Reader Barry kindly alerted Chris Arnade on Twi**er to the post I wrote yesterday . As you may recall, that post criticized Arnade’s piece in the Guardian arguing that atheism is a luxury for the wealthy.
Arnade replied with a series of tw**ts :
In his first, he promised Barry to retweet my piece if I spelled his name correctly. Indeed, I think I spelled it three different ways in the first version, including “Arnaud,” which is embarrassing. (The post was written in one go with no proofing.) After Barry informed me of this tw**t, I corrected the spelling. And I apologize for the errors.
Then, the retweet. Note that my photo on Twi**er is of Pia, Hili’s predecessor (she had only one tooth, a front fang, and so she always looked as if she was grimacing):
But of course Arnade didn’t agree with my piece (he doesn’t say why, but Twi**er doesn’t allow room):
And this comment from Arnade appeared later. I can’t be sure that it’s aimed at me, but I have my suspicions. . .
1. I don’t know what Arnade’s experience has been, but when religious people disagree with me, they don’t worry about me. Yes, sometimes they do talk about hell—I’ve been damned several times—but I’ve never been brought things to read or, sadly, to eat. (Does Arnade know, though, that not all religions believe in hell? The Jews who curse me never wish for my eternal immolation.) If the faithful would bring me noms when I criticized them, I’d be as big as a house! Come on, religionists, WHERE ARE MY NOMS????
2. I will maintain until my last breath that my critique of Arnade’s views was civil. In fact, not only do I not call him “dumb,” but there are no remarks about his person in my post. I invite you to review what I said, though it’s probably a waste of time. I attacked Arnade’s argument, not his character, and even linked to his photography website. The “meanest” things I said were these:
“And [Arnade] ends his essay with about the most mean-spirited criticism of “strident” atheism that I’ve ever seen:”
“. . . Atheism is not just for the wealthy. In fact, it’s probably most useful, as Marx realized, for the downtrodden. Arnade is doing what we see so often: arguing that although religion is a delusion, and he doesn’t accept it, we must let the ‘little people’—in this case the poor and homeless—have their delusions. That is an unforgivably condescending attitude, and another sad and gratuitous swipe at New Atheism, instantiated, as always, by Dawkins. There are many atheists on this planet, and not all of them have ‘done well.'”
What Arnade said about Dawkins in his piece was at least as “bad” as that.
3. A proper answer to a thoughtful critique, if you must answer, is not “You’re being MEAN!” or “You called me DUMB!” I have learned that when an opponent concentrates on tone and darkly mentions “defamation,” that person has no good counterarguments.
Well, at least Arnade didn’t threaten to sue me.
Finally, people who write on the Web need to learn at least four things:
ROOLZ FOR DISCOURSE ON THE INTERWEBZ:
- This is the Internet, and the nature of discourse is informal, not academic. Do not expect to be treated with kid gloves.
- If you criticize someone’s ideas, or even call them names, that is not libel in the U.S.A. I could call someone horribly offensive names, or say that they’re crackpots, and those aren’t actionable offenses. Even less actionable is criticism of someone’s ideas. I try to do the latter, not the former, but there is a certain type of writer—I won’t name names—who sees any criticism as either a personal attack or, indeed, libel. These people need to grow a thicker skin, and realize that even if people have osculated their rumps for years, the osculatee is not immune to criticism. Before you threaten someone with a lawsuit, look up what constitutes an actionable offense on the Internet. Scientists, especially, should realize this, for all our lives we’re inundated with strong criticism (some of the reviewers of my papers, for instance, have said some pretty dire and personal things). If I could sue for criticism or character attacks, I’d have put the Discovery Institute out of business!
- And this lesson applies especially to Arnade: the proper response to criticism of your ideas is either a judicious silence (recommended in Arnade’s case) or a point-by-point response. The proper response is not to say that your critics have called you “dumb,” particularly when they haven’t.
- Tone trolling is not a response, and you don’t convince anyone when you play the “hurt feelings” card.