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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. Author of FREEDOM OF RELIGION AND THE SECULAR STATE (2012), HUMANITY ENHANCED (2014), and THE MYSTERY OF MORAL AUTHORITY (2016).

Monday, August 29, 2011

A quiet month at the Hellfire Club

I've been rather quiet in my blogging rate during August, with the consequence that this place has also been quieter than usual in terms of traffic. (The actual number of posts may not be down, but the number of substantial ones certainly is.)

Partly it's because August has been a busy month. I've had page proofs to check and index for Freedom of Religion and the Secular State, and, for the benefit of those who haven't ever done the equivalent, this is a surprisingly time-consuming job. There's also room for glitches that make it more so. However, I'm coming to the end of the process now. Hopefully, you'll see the book in print in just a few months.

I've also done some work (including a lot of reading) on the Atheist Myths book, which I am writing with Udo. And I've put aside some time for preparation for the big public debate that I'll be involved in early in September. So, yeah, it's been quite a month.

I'm also working with guest-editor Linda MacDonald Glenn on an ambitious Minds-and-Machines issue of The Journal of Evolution and Technology, and this is now occupying a fair bit of my time. I'm hoping that we'll be able to publish the Special Issue in November (or at least, since we are able to publish on-line in increments, make a damn good start).

And I was maybe a bit more sociable than usual during August, with my birthday falling in the middle of the month.

I admit, though, that part of the problem has been the Elevatorgate debacle. First, this blog is still an Elevatorgate-free zone: I don't want the madness here, and I am very unlikely to publish any comments to this post that get into the merits of it (y'all are warned not to waste your time on that). However, despite my Elevatorgate-free-zone policy I got somewhat embroiled in the debate by making a few stray comments elsewhere. The result is that I've spent quite a lot of time thinking about the issues ... with the effect that one of the things I was thinking a lot about during August was the very thing that I swore not to blog about.

I've also ended up spending a lot of time discussing the issues privately with a whole range of people - both people on the internet and people in real life - which has syphoned off a surprising amount of my time and energy. While I don't think that publicly warring about it all is super-productive, I do think that the debate has exposed tricky issues, and demonstrated the existence of rifts that we weren't even aware of. I think the issues need to be discussed, but not necessarily by way of creating flame wars all over the internet in the way that's been happening.

At some stage, I'll probably have a bit more to say publicly, but perhaps not here. For the moment, it would be good, I think, if we all allowed the debate to cool down a bit ... and maybe returned to it when we have a bit more distance from whatever events pushed our various emotional buttons. Then again, that's been my hope for nearly two months now, and yet I see that the debate is still raging in various corners of the internet.

So, in all, it was a quiet month at the Hellfire Club. Perhaps things will be a bit noisier here in September. I do have some other stuff that I'd dearly like to talk about, so let's see how it goes.

8 comments:

Peter Beattie said...

I've also ended up spending a lot of time discussing the issues privately with a whole range of people - both people on the internet and people in real life

Any new insights into human psychology? :)

Russell Blackford said...

Haha! Well, not without going into the merits ... which I sooo don't want to do here. But it's been interesting.

Russell Blackford said...

What I will say, without getting into the merits, is that the person who has hosted the best threads on the subject - civil, thoughtful ones - has actually been Jean Kazez. I've had some disagreements with her in the past, and will doubtless have more in future, but she's been quite a class act in providing a space for that kind of discussion of Elevatorgate. I doubt that I could have done so.

Russell Blackford said...

Oh, and I said that the actual number of posts may not be down - but on checking I see that it is down even on July, which was itself down on what had become usual of late.

Anonymous said...

Elevatorgate has made me feel a bit bad about myself -- inadequately passionate -- because for the life of me I just don't share the extreme emotions of either camp.

I do see that it's interesting along the lines you describe, e.g., exposing fissures within a group that's like-minded in certain other important ways.

Peter Beattie said...

My own impression so far is that there are certain topics where people are on a hair trigger to label you with the lexical equivalent of a biohazard sign if you don’t support a certain accepted point of view. I would suggest this is because these people are operating (consciously or unsconsciously) under the assumption that the harm done by not putting that label on someone actually deserving of it far outweighs the harm done to a falsely labelled person. In other words, that a false negative is seen as so (potentially) harmful that a few (or even many) false positives appear to be a small price to pay in the interest of safety.

Anyway, this is the most positive spin I can put on some of the things that have been going on. Can you see any of this playing a role? :)

Jean Kazez said...

Thanks for the thumbs-up, Russell. I'm not 100% sure why I find these things interesting, but I've been reading Miranda Fricker's book "Epistemic Injustice" to think more about them. It seems like what you have all around is a lot of what she calls "testimonial injustice." This person isn't listened to for reason x, that person isn't listened to for reason y. Even Richard Dawkins, who generally gets listened to, isn't listened to for reason z. Other people go silent (ahem). That's a lot of people not getting listened to, and for rather different reasons in each case. Even apart from the reality-tv-esque appeal of the whole elevator show, it might actually be worth thinking about!

Russell Blackford said...

Well, let's discuss these things in general terms - why are some people so quick to brand others as racists, sexists, misogynists, and all sorts of other horrible things. I don't specifically mean in the Elevatorgate debate - I mean generally.

And why do some people go silent?

Relevsnt to the first (I won't tackle the second just now), one philosopher whom I often disagree with is Raimond Gaita. However, Gaita is very strong on such things as Aboriginal rights, for which I applaud him.

But one of the things that makes him so good as an advocate of these things is that he's not on that hair trigger. E.g. he can distinguish between, say, people being outright racist and people being out of sympathy with, or even impatient with, the proposals of certain community leaders or even the aspirations of certain communities ... perhaps for understandable reasons in some cases. His analyses do end up being careful and fair, even when I can find things to disagree with.

To me, this is something to aspire to. And if you're going to disagree with Gaita, you really need to be able to show some care and nuance in your own analysis. I didn't see a lot of that during the Elevatorgate debate, and there are many debates where I don't see it.

And yes, I'm sure I've been guilty of this myself on occasions. I'm very conscious that fingers can be pointed back at me.