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Utterly gobsmacked

Sometimes you read something that you have every reason to believe was written by a sane, intelligent and logical person, and you are shocked. Shocked at how incredibly twisted this sane, intelligent and logical person’s perspective could be regarding one singular subject their pen encountered. Tim Blair points out such an example. To quote the estimable Mr Blair’s post:

Graeme Blundell’s review of The Falling Man includes a curious claim:

In an extraordinary act of national media self-censorship, several days after the photograph appeared, it vanished. Papers across the US defended themselves against charges of invading a dying man’s privacy and turning tragedy into pornography. The photograph became impermissible. There was a deeply held belief the deaths of the jumpers weren’t proper, indeed that they were cowardly. [JW – Blair’s emphasis, not mine] The images that came to symbolise the day were of helmeted heroic rescuers working in the rubble and the jumpers disappeared to the shameful websites that traffic in autopsy photos and videotapes of executions.

The commenters at Tim’s site rightfully voiced their disgust at such a sentiment. I could not help but marvel at the sheer ignorance betrayed by the author’s reading of events, too. I quite confidently assert, with no supporting evidence, that not one media outlet in the Western world even briefly pondered cowardice as a motive of those wretched jumpers. The fact that Blundell so egregiously detects this wildly inaccurate perception as a “deeply held belief” amongst many suggests to me that this is his own delusion, which is where the ignorance part introduces itself. When trapped out on a stricken building’s precipice – with intolerable heat and the promise of excruciating pain at one’s back and cool, open air at one’s front – people do jump. I cannot possibly know or understand what would be running through a desperate victim’s mind at a time like that, but I would guess that a very basic, elemental survival mechanism – buried deep in our ancient animal instincts and wholly unencumbered by conscious and cerebral rationality – might well be invoked. Step back into a hellish inferno and certain death. Step forward into benevolent – tragically fleetingly benevolent – open air and possible survival. Only one profoundly ignorant of the human condition would mistake the latter choice as an act of cowardice.

On a lighter note; since I have mentioned Tim Blair here, I may as well press an unrelated fact. The man is right up there with the very wittiest writers in the blogosphere. In the middle of a gadfly-esque post confronting the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s marketing of a book published by them (the book is also written by an ABC science broadcaster) – whereby Blair contrasts a strident and hyperbole-ridden stance towards the rather wacky and more-or-less harmless Intelligent Design movement with the ABC’s generally sheepish reaction to the world’s most dangerous religious phenomena – we stumble across Exhibit A:

I’m not religious, so I don’t have a God in this fight

Brilliant.

37 comments to Utterly gobsmacked

  • Depends. Atheists are often just as dogmatic, pedantic, and absolutely certain of themselves as any religious fanatic. In the mathematical spirit of A = not A, the atheists nonGod is rhetorically equal to God.

    To the atheist who is sure of themselves, I’ll quote a famous scientist I respect, “Only a fool is sure.”

  • Mike – I’m sorry, but I don’t really understand your point vis-a-vis the content of my post.

  • Chris Harper

    James,

    You may be right in your assesment of Tim Blairs site, and I am somewhat in agreement, but there is another side to it as well.

    I often leave his site with a nasty taste in my mouth. His items, and more especially the commentators, confuse wit and argument with sarcasm and personal abuse.

    Sometimes, when reading his site, I get some understanding of the mentality of the howling mob.

  • Chris: some of TB’s regulars are a little unpolished, granted. However, for your truly authentic “howling mob” kicks, the discerning blog consumer looks no further than the comments threads of the often useful Little Green Footballs blog. Better still, DailyKos and its acolytes.

