importantly if I want to get you to do really bad things to someone all I have to do is make you no longer feel sympathetic towards them.  If I can do that, you’ll happily join in treating them horribly.

And we’ve seen this tactic used repeatedly.  The easiest way to convince ordinary people to support atrocities is not to appeal to God, but is in fact to make the opposition seem less than or not human, or to blame for their treatment, or immoral, or anything that makes you unable to feel their plight and be sympathetic towards it, and them.  The Nazis did it to the Jews, it was used by people to justify slavery, it was and is used against people of different religions, it’s used against people of different political affiliations, it’s just … used.  If someone can make you unsympathetic towards a person or group, sympathy and compassion will no longer lead you to treat them morally and so you’ll have no barrier to treating them badly.  That’s not what people who appeal to sympathy and compassion want; they want us treating more people with sympathy and compassion.  But there’s no evidence that sympathy and compassion alone can do that; in fact, the evidence is that without much argumentative push our limits of sympathy and compassion are pretty small.

Now, Blackford — whether he wants to or not — does go beyond the simple feelings.  He argues for why that biological entity isn’t an appropriate object of sympathy, and in that vein argues in favour of a notion that sympathy can be right or wrong.  So, those who are opposed to abortion may feel genuine sympathy for the zygote/embryo/foetus, but they’re wrong to do so.  And someone may be convinced that someone is undeserving of sympathy, but they could very well be wrong.  This gets him out of that trap, by arguing for some kind of objective standard for sympathy and when it should be felt.

But this runs into problems.  Here we have rational, objective — okay, at least inter-subjective — arguments for when we should feel sympathy.  We also have some arguments that it might be better for us to act on appropriate sympathy than otherwise.  Two issues arise:

1) Doesn’t this imply that sometimes we’ll act in a manner that appear heartless and cruel not because we’re wrong, but because the judgements of appropriate sympathy just happen to not match what most people think of as being appropriate sympathy?  Doesn’t this mean that, at some point, we’ll look like the Catholic Church looks like to Blackford here?

2) What in the world do we need the actual feeling for, if the arguments detail when we should have it?  Either the feeling always matches the arguments and so using the arguments is perfectly fine, or they don’t but the arguments are right and the feeling wrong (by the chain I’m talking about here).  Either way, being dispassionately sympathetic and compassionate is the way to go.  That’s not likely to lead to the sort of world that Blackford envisions, as that sort of sympathy and compassion is nothing like the sort he refers to.

But the only way around these problems is to declare the feeling the ultimate arbiter, leading back to “If I can make you lack sympathy, I can make you commit atrocities”.  I don’t see any credible hybrid approach, since ultimately as soon as you admit that sympathy can be in error and that you can prove that, you make it so that the feeling shouldn’t be needed.  Maybe there are judgements that reason and arguments can’t make and that the emotion is the only guide … but then, given how easy it is for that emotion to be wrong one does have to wonder why one would think that emotion giving an answer means that it makes anything like a good judgement.

Ultimately, if sympathy and compassion would make us always be properly moral people, we could follow it.  But since they don’t — and we know that they don’t — we can’t rely on them, and if we buttress them with reason we have to wonder why we need them at all.

“Weighty” Accomodation …

January 4, 2011

I made a comment on a blog post over at Butterflies and Wheels that I want to expand on here.  Ophelia Benson’s post is here:

My comment focuses around an example given of it being rude to call someone fat, which I think makes a good analogy to what the underlying issues are.

Imagine that you want to convince people that being overweight is bad and that they should try to achieve a healthy weight and stop overeating. You can cite personal benefits and benefits to society in doing so. Now imagine that at least some people try to do this by calling people who are overweight “fatties” in public and writing many papers and blog posts that say that people who are overweight are just lazy, undisciplined cows who need to get off the sofa and put the chips down.

