Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Mob Turns on Richard Dawkins

Reports are coming in of a dispute on  The history seems to be Dawkins has written a note claiming his blog forum will be more tightly moderated in light of abusive comments.  Ironically, the tight moderation will be enacted sooner than the 30 days stated because of the vitriol he received in response to his policy.

Christian bloggers of course have been on the receiving end of such vitriol for some time.  Trolls, flames, personal attacks and all the rest have been directed us for quite awhile now.  Of course I don't take part in the Schadenfreude which seems to be going around some sites, which seems to be amused by this.  These people are often the ones making insults against Christians.  Personally I'd rather the Internet be filled with a good deal more civility regardless of the topic on a forum than to see Dawkins get what he deserves.

Dawkins says in his post:

Surely there has to be something wrong with people who can resort to such over-the-top language, over-reacting so spectacularly to something so trivial. Even some of those with more temperate language are responding to the proposed changes in a way that is little short of hysterical. Was there ever such conservatism, such reactionary aversion to change, such vicious language in defence of a comfortable status quo? What is the underlying agenda of these people? How can anybody feel that strongly about something so small? Have we stumbled on some dark, territorial atavism? Have private fiefdoms been unwittingly trampled?

I believe the answer to this is: Richard Dawkins rose to fame by appealing to the mob, and now the mob has turned on him.  In his books and public statements, he has made attacks on religion which do not appeal to the intellectuals, but the mob mentality, using rhetorical flourishes to sneak past arguments which aren't valid.

The mob tends to love displays of violence and mockery.  They were the ones who flocked to the arenas during the Roman Empire, they were the ones who took part in lynching individuals, they were the ones who eventually took over French Revolution, turning on the founders.

This is the danger in the appeal to the mob.  One can encourage it to support you, but one can never fully control it.  One generally has to keep upping the ante for satiating the mob, because they become jaded.

The New Atheism has gained its appeal through pandering to the mob.  The attacks we have seen from them are that Christians are "stupid" and "irrational" and call for actions to put Christians "in their place."  The mob liked this, because of those Christians who insist that there are limits to what is acceptable behavior… limits which are unpopular in a hedonistic culture.

For long periods of time, we have seen the foul language, the insults used against the Christians.  So long as it was directed against the Christians, such things were tolerated.

However, once the mob grew angry at Dawkins and his attempts to control his site, the situation changed.  It wasn't Christians saying "You shouldn't do this."  It was Dawkins saying it.  The mob merely took their hostility to the next group "restricting" them.

So now they turned on him, using the vitriol long used against Christians against him.  The preferences of the mob have shifted further than Dawkins wishes to go, but the mob must be sated.  So once Dawkins tried to stop the mob, he paid the price.

He writes:

Be that as it may, what this remarkable bile suggests to me is that there is something rotten in the Internet culture that can vent it. If I ever had any doubts that needs to change, and rid itself of this particular aspect of Internet culture, they are dispelled by this episode.

However, he played a role in his own savaging.  By tolerating the vile attacks so long as it was directed against Christians, it becomes somewhat hypocritical for him to object when he falls out of favor and becomes the target.

Perhaps Dawkins will learn now that there is an objective standard for behavior, and that what is wrong to direct towards him is also wrong to direct against others… even Christians.

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