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Australian philosopher, literary critic, and professional writer. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Sometimes you've gotta laugh

A couple of posts ago I mentioned that I'd not be uncivil ... but added, "surely I should put in some snark near the end just so there's something to complain about."

So ... I did that, by saying the nicely dressed kid of indeterminate sex had a Colgate smile. This was a gentle but obvious reference to the widespread snark about the "Colgate Twins", i.e. the conspicuously good-looking Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum. Apparently I've indulged in this sort of snark myself on three previous occasions, or something.

Sure enough, here's Jeremy Stangroom complaining, right on schedule. Apparently he was unable to construe my post in its entirety and get the little joke I made about how I'd deliberately give people like him something to complain about near the end in an otherwise-civil post. It even sent him off on a search of this blog for the word "Colgate".

Oh well, Jeremy seems to be going through some sort of identity crisis of late, poor chap, so there's no use in berating him too much. I guess he's mentally distracted. But I do think I should inject just a leeetle bit of snark here, all in fun of course. Let's be concise:

Hook. Line. Sinker.

27 comments:

Darrick Lim said...

Russell, Stangroom's link to a post of yours in August 2009 does actually show you being snarky. Sure, maybe Mooney and Kirshenbaum deserved it. I'm not familiar with their arguments, so can't comment on them.

But despite Stangroom's own snide remarks about you needing to take "about 30,000 words, and half a dozen blog posts" to articulate your ideas (since when did verbosity, esp cogent verbosity, become a vice?), you did write those things he said you wrote.

Personally, I find it kinda low to go through someone's laundry from 2 years ago just to dig out something to smear their character with. That's not classy. But neither is disingenuity, or hypocrisy.

Russell Blackford said...

So, Darrick? When have I ever in my life claimed never to have been snarky? Sheesh. I don't see how I can be accused of hypocrisy or disingenuity because someone can find various snarky comments on this blog if they start conducting searches. Of course they can. They'll find more if they keep trawling back through the laundry, as you put it.

But in this case, Stangroom was far nastier about me than I was about Jean Kazez. He also reacted to the Colgate smile bit despite my explicit statement that I'd put in something near the end for people to complain about.

And look, even Stangroom's 30,000 words comment, though somewhat OTT and spiteful, was relatively mild compared to almost any political debate. Let's all keep grounded here.

This little episode makes my point. Yes, of course we all indulge in the occasional bit of snark on our respective blogs (where we're mainly talking to our respective friends and allies). Of course we all sound off at times. We all express annoyance or stronger emotions. I'm never going to claim to be whiter than white in that regard.

But the fact remains that Gnu Atheists as a group are no snarkier than any other group of people, even when they're talking to each other on the internet, and they are often less so.

And anti-accommodationism isn't about getting in people's faces, Tom Johnson style. It's about a critique of certain ideas.

Darrick Lim said...

Russell, I apologise. I thought you were evading Stangroom’s accusations instead of acknowledging them. But I misinterpreted your post and your intentions. Sincerely, my bad.

I guess this whole ‘nastiness’ issue resonates with me because in my circle of friends, I’m often the one who gets accused of being ‘dogmatic’ or ‘judgmental’ or ‘arrogant’ whenever I strongly express views defending reason, facts, science and critical thinking. As a 30-year old with no formal education in philosophy or the sciences, most of my knowledge has come from reading books, magazines and blogs like yours. And I feel nothing but respect and gratitude for mentors like you who have not only educated me, but also encouraged me to stand up for ideas that are valuable and true.

What I find quite disheartening is that whenever I see my esteemed teachers, supposedly allies on the side of truth, reason and good, getting into fights over trivialities like the ‘correct’ tone to adopt in arguments, I feel that our REAL opponents benefit in some tangible way. Like the energy we should be devoting to countering their pernicious influence is being squandered by our side trying to score own-goals. Maybe it’s not quite so zero-sum, but you get my point.

