“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The nature of blogging

I've had the good fortune to be cited at Swans on Tea and to be included in the blog roll at Dot Physics. This has been gratifying, we all want to be heard when we step onto our soapbox. However, it's caused me to wonder what's really going on when we blog.

Naturally, I've gone to other blogs on the blog rolls of each of those sites, and on to others from those. This is what "web surfing" was about back when I first got involved with the internet in 1995 (holy crap, by the way). Several times, through circuitous routes, I wound up coming to various blogs from different directions. Thus, one might speculate that I would find myself in general agreement with the editorial viewpoint of such blogs. After all, I got there, in a sense, from my own. Is this true and does it matter?

The answers are "not necessarily" and "I think so." For example, I wound up on a site called Pharyngula, published by a biologist named PZ Myers. It is a stridently atheistic site. Now, at various times in my life I've been militantly atheistic, I've been a Christian believer, and I've been agnostic. I'm currently in "searching" mode and find much of value in the essays of Professor Steven Dutch's "Science, Pseudoscience, and Irrationalism" pages. Dr. Dutch, a professor in the Earth Sciences department at the University of Wisconsin Green Bay, is relentlessly rational and no one that I've read does a better job of demolishing all manner of pseudoscience. And yet, he is a person of faith.

The Pharyngula blog is one of many at a site called ScienceBlogs. Another is the Denialism Blog which discusses a variety of pseudoscientific and crank ideas. Typical targets are Intelligent Design proponents, global warming denialists, Holocaust denialists, 9/11 conspiracy theorists, etc. Sometimes they may point out the logical fallacies present in the arguments of the denialists, other times they may delve into their psychology. I find myself generally aligned with the viewpoints presented. But not always and not completely.

After a comment I added to a post in Pharyngula I found myself characterized as an idiot, an absolute lunatic, a troll, a slimy troll, and a dipshit (though the person who called me the last weakly retracted it), and was told to "fuck off." Then, not surprisingly, when I did so I was accused of "stomping off in a huff." What was my offense? Well, the post topic was a video featuring Bill Donohue being quite belligerent toward a victim of sexual abuse by the Catholic clergy.

Now, I found Donohue's behavior reprehensible and never said otherwise. But I did feel, reading the comments, an air of smug superiority in the commenters with the flavor of "this kind of thing would never happen but for the unenlightened, superstitious, theistic thinking of the Catholic Church." I concede that I chose a confrontational way of making this point, to wit, I wrote:

"The context of this post and of the video is implying something to the effect that 'theistic thinking increases the likelihood of sexual and physical abuse of minors.'

So, then, may I assume, based on Stalin's Soviet Union, that 'atheistic thinking increases the likelihood of mass murder?'"

My point was that evil is evil and those who engage in it will use whatever is their (or the prevailing) ideology to justify such behavior, should such justification be necessary.

I would not have chosen such an incendiary entry into the discussion but the air of self-righteous chest thumping (interspersed with various suggestions of physical abuse and torture to be inflicted upon Mr. Donohue, quoting one of Myers' favorite phrases, "I kid you not") of some (not all) of the participants was quite off-putting. And yet, I undoubtedly have much in common with many of the contributors. The blogosphere, like politics, makes strange bedfellows.

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