Monday, May 19, 2014

The Thin Skin of the New Atheist

I doubt I'm the only one who has noticed this. In fact, I'm about to point out something obvious, something that practically goes without saying - but now and then it's fun to illustrate what everyone can see for themselves.

Good Lord, do New Atheists have thin skin.

Keep in mind, it's not that I expect most people to have -thick- skin. I don't think most people can put up with a conversation where they're mocked, even modestly. Nor, really, should most people do that as far as I'm concerned. That may sound odd, since I do have a reputation for being not just rude in some discussions, but unapologetically rude. In the right situations I'll mock, I'll insult, I'll lecture. But that's me, and the people I deal with usually either offer up the same (or try to anyway). It's not an ideal situation, and I hold no ill towards the person who consistently rejects such behavior.

But the key is consistency. If a person endorses, engages in, or refuses to condemn that kind of behavior from their allies, but complains and pisses and moans when they're on the receiving end, well - that's a different story. It's hypocrisy, and more than that, it's indicative of a pretty glaring character flaw.

And the Cult of Gnu has it in spades.

Granted, they're not the only ones to have this flaw - but among the Cult, it seems almost like a requirement for membership. Remember this legendary quote from Dawkins:

I suspect that most of our regular readers here would agree that ridicule, of a humorous nature, is likely to be more effective than the sort of snuggling-up and head-patting that Jerry is attacking. I lately started to think that we need to go further: go beyond humorous ridicule, sharpen our barbs to a point where they really hurt.

Michael Shermer, Michael Ruse, Eugenie Scott and others are probably right that contemptuous ridicule is not an expedient way to change the minds of those who are deeply religious. But I think we should probably abandon the irremediably religious precisely because that is what they are – irremediable. I am more interested in the fence-sitters who haven’t really considered the question very long or very carefully. And I think that they are likely to be swayed by a display of naked contempt. Nobody likes to be laughed at. Nobody wants to be the butt of contempt. 

Nasty stuff right there, on multiple levels. And it's routinely engaged in by just about every Gnu leader of note, on every petty level - from Dawkins attacking 'faith heads' to Coyne diving for the petty namecalling whenever he can (Jesus becomes Jebus, Polkinghorne becomes Polky, etc). They mock, they ridicule, they insult. They, as Dawkins said, try to make those barbs hurt.

Oh, and not only do those barbs come out, but if a person decides to cut off dialogue as a result? Well, that's just showing how they're not secure with their beliefs. They're being babies, they're so thin-skinned, they're this, they're that.

But mock them or laugh at them, or their leaders, in the course of a discussion? Make fun of their pretensions, their assumed expertise, mock them for their mistakes, for their beliefs?

Then, suddenly, that's a very grave crime indeed. Why so much vitriol? Why this hostility? This is unfair, so close-minded. Indicative that you do not desire sincere dialogue, serious discussion, or... etc, etc.

Part of the reason why this happens probably can be seen not just in the provided Dawkins' quote, but what immediately follows it - and which typically gets left out:

You might say that two can play at that game. Suppose the religious start treating us with naked contempt, how would we like it? I think the answer is that there is a real asymmetry here. We have so much more to be contemptuous about! And we are so much better at it. We have scathingly witty spokesmen of the calibre of Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris. Who have the faith-heads got, by comparison? Ann Coulter is about as good as it gets. We can’t lose!

And that says it all.

Dawkins - and, it's reasonable to infer, most Gnus - tend to go into conversations thinking that while they can mock, attack, insult and belittle, that the entire confrontation is going to be asymmetrical. When it turns out not to be asymmetrical - when, in fact, the target(s) of their ire turn right around and lay into them, or worse, show that they're willing to display an attitude right from the start - they buckle. They whine about vitriol and insult, and they may well even flee the field altogether. Because that just isn't how it's supposed to go. Dawkins said so! It's supposed to be a one-way exchange!

But it's not. And it shouldn't be besides. See, I value calm conversational, a lack of insult and mockery, reasonable discourse. The difference is that I expect it in exchange, and I don't take on the very common Christian practice of trying to be the one Above It All, who suffers the slings and arrows with grace while assuming the onlookers will notice who the mature one is. Instead I fire back - or, if I know I'm dealing with a nasty specimen of gnu, I open up with it from the outset, and I encourage others to do the same, when it comes to people who unapologetically use or tolerate ridicule when it's coming from 'their side'.

