Sunday, March 07, 2010

Changing the Subject - Name Calling

I find it interesting how often it is the case in criticism of religion that people allow the subject to get derailed onto a side issue - usually a side issue of the merits of how nice one should be.

Yesterday, I posted a claim that "Some frippen IDiots are going to get a lot of good people maimed and killed."

It's about a group of people who see political advantage into tying the nonsense that they believe into another piece of nonsense - denial of global warming. Both of them, I assert, demonstrate the same intellectual integrity as holocaust denial.

Others have launched a criticism of religion, which ends up triggering a huge international debate - about how nice atheists should be to those whose views they disagree with.

It's a real magician's trick. The magician deflects the attention of the person in the audience, with some gesture or piece of stagecraft, while his other hand does the work.

Our attention gets deflected into a debate over how nice one should be to those who hold religious believes, or the 'lameness' of calling a group of people IDiots, and there the debate over the claim that some of these IDiots are going to get a lot of good people maimed and killed.

What is it?

Is it that a decision to link one's own idiocy to another piece of idiocy that has real-world life and death, life and limb consequences isn't a subject that is worth debating? The question of whether 'namecalling' is 'lame' more socially useful than whether one is going to purse a public policy that could potentially lead to significant harm to millions - and potentially destroy whole cities?

If we must turn this into a debate about name-calling; if whether people live and die is of lesser concern than such an act, I would note that desire utilitarianism (desirism) has an honored place for name-calling.

Desire utilitarianism is concerned with evaluating desires, then promoting malleable desires that tend to fulfill other desires, while inhibiting those desires that tend to thwart other desires. We use social tools to promote some malleable desires and inhibit others. The tool we use to promote and strengthen good desires is praise, and the tool we use to inhibit and weaken bad desires is condemnation.

Namecalling is a form of condemnation. It attaches a flag to a particular type of person and then says to the world, "Do not be that type of person. Adopt an aversion to being that type of person such that you will not be inclined to behave as he does."

In this case, the type of person that I wish to condemn - and thus inhibit people from becoming - is the IDiot who makes nonsense claims about the origin of life that are so absolutely without intellectual merit that any morally responsible person - any person with desires that tend to fulfill the desires of others - would think of uttering.

Instead of name-calling, I should "engage" their arguments?


You engage the arguments of somebody who has enough moral integrity to actually engage in a meaningful discussion of the issue. When you are dealing with people who make claims that are so far beyond reason as one finds among the IDiots, you already know that you are dealing with somebody utterly lacking in intellectual integrity.

When you find somebody like that, you should recognize that you are not dealing with an issue of bad beliefs as much as with an issue of bad desires - as a lack of moral character.

Deficiencies in desire - in moral character - are not subject to reason. We can reason ABOUT them. We can use reason to determine what are and what are not defects in character. But we cannot use reason to turn an evil person into a good person, or to prevent a person from becoming evil. That job requires a different set of tools. That job requires praise and condemnation.

The commandment, "Thou shalt not condemn another human being" is equivalent to saying, "Thou shalt utterly disarm yourself in the quest of promoting those desires that tend to fulfill other desires, and inhibiting those desires that tend to thwart other desires."

Or, in other words, "Thou shalt give evil free reign to grow and prosper regardless of the harms that may come from it."

When I called these people IDiots, I meant to convey a specific idea. I meant to identify them as people who are so lacking in intellectual integrity that good people would condemn them. Good people note the degree to which these people shun political debate and sees that it is a threat to the health, wealth, well-being, and even the lives of a great many people, and good people condemn them for it.

Now, having said this, name-calling - like fining them, inprisoning them, or even executing them, is something that should not be done lightly. The accused have a right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof is on those who condemn - whether they condemn through legal penalties or simply through social acts such as this one. In many cases, name-calling is far worse than lame, it displays a poor moral quality itself - in the same way that imprisoning somebody for 10 years is far worse than lame.

These people are engaging in a form of behavior that threatens to kill and maim a great many people - as well as inflict other harms on them. Because they are using speech, they have a right to an immunity to violence in response to what they say. However, they do not have a right to immunity from criticism - not only a criticism of their beliefs, but a criticism for a moral character that allows them to avoid intellectually serious and responsible discussion.

To give these people immunity from condemnation as well as their rightful immunity from violence, is to morally sanction their behavior, and to be a co-contributor to the maiming and killing that comes from that type of behavior.


Semi-sage said...

I love this post! Very similar to one I just posted on my blog this morning but yep different. I believe that if you are dumb enough to bring up religion, society should shun that person as an idiot.

