Contributed by Anthony Grayling, this is a good reminder to accommodationists:
Catchy, but not accurate. Empathy can open the door to dialogue and education.
Isn’t that the point of the quote?
Is it? I interpreted it in a more negative way as cautioning one not to empathize.
Me too. The out-of-context quote wouldn’t be good advice to a special needs teacher.
I guess that is why it wasn’t directed at a special needs teacher or child.
This is more about the ideas, than the person holding them.
It’s a rebuttal to the “both sides” argument. There is no reason why Creationism should be treated as if anyone should take it seriously or respectfully.
You certainly shouldn’t abuse the person who thinks it is true, but you don’t have to treat the idea as though it is a valid one, anymore than you would be able to keep the smile off your face if someone claimed that Nessie was real.
Quite well put. Loving kindness is always best, accompanied when practicable with kindly hints toward a better way than stupidity. Avoidance is often the most optimum, not to mention least stressful, option, and my personal favorite. Of course at times resistance, if/as necessary, is required.
I know it’s common to use the word “respect” as you did, but I think doing so obfuscates your intended meaning. There is absolutely a sense in which Creationism needs to be “respected”, which has nothing to do with its being true, and everything to do with its delusive power. The real question is “what do we do about Creationism?” and anybody who advocates mocking and scorning it carries the burden of proof for showing that doing so will work. So far, it seems to me that even that burden becomes the object of ridicule, as I’m sure the person hiding behind the “Notagod” avatar will be happy to demonstrate for us.
Do you think unevidenced, counter-evidenced beliefs like creationism should be countered? If so what methods do you advocate? Can you provide good evidence that your preferred methods do, or will, work?
Do you contend that mocking and scorning such beliefs is never warranted? Never useful in changing others’ beliefs?
What do you mean by “will work?” Would you consider the many self reported accounts of believers shedding their belief in god in part due to experiencing or witnessing their religious beliefs being subjected to mockery and scorn as reasonable evidence of “will work?” If not, why?
That mockery and scorn are typically perceived as being impolite, and that people often respond to them by becoming offended, does not self evidently lead to their employment being ineffective at helping people change their minds about their strongly held beliefs.
Great questions! Unfortunately there’s hardly enough space to answer them here. If you want to re-pose them on my own blog, I will give it a shot. Maybe you can add them to comments on the following post: http://greatbandwagon.com/2013/08/08/what-is-disdain-free-activism/
Thanks in advance!
Respect the creationist, not the creationism.
I agree that this “hate the sin, not the sinner” idea is a real and legitimate distinction to make in principle. The problem is that in practice it tends to degenerate into just hating the sinner too. I think the reason for this is that the beliefs being mocked are not just ordinary beliefs like “I left my car keys on the table”. They are sacred world-view beliefs, and it is very difficult for the believers not to take it very personally when they are mocked.
If the christian takes it very personally then they are too wrapped up in it. In that case they are a problem to the pursuit of a well functioning society. They are likely before that but, are definitely a problem by then.
Seriously, this concept of be nice to the christians has been tried extensively, it doesn’t work. The christian is never satisfied, they want everything. The christian sees kindness as weakness and that society is ripe for further christian encroachment. Pushing back against the christian hard and often is the only approach that has had any success.
If you keep pushing your be nice to the christians (who really are the aggressive ones) you won’t get anywhere among gnu atheists. If you want to be helpful, go convince the christian that they shouldn’t be forcing their myths on others. I predict you will find the reasons for our position. Don’t assume your ideas haven’t been tried without success.
Why don’t you go god bother the christians?
“If you want to be helpful, go convince the christian that they shouldn’t be forcing their myths on others.”
Actually I plan to do just that. But I need to work out my technique, hone my skills, etc. on my home turf first, with my fellow unbelievers. As far as I can tell, a disdain-addict is a disdain-addict. Some use a god to get high, some use reality.