  • Julian Taylor

    Our modern history is indeed littered with imagery of men and women’s last moments and, often unfortunately, many of those images stick quite heavily in our minds. Several shots come to mind – Eddie Adams’ Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing Viet Cong Captain Nguyen Van Lem in 1969, as mentioned in the article, or the (at the time) truly shocking film footage of a mortally wounded US tank commander falling out of his blazing Sherman during the battle of Cologne. My personal unpleasant memory (amongst many) would probably be of very close UP/ITN coverage of a man shot in the chest in Palace Square in Bucharest, during the 1989 revolution, slowly collapsing onto the ground. Point being that yes, it is indeed unpleasant to have these rather intimate and uncomfortable shots taken of what we mostly feel should be a very private moment.

    As for the ‘coward’ slur against those unfortunate souls Graeme Blundell really should know better at how to phrase his words, unless of course they were deliberately aimed in that manner in which case God rot him.

  • Chris Harper

    James, Agreed.

    I occasionally read comments at TB, less often I comment myself. I seldom read comments at LGF, it just isn’t worth going through all that dross for the occasional nugget of gold.

  • uncle kenny

    “Cowardly”, of course, has come to be the standard term of disapproval for all acts that we cannot (or chose not) to comprehend. Routinely suicide bombers are referred to as “cowardly”, an absurd characterization at any level other than the polemic.

  • I don’t think a popular site should be judged by the comments (Samizdata being a notable exception, of course).

    I only read the posts on Tim Blair’s site and skip the comments, as I think the latter don’t do the former many favours. As mentioned above, LGF’s posts are usually pretty good but judged by the content in the comments the site itself has a poor reputation. Harry’s Place is rapidly going down the path of a quality site with rabid idiots dominating the comments section, and I really hope that doesn’t happen here.

    As for Tim Blair himself, he’s a nice bloke. I met up with him briefly in Kuwait, and gave him a lift to the airport. Even if you don’t like his political views, you can’t accuse him of not being friendly.

  • guy herbert

    Intelligent design really isn’t more-or-less harmless, you know. It’s very harmful. Just not homicidal, unlike some other faith-based initiatives.

  • How is it very harmful, Guy?

  • APL

    uncle kenny: “Routinely suicide bombers are referred to as “cowardly”, an absurd characterization at any level other than the polemic.”

    In my opinion a suicide bomber is a coward in that he chooses to attack unarmed civilians with out warning or scruple. It is certanly not the action of a brave person, lots and lots of people commit suicide, an act which is essentially a private affair. Suicide as an act of butchery is a cowardly pathological act.

  • Routinely suicide bombers are referred to as “cowardly”, an absurd characterization at any level other than the polemic.

    I have to agree with ‘uncle kenny’ on this. Suicide bombers may be psychotic or psychopathic and when they blow up a pizza parlour full of Israeli teenagers, they are without doubt unspeakably monstrous, but to call them “cowardly” is preposterous.

    They are not cowards and to call them that is quite simply a category error. A more correct description is that they are evil.

  • Chris Harper

    I’m with Perry on this one.

    Sacrificing yourself for your beliefs is a brave act, that your beliefs are unspeakably evil and vicious tosh is beside the point.

    Guy,
    The ID debate is currently raging on Tim Blairs site if you want to join it.

    Going great guns it is too.

  • The “cowardly” jumpers? I did pick up alot of rather twisted comments since the event which was linked to the Catholic viewpoint on suicide (i.e. going to hell – to visit Allah, I guess).

  • I have a foot in both camps. As Chris said, killing yourself for your beliefs does require bravery. However such people are engaging in warfare, and targeting innocent civilians is cowardly warfare.

  • How is it very harmful, Guy?

    It’s a deliberate attempt to replace science education with religious instruction. Don’t take my word for it; read what they say themselves. (Easy to read version here.)

  • Johnathan Pearce

    Mike Lorrey, dearie me. Atheism is the absence of belief, which is hardly the same as belief in an ineffable, unquantifiable, unseen “being” called a God. The absence of belief in X is very different from belief in X. One does not have to prove a negative. Crikey man, this is basic Logic 101.

    James, good point in the original post. Blundell is doing what a lot of writers sometimes do: projecting his own views onto others. It is a common failing and it happens all the time.

