- Russell Blackford
- Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019) and AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021).
Thursday, October 28, 2010
The real enemies of reason?
Just a placeholder for the moment, but I think this
latest rather-old-but-recently-come-to-my atttention attack on Dawkins in the Gruniad is not only unfair and misplaced but rather bizarre. Hasn't the author, Dan Hind, ever heard of the idea of a division of labour?
Posted by Russell Blackford at 8:55 am
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I've just been posting about this on someone else's FB Wall:
'I think that's a bit unfair. The flat-out anti-science crowd *are* a problem, even more so in the US than in Europe. The fact that Dawkins concentrates on demolishing *one* enemy of reason is a damn sight more than most academics bother to do, and doesn't preclude other people going after other (more) deserving targets.'
Latest? Isn't it from 2007?
Ah...I did a "Head to Head" with Dan Hind for The Philosophers' Mag awhile ago (ten issues ago, so that's about 2.5 years), on exactly that. Some people do one thing, some do another; we don't all have to do the same thing.
It must be his One Big Idea, if he's still pushing it.
Wait a sec, I missed the date the first time - that piece is from August 2007.
So it's possible that Hinds has had a new idea since then!
Oops, my mistake.
I fess up: I saw this article in my Facebook feed because Colin was debating it.
It's an old article as y'all have pointed out to me (I should have looked at the date), but it still raises a set of issues. Can everyone be expected to do, like, everything? Should we all be doing whatever thing is the highest priority thing, whatever it really is, regardless of our talents and interests?
I can't completely agree with your focus on priorities. Okay the article talks a lot about corporations and propaganda and says Dawkins should change his focus. But you are not addressing his insistence on simply pointing to "the enlightenment" as some sort of nicely wrapped up period of history where we educated ourselves out the dark ages and now we should just move on.
That period of history had bumps and warts just like the history of Christianity. Dawkins applies one set of standards, one method, to measure and comment on the history of religion and a different set for the history of the enlightenment era.
If you want an example of a wart of the enlightenment age, look up the history of the word "bedlam".
Just what I asked him (and he never answered).
"I agree with you that powerful self-interested people can be highly rational and also immoral, unprincipled, dangerous, corrupt. But what I don’t see is why you think Why Truth Matters or atheist polemicists and enemies of quack medicine shift attention away from that problem. Of course, I see it in the most literal sense, that they talk about different things – but I don’t see why you consider that worth objecting to. Everything shifts attention away from whatever it’s not talking about, but what of it? A book about global warming shifts attention away from the war in Iraq, a book about Iraq shifts attention away from the Democratic Republic of Congo – and so on. There are a great many issues and problems in the world, and we have to break them down into manageable pieces in order to discuss them and think about them – so naturally no book is going to be about every possible problem. I fail to see the force of your objection, that people who worry about, say, irrationality, or hostility to science, or credulity about alternative medicine, are shifting attention away from other subjects."
I also reviewed his book for TPM, come to think of it - before the Head to Head, where I said the above - and I think I said much the same thing there. I've never seen him answer this objection anywhere.
It's interesting to see when these 'priority' arguments come around - and when they don't. An analogy that occurred to me is with life-extension & other H+ technologies. Suddenly, a whole bunch of critics discover their inner egalitarians, and start complaining that life-extension advocates should be concentrating on prolonging the wretchedly short lives in the Swaziland instead.
Which is fine, except that this criticism is almost never levied at the legions of poets and actors and gardners and graphic designers and chefs and comedians and musicians and ... well, pretty much everyone who isn't working for mediciens sans frontier or Oxfam. (Or Pete Singer.)
Maybe we should all be working flat out to solve the most pressing problems before worrying about anything else. Certainly, some maximising consequentialists would argue as much. Others would say that's too much to demand. But either way, it's hard to see why that imperative should be applied so selectively. (Unless - could it be? - it's just another one to file under 'sneaky debating tactics')
Of course there are priorities, and when there are constraints, we should focus. But if everyone tackles a little bit...
It is too easy to slip into the Billy Goat Gruff Diversion. The happy thing is that there are lots of rational intelligent people, and we can divvy up the work; some can tackle creationists, while others tackle homeopaths. Some can concentrate on clerical child abuse while others can concentrate on female emancipation & contraception in the Third World, etc etc.
We can cover all bases; we can eat *all* the Billy Goats Gruff.
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