As someone younger who looks up to more knowledgeable and experienced intellectuals like you, Russell, I try to emulate my teachers’ passion, courage and intellectual honesty whenever I’m arguing with religionists, accommodationists, anti-realists, postmodernists, New Age woo-ists, and generally irrational people. But try to understand that it can be a tad discouraging when the student sees his esteemed teachers tearing into each other while the sky fairy worshippers and assorted kooks get a breather to continue their proselytizing unchallenged.

Russell Blackford said...

No problem, Darrick. And sure, I'd much rather not get involved in distracting squabbles with people who are supposed to be my allies.

Sam said...

Russell, I don't think Jeremy's response had anything to do with the bait at the end of your post. You made a very strong claim for yourself--

"Unless I am confronted by egregious examples of power and influence being used destructively - as we see every day from the Catholic Church - I am actually very restrained. The same applies to others who could be seen as belonging in the Gnu herd. Even my commenters tend to be a polite, thoughtful bunch."

That claim conflicted with your very memorable use of the "colgate twins" epithet. I certainly didn't need the bait to remember it, and I doubt Jeremy did either.

Generally my reaction to your bafflement is ...bafflement. It's easy to find examples of gnastiness at "gnu" blogs. In fact, it's so easy that I suspect there must be something tactical about saying it's hard.

As to your point that "gnu" atheists aren't worse, as a group, than other internet groups... I didn't say they were. I was making a comparison between new atheism (e.g. Dawkins and Harris) and today's "gnu" atheism.

Yes, you were completely civil in your post about my post. I appreciated that!

Kirth Gersen said...

I followed the link, read his post, and quickly departed. My first rule of reading tha Interwebz: never return to a blog that has no comments -- or even worse, doesn't allow them.

Fred Moutns said...

Darrick, calling theists "sky fairy worshippers and assorted kooks" is surely uncivil, is it not?

Someone, somewhere, just came down with a case of the vapors.

George Higinbotham said...

It isn't clear to me that Stangroom understands that Colgate is a small private university and not a toothpaste, because he says that calling them the "Colgate Twins" is referencing their "appearance".

The appellation stuck because it attached them to an idyllic, small, liberal arts college (not Ivy).

Its not really an insult but when Coyne, who is a Harvard PhD says it it is a bit of "in your face" to Mooney ...

Anonymous said...

let them have a GOOD LOOK at the CORNFIELD


badscience.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=7&t=21164

Russell Blackford said...

So it was just a, you know, coincidence that the word he searched for on this blog was Colgate? Right.

Russell Blackford said...

Sam - are you Jean Kazez? Just checking that that's what you meant?

Darrick Lim said...

Fred,

"Darrick, calling theists "sky fairy worshippers and assorted kooks" is surely uncivil, is it not?"

I think you misunderstand me. I never said that being uncivil or snarky was a no-go. I actually agree with Russell's comments above:

"Yes, of course we all indulge in the occasional bit of snark on our respective blogs (where we're mainly talking to our respective friends and allies). Of course we all sound off at times. We all express annoyance or stronger emotions. I'm never going to claim to be whiter than white in that regard.

But the fact remains that Gnu Atheists as a group are no snarkier than any other group of people, even when they're talking to each other on the internet, and they are often less so."

My point was that instead of fellow atheists/humanists/rationalists policing each other over matters of 'civility' and playing 'Gotcha!', we should be focusing our snark (or lack of) at those who actually deserve it.

Like those sky fairy worshipers and assorted kooks.

Jean Kazez said...

Russell, Sorry, "Sam" is my son. The young devil left himself signed into google, which made it look like my comment was from him. I actually thought I'd accidentally deleted it, but apparently not.

sqlrob said...

@Fred:

Yeah, because being told I'm not moral because I don't believe in God or I'm going to be placed in eternal torment is civil.

Theists get what they give.

Russell Blackford said...

Okay, Jean, that makes sense now. Well, yes, I don't actually go out of my way to be uncivil ... so thanks for noticing that.

Ophelia Benson said...

That claim conflicted with your very memorable use of the "colgate twins" epithet. I certainly didn't need the bait to remember it, and I doubt Jeremy did either.