I do not believe in using mockery and disdain to silence atheists, or jews, or liberals, or anyone else, for those reasons alone. But I am entirely onboard with the idea that people who embrace using mockery and 'hurtful barbs' and intellectual bullying in general to advance their points should themselves be bullied into silence or obedience. If enough people treat the Cult of Gnu with such disdain on pain of their no longer engaging in any of their own, I think they will eventually be forced to be civilized.

And for the sake of reason and rational discourse, isn't that a small price to pay?


Acatus Bensley said...

Intellectual bullying. What's intellectual about Gnu atheists?

grodrigues said...

Although I am naturally nasty and impatient, all things I need to reign in, if there is one thing that is sure to enrage me is when one of these *!#@$%s pulls the "You are a self-professed Christian, you are supposed to follow the example of Jesus and be Gentle and Meek and Patient and Turn the Other Cheek" dishonest blackmail crap.

Crude said...


Well, I think trolling is half the reason that particular move is made. Rarer it's sincerity of the 'I have no idea what that even means' variety.


A good question.

BenYachov said...

I so agree with Grod!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Big surprise huh?;-)

Legion of Logic said...

I personally think it falls under the same general mental profile New Atheists have that makes them completely suck on defense. The vast majority of NA's I've encountered are petty, juvenile, and seemingly more attracted to the "shock value" their position on traditional cultural values achieves as a reason to be an atheist, than any sort of actual reasoning - a faculty they display little skill in utilizing.

They look at their antitheistic heroes and love the crass, disrespectful tone, and believe that these are irrefutable takedowns, without actually engaging in any sort of thinking about the issue. Then, when they rush to the internet to display their amazing powers of reason based on juvenile mockery, they are completely stunned when a Christian fails to react with defensive pleas, denial of science, "because the Bible says so", or "I have faith!" Some Christians take their so-called reason and rip it to shreds, turning their own tactics upon them and exposing the complete and utter lack of evidence behind their own positions. So what are these poor NA's supposed to do with that? Lacking the capacity for reasoned dialogue - a hallmark of which is nuance in one's views, which is extinct among NA's - and since acknowledging defeat is psychologically impossible for them, their only recourse is to claim that we are meanies.

It's cute.

Donald said...

I wonder if the Gnus are clever enough to know when they're being ridiculed?

Karl Grant said...

I wonder if Dawkins even begins to realize what kind of PR disaster he has on his hands with these kind of tactics because the people who abandon their previous beliefs to adopt a new belief system solely to appear intelligent and educated usually ain't. Has anybody told him that purposely recruiting people who are emotionally insecure, give in easily to peer-pressure and are desperate to be perceived as smart (and there is usually a reason they are not perceived as intelligent to begin with) isn't going to get him an army of trail-blazing intellectuals who will reshape the world in his image? It will get him an echo chamber full of brown-nosers and ass-kissers though. And most people don't respect brown-nosers and ass-kissers and the people who have them as followers.

The Fez said...


I think the Gnu Atheists in general are already suffering from a PR fallout. Years of iconoclasm and general nastiness (and I think you would be hard pressed to find an Gnu Atheist who would deny the nastiness) has dulled the senses of a larger public that no longer buys their bit about elevating science or the humanities. Their publicity seems to always center around doing excruciatingly annoying things to inconvenience or harass peoples of faith.

There's no staying power in that. The Gnu Atheists are essentially diving headlong into cultural irrelevancy, as far as I'm concerned.

Acatus Bensley said...

Gnu atheism seems like it will hurt the credibility of all nonbelievers considerably. They won't be taken serious if they keep targeting the most intellectually unimpressive people just for the sake of gaining more numbers. Karl said it best. No grand enlightenment will follow this fad. Eventually these elementary school tactics will backfire. I kid you not when I say their basic line of reasoning sounds something like "I had a bad day so God doesn't exist."

Anonymous said...

"Has anybody told him that purposely recruiting people who are emotionally insecure, give in easily to peer-pressure and are desperate to be perceived as smart (and there is usually a reason they are not perceived as intelligent to begin with) isn't going to get him an army of trail-blazing intellectuals who will reshape the world in his image?"

I think so?

BenYachov said...

If there is a down side to Gnu Atheism for us Theists it is this.

Their lame polemics are easy to refute & most of us can do it in our sleep with lashings of contempt to boot.

Thus when a more rational non Gnuish Atheist comes along he might catch us off Guard.

Crude said...


There's plenty of more relaxed non-Gnus around, but I also think people overvalue rationality. The Cult's arguments are terrible, but that doesn't seem to stand in the way of success for most people.

On the other hand, they also have rotten charisma by and large, save for Harris. And Harris has the disadvantage of making tremendous amounts of shitty arguments in book length form that even atheists can't resist attacking.