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Thursday, June 19, 2014

Reflection on my recent encounter at Jerry Coyne's blog

There's one more facet of my recent encounter on Jerry Coyne's blog that I haven't commented on.  My first comment on the thread was a criticism of Coyne.  He was impressed by the number of people who responded to Sam Harris' Moral Landscape Challenge, saying that it shows just how many people take Sam Harris' views seriously.  Here's my criticism:

"I don’t take Sam’s views seriously, and I wouldn’t assume that most, let alone all, of the respondents did so because they take his views seriously. What they presumably take seriously is the opportunity to get published on his blog, earn $2,000 and possibly, just possibly, change his mind. What I take seriously is the fact that so many people take him Sam Harris seriously. I wrote my essay because I think his views are not worth taking seriously, and I think there is a serious problem with the way so many people follow him.
By the way, my essay was not entered into the competition, because I didn’t learn of the competition until after the deadline. But I wrote one anyway."

Here's how one commenter, GBJames, responded to that:

"Wait… Other people were only motivated by the hope of winning $2000 but you wrote a response without any possibility of a cash reward?

Sounds to me that you take his views seriously even if you don’t like them."

Note the mischaracterization:  I did not say that anybody was "only motivated by the hope of winning" money.  Also note the fact that GBJames jumped to a personal conclusion about me that explicitly contradicts the views I expressed.  That is neither charitable nor friendly.  In my response to GBJames, I did not point any of that out.  Instead, I merely explained that I did, in fact, hope to gain some monetary reward when I wrote my essay.  I wrote:

"Actually, part of me did hope that my essay would still be considered for some monetary reward–I even emailed Russell just to see if there was a chancen–but mainly, I hoped (and still hope) my essay would help people see through the bad arguments that pass for “informed” philosophy in places such as this."
Here's how GBJames responded to that comment:
"Then why not assume that other people who responded were motivated by a similar desire to make what they think is a good case to convince others of their view?"
I then pointed out that GBJames had misunderstood me.  If you reread my initial comment, I did say that we should presume people were interested in changing Sam Harris' mind.  It is obvious that anybody who responded to the Challenge was trying to change minds, and nothing I wrote implies otherwise.  Yet, GBJames continued to mischaracterize my position in an uncharitable way.  Eventually, he wrote this:

"When you demean the arguments of others by saying they are simply motivated by money (compared to your own presumably noble motives) you poison the well. Similar to telling others that they aren’t thinking carefully enough. Such comments provoke the kind of response that the roolz prohibit. I’ll disengage now."
 Now he not only repeats the same misrepresentation of my view, but claims I am poisoning the well.  That is nonsense.  If I were poisoning the well, that would mean I was trying to argue against a position by discrediting the source.  But I was not arguing against the people who responded to Sam Harris' essay, nor was I trying to discredit anyone as a reliable source.  The accusation of "poisoning the well" is ridiculous and shows a clear lack of careful thought.  In addition, GBJames claims that I was trying to put myself above the other people who responded to Harris' Challenge, even though I had already explained that I was, in fact, interested in a monetary reward.  That is simply careless.  How ironic that this all comes at the same time GBJames gets all high and mighty because I accused him of not thinking carefully enough about what I had been saying.

In sum, GBJames was arrogant, foolish, uncharitable and unfriendly, and stubbornly misrepresented my views, displaying a lack of careful thought.  Besides reasonshark (whose confusion and misunderstanding I have already documented), GBJames is the only person who expressed any displeasure at my posts before Coyne told me to leave his blog.  If that is the kind of poster that Coyne prefers to keep around, I'm happy to stay out of his playground.

What I think should be obvious is that I was not kicked off his blog for being rude or arrogant, or for breaking any rules.  I was kicked off because Jerry Coyne does not like what I have to say.