Yes, but there is more than one possible explanation for that fact and that doubt. Yours is that the use of the "epithet" was very memorable. Another would be that you are obsessed with the putative nastiness of gnu atheists in general but especially with a few selected gnu atheists in particular. It's the main subject on your blog and has been for quite awhile. The same could apply to Jeremy, who also frequently says nasty things about gnu atheists in general and a selected few in particular.

I suspect that that second explanation is at least part of the real explanation - I suspect that that really is part of why you find the epithet so memorable.

I think, if I remember correctly, I originated the epithet, so I'll explain a couple of things.

I have never thought it was all that nasty. A little nasty, but not flamey-nasty - not nasty enough to be dignified as "memorable" for its sheer horror. The point of it was that M and K use their bright cheerful wholesome friendly appearance as a kind of PR (or "framing") tool. I frankly think that's kind of silly in itself, and annoying in their case because in fact they're not as friendly as the toothy grins might make one think.

That's all. Yes, it's pointed, but no, I don't think it's all that shocking. It's not as shocking as "liar" for example - yet they left comments calling me a liar on their blog. I've seen you defend that. Thus I think your choice of "memorable" epithets is shaped by your obsession with gnu atheism and especially with a few selected gnu atheists. I also think the same applies to Jeremy. I think you both strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. I think you have different standards for the selected gnus versus everyone else.

Jeremy is simply wrong about the "epithet." I can't say so directly on his post, since he closed comments, so I'll say it here.

(Note: The term “Colgate Twins’ is a comment on the appearance of Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum. This is the way many of the New Atheists took to referring to them. An indication of how widespread it was is the fact that Blackford doesn’t actually have to name them in this piece. Likely, the New Atheists will claim that their use of the term is a satirical criticism of Mooney’s self-promotion, blah, blah… which, of course, is bollocks: it’s just a cheap, classless attack on their appearance).

His prediction of what "the New Atheists will claim" is simply a paraphrase of what I told him myself via email a year and a half ago (pretty much the last time we had any communication at all). He said the epithet was a mean bullying mockery of their appearance. I said it wasn't, it was about their presentation, not their appearance, and I pointed out that they're a goodlooking pair and that Sheril is downright gorgeous. That was the point! They were trading on their looks, and I was mocking the trading. Jeremy doesn't get to say that's bollocks. He's not a mind-reader. I don't think much of his use of a personal exchange, either.

It would be fair to argue that the epithet could sting a lot more than I took into account. It would be fair to argue that I may have intended it as mockery of their presentation but they may have experienced it as more wounding than that. But treating it as conspicuously stand-outly shocking and "memorable"? I don't think so.

Gnat. Camel. Selection bias.

verbosestoic said...

sqlrob,

"Yeah, because being told I'm not moral because I don't believe in God or I'm going to be placed in eternal torment is civil.

Theists get what they give."

I'm a theist. I say neither. I can actually argue for why neither is true. I can also see why some people might actually ARGUE for those positions intellectually, even though I think them wrong.

I agree that people who just toss those out there are being uncivil. But, since I don't do that, why should I expect those sorts of rather general uncivil insults to reflect my getting what I give? I don't give the things you dislike, and the comments certainly don't bother to exclude ANY theist from that sort of statement ...

Jean Kazez said...

"you are obsessed with the putative nastiness of gnu atheists in general but especially with a few selected gnu atheists in particular. It's the main subject on your blog and has been for quite awhile."

Why say things that are so absurd, and verifiably so? Go take a look. Out of my last 100 posts, maybe 6 relate to "gnu" nastiness. When you get off to such a ridiculous start, it's hard to take the rest of your comment seriously.

Bruce said...

@ Jean,

"When you get off to such a ridiculous start, it's hard to take the rest of your comment seriously."

For people seeing 'The Emperor's Gnu Clothes' while visiting your blog for the first time, they may get the same impression and write of the rest. I gather from the rest of your response that you don't desire this.

I have to say in this light, it looks awfully convenient the way you've excused yourself from considering the rest of Ophelia's comment.