At the end of the day, unless everybody sobers up, gives up the drug, then we’re all pretty much screwed.
Wish me luck!
Well, as long as you’ve found a way to be superior to both.
“Well, as long as you’ve found a way to be superior to both.”
Is that directed at me? If so, what is it supposed to mean?
The word he used was ‘stupidity’, not ‘ignorance’.
But only with stupidity; it does not warn one not to empathize with anything else related to the human condition.
It is simply a humourous way of saying: One cannot know what it feels like (empathy)to have a mental deficiency (stupidity)they do not possess.
It is quite accurate, insofar as stupidity being a crude word describing a mental deficiency that prevents learning and meaningful conversation.
An excellent message, but it’s a little ironic that this has been produced by The Guardian newspaper.
Whilst being a very good newspaper in general, they host quite a few accommodationists and apologists for religion.
That’s a great quote and I really do need to read some Iain Banks novels. It is tragic that he left us so early as I hear such good things about him.
He wrote his straight fiction as Iain Banks, I recommend “The Wasp Factory” as a good introduction.
He wrote science fiction as Iain M. Banks, for a culture novel try “Consider Phlebas”, for a non culture novel there is “Against A Dark Background”.
Thanks – added to my giant book list!
‘Giant book lists’, tell me about it
I take comfort from Umberto Ecco, who I think said his library was an ‘anti’ Library, containing all the books he wanted to read.
Yes, I think I’m going the way of Umberto Eco. I fall asleep when I read now more than ever. It’s like some form of specific narcolepsy so I read at night. I tried to get get through reading a play yesterday and fell asleep in the afternoon.
It’s a conditioning conspiracy! I like to read at bedtime for several reasons and at times for the express purpose of passing time until my mind wants to sleep. But, at other times I want to read to accomplish a learning exercise and my conditioned brain decides it is time to fall asleep. Its a conspiracy I tell ye.
I have found that the ability to find sleep through a book, can also be a great comfort at times as well, but I have actually started setting aside time in the morning to read.
And I managed to spell Eco’s name wrong… hides my head in shame… thank you.
Hi sleepy head!
If you’re nodding off to books, then why not begin with Banks’ short story collection for Kindle?
The State Of The Art
[I've provided the amazon.ca link]
I’ve read everything that he’s written. I love both sides of his writing, but I think the SciFi “Culture” series gave him the large canvas he needed to explore his ideas about personal & political freedoms & responsibilities
He’s witty, disturbing & rather vicious at times. His full length books are complex in their structure with intertwining plots some of which run backwards so not recommended for dipping in & out of ~ you will ahem… literally lose the plot
A positive to note:- His female characters are all strong ~ not the usual background wallpaper
I’ve read his first three Culture novels so far. It is fairly easy to tell that he also writes mainstream literary fiction, from certain structural and stylistic elements he employs.
If you’re interested, his Wikiquote page is pretty much all my work; it’s at:
It’s unfortunate that we lost him, as well as Octavia Butler and Kage Baker, so early (none of the three survived to age 60).
Thanks, I’ll take a look! His writing does seem very good and I do want to read his stuff. It sucks that I only came to know of him once he was ill.
I don’t know the context or the quote, but my own interpretation of what’s meant by “empathize with stupidity” is that it’s another way of phrasing the advice I so often get from the religious/spiritual: admit that it’s ‘possible’ and nod with approval and appreciation for diversity.
After all, it’s just opinion, anyway — and a matter of choosing who you are. One view is as likely to be as right as any other so the important thing is to be empathetic. Focus on the person and their need to believe and how it helps them and how it works in their life. Tell them it’s okay to disagree … and then DROP IT.
That’s one of the “Shut Up, That’s Why” arguments.
Or, maybe, a Little People Argument (“little folks can’t handle the truth like we can so it’s cruel to expect them to.”) They pull this when they go into Therapist/Anthropologist/Academic Mode. “We should never condemn; we should seek only to understand.”