Some overweight people may be convinced by this sort of approach. Some of them will change because they’ll be shamed into it; they won’t understand WHY being overweight is bad, but they’ll change because they don’t want to be insulted by others. Some who were leaning that way anyway will also change because it may make the comfort they get from overeating go away by associating it with the insults that will, again, make them feel less comfortable.

But you’ll also get a lot of people who will ignore, get angry and entrench. They’ll insist that they aren’t that bad or bad enough to have to change, and generally refuse to listen to even good advice from people who say that, because they’ll stop listening to people who clearly just want to insult. And those people will get called out by other people who want to work on the problem of the overweight because the insults will seem harsh and unnecessary, and they’ll wonder if the people making them really want to help or if they’d just rather make insults and have found a convenient target.

This is my take on some people, like P.Z. Myers, my go-to guy for all of these.  He seems to try to plan his events and phrase his posts to be maximally offensive instead of maximally rational.  He’ll often make posts that are basically misinterpretations of someone’s position so as to be able to mock them better.  I’m not so annoyed with him for being wrong as for seeming to be the sort of person who wants to insult as opposed to argue meaningfully.  And this isn’t even getting into the commenters on many atheist sites, as well as what happens when you wander into someplace like Usenet.

The alternative strategy would be to still talk about how being overweight is bad and what the problems are and how to fix it, but without the personal attacks or claims about the personal qualities of overweight people. This would be the approach that “weight accomodationists” would espouse, and would include ensuring that overweight people don’t feel utterly worthless just for being overweight or morally inferior because of that, and also ensure that groups that are, say, advocating for a better public image for those who are overweight are utilized when talking about issues like anorexia and excessive pressure to be thin. They’d say that this strategy will work better, and it certainly seems more likely to reach those that are merely misguided as opposed to unwilling to consider it.

But, all in all, it’s certainly a NICER approach. And if you can’t take the nicer approach and be honest, then that says more about your attitudes than about the attitudes of those who call you not nice for it.

(Two caveats: I could certainly stand to lose a few pounds and accept that accomodationists and theists can be “not-nice” as well.)

(And one final caveat: okay, okay, I added about a paragraph, which doesn’t really apply to “expanding”.  Sue me.)

Vernon on Dawkins on Hitchens …

January 3, 2011

As promised.

Okay, here’s what Vernon said about Dawkins’ tribute to Christopher Hitchens:


“(It seemed appropriate that the Guardian should launch it’s Advent calendar with a piece from that now most hysterical of writers, Richard Dawkins. Ostensibly it celebrated the moral courage of Christopher Hitchens, which I don’t doubt is worth admiring, only 50% of the piece was against the Pope, and 25% of the piece was about himself.)”


Note that, unlike Bruce Everett, I left the parentheses in, because they’re important to indicate that this was clearly an aside cheap shot, and not meant to be a main point.  Because that’s what parentheses indicate.  Really.

Here’s what Everett had to say:


Here’s an article written by Richard Dawkins, praising Christopher Hitchens as his hero for 2010 (as a part of a series), for his lively engagement largely in the face of his own mortality. It’s a case of, as Russell Blackford points out, someone writing about his dying friend.

It’s the usual dry Dawkins stuff, but not inappropriate I wouldn’t think.

Maybe it’s not your thing. Maybe Dawkins isn’t your cup of tea, much less Hitchens. But even so, would you begrudge Hitchens having this written about him, by his friend? (The sappiest I’ve read this year on Hitchens, was Michael Shermer writing for Scientific American, and heaping praise as if to apologise for not pulling punches, David Hollier flirted with twee at New Matilida earlier in the year).

But seeing the motivation of the cold “New Atheist” android behind everything a “New Atheist” does, Mark Vernon just has to highlight the shortcomings, diverting from a critique of the festive season.

Mark Vernon’s participation in the public discussion about atheism, staggers from point to vexatious contrary point, with no regard for context, reminiscent of the angry drunk who careens and stumbles into funeral goers, looking to persecute a grudge without regard for the setting.”


