Friday, 7 November 2014

Oh MICHAEL

Hopefully the last thing I’ll have to say to Michael Nugent.

I’d like to say that I understand Michael Nugent’s claims that he’s been misrepresented. But I don’t. He’s been represented.

I don’t know why you need to keep posting your CV. We get it, Michael, you’ve done all kinds of good. Nobody ever said otherwise. But we still get to criticise you if we want. We want. We want because you are failing to take a stand on horrible behaviour. Bewilderingly, you insist on claiming that our criticisms are about you, your past and your achievements rather than about your blind – and repeatedly pointed out to you – ignorance. You deliberately and repeatedly fail to see that we don’t need or want heroes; that we admire the good things people do and deplore the bad.

That seems to me the essence of what it means to be an atheist. Christopher Hitchens was admirable in many ways and I mourn the fact that he is dead. But let’s be clear, he was a dick about some things. Richard Dawkins was responsible for my becoming a scientist. I devoured The Selfish Gene and The Extended Phenotype. The enthusiasm with which Richard communicates science is infectious. He’s always been one of the biggest influences of my life and probably always will be. I’ve met him. He’s utterly charming. But he’s clueless about several important things.

Michael, this is how we do hero worship, if we’re smart: we celebrate the good and deplore the bad. Personally, I celebrate the things Darwin was wrong about. They seem stupid in hindsight, but they were honest and fairly – at the time – reasonable attempts to solve a problem his theory predicted. That is hugely impressive, more than I’ll ever do. There should be a movie about how and why he was wrong about what came to be genetics. It’s one of the most interesting and human stories there is.

And there’s another side to this hero business, isn’t there? We know that great responsibility is a consequence of great power. Geeks like us are only just learning what that means. To be an atheist or to be a skeptic has a social consequence that I don’t think we can ignore. To be a putative leader in the atheist/skeptic movements, moreso.

So, Michael, worship heroes if you like, but recognise their failures and limitations. Worship heroes all you want but don’t be afraid to criticise them when they’re wrong. Don’t tell other people that they’re wrong to criticise your personal heroes.  Don’t let clueless rhetoric blind your otherwise good instincts for social justice.

And for fucks sake stop crying about smears.

Some people – including me – think you’ve done lots of good things for the atheist movement but have utterly disgraced yourself by tacitly endorsing horrible views and insisting that criticisms are smears. Your cluelessness was first evident to me when you insisted that victims of abuse ought to talk genially with their abusers. Lots of people explained why you were wrong but you didn’t listen. In this new case, there are at least two sides. One side constantly reinforces you because it likes what you say, whatever you say since you’re now a champion of horrible people. The other side criticises some of the things you’ve done.

Criticisms are not smears, Michael. I can tell you about smears. I can tell you that some of the people commenting on your blog have made entirely untrue and public accusations about me. Those are smears. Criticisms of you are not.

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