Wednesday, February 8

The Insufferable Trollishness of "Brights"

Pharaohmagnetic linked a Salon article on Dennet's new book. Oz linked a Globe and Mail review as well. I haven't read the book, and out of a lack of desire to dent my drywall with it in frustration, I don't think I will.

My problem with the book -- indeed, with Dennett's whole modus operandi -- isn't so much his ideas. In fact, I'm quite happy to adopt a reductionist approach to religion and the mind; personally, I've never really had any reason to believe I was anything more than meat. That said, the term "bright," as a rebranding of the atheism associated with the reductionist approach to the human mind, is tragically misguided.

The analogy to the term that homosecual activists introduced --"gay"-- is instructive mostly for the main difference between "gay" and "bright": the former has no connotations that related to what homosexuality was or wasn't. On the other hand, "bright" most certainly does. By choosing a word that is already loaded with positive connotations of intelligence, Dennett not-so-subtly trolls the theists of the world by suggesting that they are NOT bright in *any* sense of the word -- that they are, because they believe, stupid.

Having chosen that term, Dennett condemns his arguments to two separate ratholes:
(1) the term won't see any uptake among people who do consider themselves part of the group, because they will preceive it as derogatory
(2) When other works criticise Dennett, criticism of his arguments will get obscured by objections to the term itself.

The latter is by far the most pernicious, because it allows Dennett a defense against his critics that has nothing to do with the strength of his arguments. He gets to spend time lording it over theists who object (rightly!) to his terminology, pointing out that the terminology is beside the point, rather than addressing their concerns with his logic. He's manufactured a totally unnecessary controversy, one that will take time and column-inches on both sides of the debate while contributing very little to the advancement of the state of the art. Breaking the Spell is the inverse of a polished turd: it's a good idea, presented with a coating of stank-ass slime. As such, I propose that we refer to Dennetian ideas, and the people who present them, as "rectal" (or perhaps "sewerish"; please comment if you can come up with a better term. I'm looking for something that conveys the idea of something that produces something good covered in something bad.)

Really, Dennet has crafted an extended troll of the religion-vs-science debate. An admirably complete and successful troll, but a troll nonetheless. In fact, I've succumbed to it myself. I just wrote -- and you just read -- close to 600 words about it. I'd rather them to have been about the book itself, but the best trolls demand a response, don't they?

1 comment:

Fraxas said...

...followup from Oz' comments-closed post: I did know, before the article was published, that he didn't coin the term himself. Nevertheless, he is making an effort to popularize it, and its use in his book *does* constitute a troll. And Oz and I both continue to contribute to the success of the troll by commenting at length on it and not on the book itself -- in fact, he even adopts the lording-it attitude I predicted he would! And I'm adopting the attitude of moral outrage I predicted *I* would!