Being nice and going along with not name calling has not advanced this countrys beliefs out of the middle ages. We are grouped with countries like Turkey for belief in creation. Really the US is grouped with ignorant backwards countries. That is disgusting.

Also I found your blog via link from a site bashing me. So maybe you will get a couple of extra hits.

I just left a nice thanks for the link and a smiley face. lol

CybrgnX said...

Name calling takes two forms...
1-calling some one ignorant or stupid is not actually name calling as it is describing their attribute of brain power.
2-calling someone a jack-ass is name calling and is highly insulting - to the jack-ass as I've worked with this intelligent hardworking animals.

But name calling also comes in when 'arguing' with the religious. If name calling is escalated in a discussion the observers will not be able to tell which one is the dumb-arsed idiot.
The best and hardest way to discuss a point is to accentuate the positive and eliminate the negative. I know trite but true.
Oh ya I'm not one of the cool collected types either.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

As someone who was once a committed creationist and Mormon (or an IDiotic Moron, or whatever the correct term of art is) and was won over to atheism and evolution by reasoned argument, I guess I see things differently. Not everyone with wacky views is necessarily too stupid and evil to be worth reasoning with.

Of course I'm not suggesting that wacky views should be treated with respect -- that would be going too far -- but there's a difference between "offensive" but substantive criticism (such as Richard Dawkins's oft-quoted litany of Yahweh's unsavory personality traits) and mere abuse. I have no strong opinions one way or the other about global warming, since I have no personal expertise and can no longer know which "authorities" can be trusted -- and your evidence-free post did nothing at all to win me over to the orthodox side. All I got out of it was "Wow, this guy's really angry."

As for name-calling, I agree that there's a place for it -- as a way of condemning behavior, not beliefs or the expression thereof. To change, or cease to express, your opinions as a result of name-calling is simple cowardice, an example of the very lack of intellectual integrity you have been condemning. To call someone names in the hopes of changing their beliefs or shutting them up is to desire that they act in a cowardly and dishonest way -- hardly a good desire.

Marc said...

@Wm Jas Tychonievich

"As for name-calling, I agree that there's a place for it -- as a way of condemning behavior, not beliefs or the expression thereof."
Neither. It's a way of condemning desires, or, as in this case, the lack of some.

I agree with Alonzo that name-calling can have its place among the tools to shape desires, but I think it should be used with extreme caution. Otherwise its effects may be entirely contra-productive. Just calling someone an IDiot without further explanation will not change many desires.

anton said...

It has been a many decades since I heard someone admonished with a "Shame on you". As a society, we have become inured against most forms of name calling which has forced the name caller into more outrageous ways to communicate hatred, bigotry and contempt. It is only in recent years that the centuries old claim that atheists were "baby eaters" has been repeated. We didn't react when they said we were going to hell, so they have leveled this one against us.

dbonfitto said...

Calling someone a "name-caller" is a bit like telling your Mom that your little brother hit you back.

Anyway, Alonzo, professional tip: slow down with the "IDiot" business, it's really far too quick and too clever for the target. If you want to be sporting you've got to give them a few slow lobs first. I suggest "Big-Fat-Creationist-Cry-Babies," "Butt-Head-Denialist-Dummies," or the classic "Jerkfaces."

Alonzo Fyfe said...


As much as I appreciate your suggestions, they do not fit the proper role for 'name-calling'.

The specific moral flaw that I wish to target and condemn is the lack of intellectual integrity - the insistance on holding utterly stupid beliefs even to the point that it will get innocent people killed.

The propositions that these people put down and assert as true are absolutely idiotic. They are things that any morally responsible person would immediately grasp as being so far beyond reason and sense that they should embarrass anybody who makes them.

Of course, foolishness is not a moral crime unless and until the fool demands the authority to make law or otherwise affect others. That is where moral responsibility takes over, and foolishness must be set aside.

Wm Jas Tychonievich said...

"The propositions that these people put down and assert as true are absolutely idiotic. They are things that any morally responsible person would immediately grasp as being so far beyond reason and sense that they should embarrass anybody who makes them."

No. At best they are things that any morally responsible person, after examining the evidence in detail, would realize are almost certainly not true.

I mean, the assertions you are talking about are (1) that life on this planet was artificially created rather than arising naturally, (2) that global warming either is not a real phenomenon or is not caused by human activity, and (3) that the Nazis killed far fewer Jews and in a less systematic way than is usually supposed. How is any of these claims self-evidently ridiculous? How is it so easy to "immediately grasp" their falseness without studying the relevant issues in a fair amount of detail?