Well, um, maybe.  It was a cheap shot at Dawkins.  That being said, Vernon may well have just been noting the irony of starting an Advent calendar — certainly based on religion — with a dedication — that even he admits is deserved — of a very vocal atheist, and taking potshots at Dawkins while he was at it.  After all, the quote essentially calls Dawkins out for not talking about Hitchens enough, so it’s not an attempt to attack Hitchens in any way.  So all Vernon could be complaining about is, essentially, the funeral part, where it should be considered rude to comment on a tribute piece to a dying friend.  That being said, Hitchens himself would probably be the first to dismiss that sort of reasoning as nonsense, considering that he wasn’t willing to hold back against revered dead people (see, for example, the critique of Mother Theresa).  But maybe that’s valid, if a bit overdone.  And it gives him no credit for recognizing Hitchens and that he deserves the tribute while making that comment.

What does Russell Blackford say:


“I don’t see the hysteria. I see some snark. I see some passion. I see carefully controlled variations of tone – with plenty of wry humour (some of it just a bit bleak or bitter) that then segues into solemn praise for a man whom Dawkins clearly respects and admires. Is there just a touch of hero worship, as in the reference to Hitchens’ Richard-Burton-like voice? Perhaps. Is it really out of place in the circumstances? Well, judge for yourself. But look, Hitchens is fucking dying. Dawkins’ friend is dying.

For my money, it would be petty, even churlish, to complain about anything in Dawkins’ short piece.

Really, has Vernon no decency? No compassion? Does he have no humanity?


Well, Vernon was essentially remarking that Dawkins spent too much time talking about things that weren’t about Hitchens.  By the numbers, he exaggerated that.  But he’s clearly talking about the tribute not being about Hitchens (that’s what the “ostensibly” implies) but about Dawkins’ pet themes.  Again, he’s wrong about that and it is a cheap shot.  But he recognizes that Hitchens is dying and even deliberately making sure that no one thinks that he’s taking a shot either at Hitchens or at him deserving a tribute.  He’s not complaining at all about Dawkins waxing eloquently about Hitchens, but is instead complaining about Dawkins not doing that.  He’s not complaining about the hero worship of Hitchens or any of the things Blackford cites.  He’s complaining that Dawkins is talking about other things too much, and it only takes a slight bit of charitable interpretation to say that his gripe is, in fact, more that Dawkins takes the opportunity of the tribute to make other claims, instead of just doing a tribute.

Vernon, of course, would be wrong about that, pretty clearly.  And he’s clearly taking a cheap shot, so that would be petty.  But not petty in the way Blackford says.

So, what about the comment.  Have I called it a cheap shot?  I have?  Okay, that’s out of the way.  But a lot of the reaction seems to be “Oh, my God, he criticized part of a tribute!” as opposed to criticizing what he actually said.  What he said was minor and didn’t disrespect Hitchens at all.  So all that’s left is that he happened to drag it from a tribute that, by the way, happened to be related by the Advent calendar to his actual point.  Is that in poor taste?  Maybe.  It was a cheap shot, of course.  But is it worth claims that he has no decency, no humanity?  Is it worth inspiring a change in Everett’s attitude towards him and a long post about all his failings?  Probably not.

This smacks more of an emotional reaction than a rational one, which of course I’m going to oppose.  The impression is that Vernon is using a tribute to someone they respect to take a cheap shot (hey, if you had a drinking game for how often I’ve said “cheap shot” in this post, you’d get nicely sloshed [grin]) at Dawkins.  Which is true.  And it’s not nice.  But it’s not evil either, and his rebuke is mild and does seem to give respect to Hitchens (whether he really has that respect or not).  And if it isn’t a disrespect of Hitchens that bothers them, what possibly could justify the strong statements and the insistence that it’s doing it to the tribute that bothers them?


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