Ophelia Benson said...

Out of my last 100 posts, maybe 6 relate to "gnu" nastiness.

I find 6 posts related to gnu "nastiness" and/or the wrongness of particular gnus on the front page alone; that seems like a pretty good chunk to me.

So you're just going to blow off everything I said? You're not even going to consider the possibility that you see lots of gnu nastiness because you're using a particular filter?

Ophelia Benson said...

Oh I see. Not only are you going to blow off everything I said, you're also going to do a reply to Russell in which you give 3 examples of naughty gnu children talking back to the grownups - and all three examples are posts of mine.

http://kazez.blogspot.com/2011/02/reply-to-blackford.html

That's by way of demonstrating that you're not obsessed with naughty gnu children in general and with a few in particular? That's by way of demonstrating that you don't pay a bizarre amount of attention to what I write? That's by way of demonstrating that you're not stalking me in order to find something to disagree with? You have five posts currently on your front page concerned with me. Reply to Blackford; Female Atheists; The Emp's Gnu Clothes; Can Atheists be Pluralists?; and Catholic Abortion Ethics. There's another about gnus more generally.

You're using a particular filter. It makes gnu atheists look especially, "memorably" bad. Your memory grabs gnu jokes and hangs onto them; non-gnu jokes fall through the filter and disappear.

Jean Kazez said...

Ophelia--Go ahead and count. 6 out of the last 100. No, I don't buy your theory about the filter. I think it's silly to have a debate with someone about one's own inner psychology. I know mine, you don't. That's all I can really say.

Deepak Shetty said...

A Colgate smile is actually meant as a compliment where I come from. Ah well.

Russell Blackford said...

Yeah, whatever else may be at issue here, the whole point of the Colgate Twins thing depended on the obvious fact that Chris and Sheril are conspicuously good-looking people.

Someone might say that they can't help it and that making fun of it -or of how they exploit it for PR purposes - is spiteful, or shows envy, or something. Fine, let someone argue that if they want. But they are certainly not being mocked or attacked, or whatever, for being ugly or odd-looking.

Bruce said...

Honestly, I always thought 'Colgate twins' placed even less emphasis on looks than even Ophelia suggests. I guess I'm stuck in the 90s or something, when white-white-white teeth were the stuff of desperate actors and telemarketers.

I guess that translates roughly to Ophelia's PR concerns, albeit I didn't get hints of 'the beautiful people'. In fact I was, until this latest flare up, under the assumption that all of this was obvious.

Not that it'd matter to 'the twins', but it effects the way I read it I guess; I don't actually considered either of them as particularly eye-catching.

I honestly couldn't place Sheril in a crowd although I'm sure I've seen her picture numerous times (I have this vague image of a pixelated mop of hair atop teeth). And Chris, well I guess if I swung that way and had a thing for guys who look like the lovechild of Taylor Lautner and ET, then my attention may have been grabbed.

(This is the garbage that comes out when I try to parse their body image).

Not trying to be mean of course. I look like a frigging serial killer one day, then serial killer-meets Oscar the Grouch the next.

I guess this stuff doesn't always register with some people, at least not the same way. (I guess I'll have to cede that my prior assumptions about the term weren't obvious as well).

Still, this is an awful lot of introspection to undertake for the purpose of what's a pretty benign epithet. I can imagine some people would resent having their time wasted on the matter.

verbosestoic said...

Ophelia,

That would be 5 out of 20 posts, over the span of two months. Two of them mention events that were talked about elsewhere (Female Atheists; Catholic Abortion Ethics). A third -- Can Atheists Be Pluralists? -- doesn't seem to mention you. That's a pretty thin list to get "stalking me in order to find something to disagree with". I'm pretty sure that she could find far more things to disagree with you over in 2 months of your posts [grin]. So, at best, you have that she reads your blog. That's not a bad thing ...

Perhaps you'd prefer to address content rather than speculating about motive?

Ophelia Benson said...

verbose:

I did address content, in considerable detail, in my comment on Feb. 20.