    I don’t tend to read Tim Blair much these days. He is funny at times but I prefer to read longer articles that go into subjects in a bit more thoughtful detail. Maybe my blog reading and writing habits have changed.

  • Pixy – I’m aware of these efforts. I still struggle to see ID as harmful at this point in time. It’s conceivable that ID could become harmful – like an infinite number of ideas and theories circulating today – however ID, like any other theory, has to gain widespread acceptance first. And in the secular and fashionably anti-Christian West, the chances of that are…?

  • Well, “harmful” is relative. Compared to the dangers presented by radical Islam on the one hand, and the dissolution of academia into Post-Modernist nonsense on the other hand, no, it’s not a major problem.

    But I really think you underestimate its popularity. ID (and related nonsense like Creation Science) is hugely popular among the American public, and I run into it constantly. Not accepted at all by scientists, of course, but the potential for damage is there. We don’t want to see what happened to non-scientific academic pursuits happen to science as well.

  • Midwesterner

    Basic logic 102 – When atheism and agnosticism are used in the same forum, as they both are in Samizdata, then atheism is used to mean a belief that there is no god. Agnosticism means uncertainty.

  • guy herbert

    But I really think you underestimate its popularity. ID (and related nonsense like Creation Science) is hugely popular among the American public, and I run into it constantly.

    ID (though not Creation Science) is also encountered with increasing frequency among Christian social conservatives in Britain – where the two cultures are still firmly divided. You can have first class education here without the smallest grasp of science (that would be the one our higher journalists and politicians had); and unless you do get a first class education (of the science-inclusive variety) what science you get is likely to be very diluted stamp-collecting.

    Where New Labour stands on Intelligent Design is unclear – though “Christian social conservative with no scientific education” covers several of the most powerful ministers. It is a deliberate rhetorical power-play of the sort we have seen so successful in their politics.

  • guy herbert

    …and the dissolution of academia into Post-Modernist nonsense on the other hand

    Oh, I think it is a malign consequence of that. The feebleness of ratiocination and diminution of intellectual authority under the PoMo invasions means real nasties like ID and the fundamentalisms can flourish like opportunistic infections as never before.

  • When atheism and agnosticism are used in the same forum, as they both are in Samizdata, then atheism is used to mean a belief that there is no god. Agnosticism means uncertainty.

    Well, technically agnosticism is a statement on knowledge – whether the nature of God is knowable – and atheism is a statement on the existence of God, or belief in that existence.

    The simple lack of belief in God is sufficient for atheism and quite different to agnosticism. One can easily be an agnostic theist by believing in an unknowable God.

    Um, kind of off-topic though. Sorry.

  • Oh, I think it is a malign consequence of that.

    A good point.

    I think the IDists and their predecessors have been surprised at the strength of the defence against their incursions, though. They might have widespread (not majority, but widespread) support among the public and various legislatures and school boards, but scientists defend their turf very aggressively.

    It was a lot of fun seeing the IDists getting smacked around in the Kitzmiller case. The judge’s opinion makes great reading.

  • Midwesterner

    Hi Pixy.

    I’ll grant most of what you say except that it leads to an interesting category.

    Certainly it is possible to believe in an unknowable god. This would be the agnostic theist you describe.

    But with this system of categories, then would we call a person who believes that god is knowably non-existent an ‘atheistic theist’?

    I have encountered many of these ‘atheistic theists’ bludgeoning me with their faith based claim of the non-existence of god. These are the people I think Mike was refering to in his carefully qualified statement. Certainly they are the ones I am refereing to.

    Sidenote: you have a very interesting and eclectic website.

  • Interesting that the likes of Dawkins have fulminated against ID but tip toe around the real enema within – Islamitarianism. (Fools Rushdie in where aetheists fear to tread?)

  • I would still argue that ‘Intelligent Design’ is relatively harmless. It may be popular in the marketplace of ideas and sought after by a particular demographic, but it’s still on the fringe. And it will remain there as long as our society is largely secular.

