Apparently I’m good at making people angry. A few weeks ago, a person for whom I have tons of respect sent me an email warning me that some of my writings in this blog — posts about religion and politics — have really offended some people. This individual’s concerns were couched in terms of the effects the blog might have on my career: my views might alienate people, potentially keeping them from wanting to work with me. However, and maybe it’s just me being paranoid, there was also a subtext to the email that maybe my blog was giving off cooties that could harm people who are connected with me professionally, and make them need to distance themselves from me.
I realize that I say some pretty unalloyed things on here, but I wonder what in particular sets me beyond the pale? True, I have called Richard Dawkins an insufferable douche on multiple occassions, but that’s a pretty common opinion both in and out of academia. I’ve singled out a few others by name that I believe are “part of the problem” when it comes to the politicization of evolutionary theory. I’m generally ornery, and use a lot of curse words. But where’s the unacceptable over-the-topness that might make my colleagues want to wash their hands of me?
In re-reading my posts, perhaps the most aggressive word I use, and use often, is my referring to Christians as “Christers”. I use that word because about half of my posts could be read as apologies for Christian fundamentalism, and I want to be as clear as I can be that I’m not a Christian, nor do I actively support their wrong, discriminatory, and superstitious behaviors. I look at fundie Christians the way I look at ugly endangered species; they have a right to exist in the habitat where they’ve always been, and however obnoxious they may appear, our world is richer for their presence. That, and in the modern world, particularly in the circles I move in, they are weak, and much of what is said about them strikes me as cruel bullying unworthy of serious people. But while I’m skewering the antireligious leftists who abuse them, I have to also skewer the Christers with a little name-calling. Fair and balanced, mon ami.
So… I’m coarse, I curse a lot, I call people names and say things that aren’t polite. I thought I had been pretty good about keeping this blog in an obviously exaggerated persona. I think my angry backwoods metalhead shtick is pretty funny, but I guess I’m not as amusing as I thought.
I admit to being totally floored by this email from my colleague. I absolutely didn’t see it coming, and it frankly crushed me that this person might look askance on me for speaking my mind. I remember feeling the same way when, shortly after 9/11/01, my parents said some things that made me feel like a cold-blooded traitor for my view that the US provoked the attacks and our moronic foreign policy was as much to blame as the terrorists themselves. In both cases, I felt torn between unpopular (but correct) viewpoints and my desire to have the respect of the people closest to me.
I think the most likely source of tension that this blog generates is from my criticism of many members of my profession — academic scientists — for their outspoken left-wing partisanship and hatred of religion. The individual who wrote the email to me kindly pointed out that in real life I’m very personable. Like most people, I have the common decency not to talk lightly about politics and religion in public. In most workplace environments these topics don’t come up much because nobody wants a fight. Unfortunately, academia is so monolithically leftist that there’s no reason for partisans not to hawk up their diatribes on the job. Who’s gonna fight when everybody already agrees? People freely bring up politics and religion all the goddamn time at work. They talk about how awesome their leftist altruism is; they pat each other on the back about how progressive they are for rejecting the superstitions and prejudices of the old world.
An anecdote: I spent my (recent) 40th birthday at a scientific meeting. That night, we went out to eat as a group, and I found myself sitting next to an imminent scientist, with several other senior people nearby: I was by far the most junior person there. The man sitting next to me went into a diatribe about how people who disagree with President Obama are racists. Not because he murders American children, or steals my money and uses it to violate my civil liberties — I don’t like him because he’s black. Everybody within earshot vocally agreed with him, even when he piled on and got more and more extreme and insulting to whites and Republicans. Now, if anybody in any other profession had said such a thing at a business dinner, he would have had to deal with at least a handful of angry retorts. But in science? Everybody agrees, so you can be as extreme and brutal as you want and nothing happens. Poe’s law was made for this world.
Living like that — constantly biting your tongue when people are unknowingly mocking you right in front of your face, day in and day out — is exceedingly frustrating. I could engage them in debate, but a lifetime of experience arguing with leftists (and Christers, for that matter) suggests that they would just gang up on me and life would be even more uncomfortable for me afterwards. So I vent on the blog.
But beyond just venting, I believe it’s important to say the things I say on ASD, if for no other reason than to let other people like me know they aren’t alone. Increasingly we try to think about who we’re pushing away from science. For instance, we struggle to figure out why women and some racial minorities remain underrepresented in science despite decades of efforts to increase their numbers. One prevailing idea is that the culture of science causes many such people to feel uncomfortable, unwanted, or unhappy amongst us, such that they tend to stay away. Some people have the single-minded focus to say to hell with feeling bad, and these people often succeed in science. But most people have the sense to move away from environments that make them feel like crap.
Well honey, let me tell ya, science culture is openly hostile to people with even vaguely traditional worldviews. Conservatives, libertarians, the religious, one-earner families, people who aren’t convinced Europeans are the cancer of world history, and anyone else who disagrees with the leftist Weltanschauung are often going to feel alienated and isolated in this world. If we’re trying not to drive people away from science, how can we not take notice of this mistreatment of 42% of the US population?
The leftist authorities want to remind us how important diversity is — people from different backgrounds bring different viewpoints to a project. Can the same thing not be said about political temperaments? There’s as much evidence that politics are genetically hard-wired as there is that, say, sexual preference is hard-wired. When prominent evolutionary biologists fill there supposedly-about-science blogs with dipshit nonsense like marking out “God” on the backs of dollar bills, how can we even pretend we aren’t systematically excluding even the mildly religious from science? This sort of thing isn’t an intellectual debate about the merits of faith — it’s vile, unadulterated mockery, and it’s literally everywhere in my profession.
I can’t help but note that the individual who wrote me this email about how ASD is dangerously over the top doesn’t mind linking to the aforementioned “evolution” blog.
In deference to my career I’ve removed links to this blog from anything connected to my real world persona (not that it would be that hard to figure out who I am). I’ve also killed anything that links directly to people I’ve worked with over the years: I can’t expect others to choose to make this fight with me, and don’t want to force them to make a choice between working with me and disavowing my politics. But I’m not going to shut up, and if anything this email has solidified the nascent focus of this blog. Women and minorities have tons of advocates online. ASD will be the voice of the right-wing minority in academia, and the legions of traditionalist people driven away from our profession by rampant discrimination and mistreatment.
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