Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Rephrasing the Argument

I left this at Melinda's (that is, if it passes muster):

I'm still at a loss as to why run-at-the-mouth atheists need to have an article written about them. There's an overall subject that begs to be written about, which is simply zealotry or tribalism, and rather
than tackle the larger subject you go for the one in which you can isolate and crucify a teensy number of blowhards (like minnie mouse, who seems to require a prescription).

I saw on some network somewhere a show about The Rationalist Society, a group of people in India who perform an extraordinary service for villagers: they go from town to down performing magic tricks and show how they're done so that the villagers don't get suckered by visiting godmen who'll try to cure a potentially fatal snakebite with magic instead of medicine. Their atheism, in other words, saves lives. At the same time, it seemed to me that the documentary was evidence that they had become a tribe of their own, with rules, orthodoxy, chants, and so forth. They had become a tribe of sorts while explicitly
existing to burst the bubbles of tribal culture. (My description comes from one half-remembered documentary, so take it with a grain of salt.)

In any case, people form tribes naturally, and some people take it too much to heart and become assholes. The way to write about this in the case of atheists is not to deal with the arguments, which, even if you identify them as outrageous are rarely as ridiculous as religious arguments, but to identify X argument as the rallying point that attracts the stupids that may accrete to the atheist "cause". (Anthropologists tend not to add "this is of course bullshit" to descriptions of tribal beliefs.)

There may be other aspects of the culture that produce mindless woofing or backslapping or spittle-sprays. If there's some sort of ceremonial aspect to the behaviour (as there was under the supposedly atheistic communist regimes) point to that as evidence of tribalism.

There are chunks of this to re-write or rephrase, but I gotta go.

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