    Can you give me an example of ‘Intelligent Design’ ideologues stymying the dissemination of contradictory wisdom to agnostics?

  • But with this system of categories, then would we call a person who believes that god is knowably non-existent an ‘atheistic theist’?

    That would be a “gnostic atheist”. :)

  • Can you give me an example of ‘Intelligent Design’ ideologues stymying the dissemination of contradictory wisdom to agnostics?

    Huh?

  • Chris Harper

    ID is ultimataly a self defeating belief. It is a God of the gaps idea – There is a gap in our knowledge, so it must have been Gods action there.

    However, as the gaps are filled in in years to come the role of God will become more and more circumscribed, giving Him (ok, ok, or Her), smaller and smaller room for action.

    God of the Gaps is not a good long term strategy for theists to adopt, as it can result in their having to acknowledge the irrelevancy of God.

  • Midwesterner

    Unfortunately, Pixy, in the way of evolutionary language, Gnosticism is already taken. The accepted usage pretty much precludes denial of the existence of God.

    Antitheism is a possible alternative. It’s actually used that way sometimes. But in can also be used to mean ‘opposition to God‘ rather than opposition to ‘belief in God’.

    Popular usage is generally as I stated in Basic Logic 102. There are so many cases of these word hijackings that I usually give up and roll with them. Federalism for Nationalism is another case. As is liberal for leftist. If you think of a way to set everyone straight, let me know. 8)

  • You’re right about “gnosticism” being taken. Of course, since “agnostic” is not at all the opposite of “gnostic”, as the terms are commonly used, we’re already in something of a pickle.

  • OK – let me rephrase, though I think my earlier post made sense…

    Have ID advocates stopped or altered scientific teaching in their favour to non-Christians?

  • Nick M

    Midwesterner,
    Welcome back! You’ve been missed. Thanks for stomping on the atheist/agnostic thing. I absolutely hate being wrongly described as an atheist.

  • Midwesterner

    I’ve fought that battle more than once, even here on Samizdata. Although, Pixy seems too good humored to be one of ‘them’.

    In the mean time, I could have done with some of your expertise.

    My laptop tanked. With all of my ‘life’ on it. I was too busy to think about it for a while but finally ‘bit the bullet’, and bought another one.

    As I type, I sit with two laptops and several harddrives scattered about as I use the ‘new’ one to pick important bits and pieces off of the old one’s HD. Email is a particular problem since I also changed from Outlook Express to Firefox. And all my old email is on the old HD.

    Is being Bill Gates a capital offense? When I heard about him giving all that money away, all I could think was why he didn’t spend it giving customers what they are promised. (Insert favorite Bill Gates joke here.) I sometimes wonder if the gift is a subtle form of involuntary redistribution.

  • Just John

    “Routinely suicide bombers are referred to as “cowardly”, an absurd characterization at any level other than the polemic.”

    C.S.Lewis once said that “Courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at the testing point.” He would probably argue that to be brave and evil is contradictory; that to commit murder is to cowardly give in to a false argument that it is actually good.

    And besides, what is there to be brave about for a Muslim to kill himself while trying to kill Jews? Isn’t heaven a wonderful place with virgins to serve you? Soldiers are brave because they fear death and train to avoid it; suicide bombers aren’t because they don’t fear death and rejoice in it.

  • Stuart

    Many WWI pilots jumped to their deaths rather than burn in their stricken airplanes; they weren’t cowards.

    An RAF tail gunner jumped from his burning plane without a parchute rather than burn to death; he survived when his fall was broken by pine boughs ad he landed on deep soft snow. He won the VC.

    Japan’s kamikaze pilots , however wicked the cause they fought for, were not cowards as they pitted themselves against numbers of well armed enemies.

    The moslem terror bombers are cowardly scum who deliberately seek out the most helpless; it is no coincidence that two of the airliners hijacked on 9/11 were packed with children.