By the way, I think Jerry’s title is referencing this similar quotation:
“Squatting in between those on the side of reason and evidence and those worshipping superstition and myth is not a better place. It just means you’re halfway to crazy town.” (PZ Myers)
Powerful claim! Do we have any actual evidence to back it up? Or should we just take it on faith?
I am really not sure what they meant to say but what they actually do say is not very useful. If you don’t empathise with your target audience, how can you possibly reach them? I think what most people don’t understand is that the life of the stupid is mostly about confusion and anxiety. A not very bright friend of mine once described high-school to me, as a place where she never understood a thing anyone said to her. Imagine living like that. It must be very frightening and alienating, and eventually cause bitterness and resentment, to be constantly confused and often humiliated by people who have no idea what you’re going through. Such people are no doubt highly susceptible for those who talk to them with empathy and make things comprehensible for them, if that’s not going to be rational people it may well be the religious and other con-artists, who offer to do their thinking for them and then go the extra mile and tell them that education and reason are actually a hindrance to salvation. Empathy is crucial, it doesn’t imply joining in the stupidity, merely trying to understand it.
I like your comment. It must be terrible going through life feeling that each morsel of knowledge or wit has flown by just out of reach
Juboal-Rabaroansa Perosteck Alseyn Balveda dam T’seif, the woman in the story who spoke those lines… misspoke IMO
Very well said! You know it occurs to me that those who criticize empathy may actually be suffering from some form of autism spectrum disorder such as Asperger’s syndrome, and as such, are empathy deficient. It seems to me a little like a person who cannot detect the color green criticizing all the fuss people make about green.
As you pointed out in your first sentence there is very little to go on in trying to determine what the precise intended meaning of this quote is. I agree with what you say in your comment regarding empathy, but I am not condfident that it applies to the intended meaning of the quote. It may, but I can easily think of other interpretations of the quote to which your comment does not apply.
To add to the confusion there is also the matter of who’s intent / interpretation to consider.
The author’s?. No longer available for comment.
The character who spoke it? Never was available for comment.
AC Grayling’s? It would be great if someone likely to get a response could ask him to address this. He has never seemed to me to lack empathy or express disdain for it. Quite the opposite.
Professor Coyne? Perhaps you could clarify your interpretation a bit? Again, Professor Coyne has never seemed to be particularly lacking in empathy or disdainful of it. Quite the opposite.
The two key words are, of course, “empathize” and “stupidity.” Both these words have a large spectrum of meanings highly dependent on perceived context. I think in situations like this many people tend to favor an interpretation which allows them to say what they want to say. Some reasonably, while acknowleding they may not have interpreted the intended meaning accurately. Others, less reasonably.
Well, yes, the trouble with this quote is that (to me, at least) the word “empathy” seems out of place. I ordinarily understand “empathy” to mean a vicarious sense of someone else’s emotional state or, abstracting that just a bit, the ability to see the world through another’s eyes. No doubt there are other uses/meanings, but at a glance, it would seem impossible to empathize with anything other than a fellow sentient being with subjective experience similar enough to your own that you can “translate” a bit. Therefore, it can be tricky to empathize with a spider or fish, much easier with a primate. But what could it mean to empathize with an abstract concept? Presumably, nothing.
But whoever wrote it was likely well aware of that common usage of the word and decided to use it anyway. It must mean something. It could be a warning against empathizing with stupid /people/, but empathizing with stupid people (whomever that may entail) would seem like a useful and necessary thing. As you pointed out, neither Jerry nor the commentariat here are known for dissing empathy toward human beings’ emotional states, only for claiming that these emotional states do not constitute respectable evidence for the supernatural claims they often accompany.
We can never accept it but we can understand that it was taught to children prior to critical thinking and often enforced by culture. We need to teach that what man has created in religion and culture can and should be changed when found to be harmful, delusional, contradictory, or just plain absurd.
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