Some years ago, I kinda got into it with a few people on Making Light. I still don’t understand what the big deal was–we were only talking about religion and politics; why should that generate any heat? (WARNING: Irony).
The discussion involved the relationship between the two, and my contention that, ultimately, to be a theist is, in some measure, to support reaction; if not now, then someday.
First of all, can we please not talk about that? I bring it up only for context. I might be full of shit on the subject; that isn’t the point right now.
What struck me so hard was when someone said, “I feel personally insulted by your comment.”
My reaction was, and still is, “What the fuck?”
Now, it isn’t as if I find the reaction completely befuddling. I mean, if someone told me, “because you’re an atheist, you will someday become a child murderer,” I would, I’m sure, feel insulted. No, what got me is that this person appeared to believe that was an answer. I was croggled. I am still croggled. “Oh, well, you are insulted by my opinion about how the world works, therefore I must be wrong.” What? If I find it personally offensive that the speed of a falling body is independent of its speed parallel to the ground (which I do, by the way; it pisses the hell out of me) does that change how we do the calculations?
Sure, sometimes we feel insulted, and sometimes we feel attacked, just by what someone says about how things work. Of course we do; we live in this world, and who we are is innately tied to our understanding of where we fit in the world. Believing, “my religion makes me a better person,” is pretty vital; so it is quite natural that an attack on that will be insulting. If we reverse that and apply it to me, yeah, sure, I’ll feel insulted.
But that has nothing to do with whether it is true.
We are either going to share our feelings and try to make sure everyone feels good, or we are going to try to understand how the world works in order to change it. Of course, there are times when what matters is that the people around you feel warm and accepted as much as possible. Hanging out with friends, listening to music, many other activities that I love can be destroyed or harmed by an insulting comment at the wrong time. But in the fight to understand the broader world, it absolutely amazes me that there are people who believe, “I feel insulted by your opinion,” is a reasonable part of the conversation.
The thing is, versions of this seem to be coming up more and more often. Is it true, for example, that men and women have differences in their brains that, purely on biology, lead them to excel in different sorts of fields? I happen to think that’s a load of horseshit; or, at the very least, no one has ever come close to presenting a convincing argument. But the answer to it lies in research, in understanding biology, in analyzing test results the way Cordelia Fine did in Delusions of Gender. True or not, the fact that the position is offensive to women (which I think it is), is not an answer to the argument. (Caveat: If someone is taking the above position and claiming it is a defense of women, then pointing out that, in the end, it slanders women is entirely reasonable. I trust everyone can see the difference).
If we are going to change the world, if we are going to strike a blow against the oppression of women, then the first thing we need to strive for is the truth. And whether someone feels insulted just doesn’t enter into it.
Please note that this is not a reference to any particular discussion going on here, or anywhere else. So I hope you don’t feel insulted.