Are Many Atheist Bloggers “Victims”?

by | January 14, 2016

In a post entitled “Why the study of literature is going extinct,” Jerry Coyne quotes from Gary Saul Morson’s essay “Why college kids are avoiding the study of literature“:

Nothing makes us less capable of empathy than consciousness of victimhood. Self-conscious victimhood leads to cruelty that calls itself righteousness and thereby generates more victims. Students who encounter this idea experience a thrill of recognition.”

Coyne goes on to use the quote to say,

And that, in a nutshell, is a diagnosis of what’s wrong with many college students, Lefists, and, indeed, atheist bloggers. I often sense that someone whose self-identity is wholly bound up with victimhood is someone who has little empathy for others. But I’ll leave it there and make two more points.

To be fair, the word many is intended to modify Lefists and atheist bloggers as well as college students, but still, is Coyne serious? Is the identity of many atheist bloggers wholly bound up is victimhood? I think not. What do you think?

4 thoughts on “Are Many Atheist Bloggers “Victims”?

  1. Joe

    Essentially true, but it’s phrased in a rather inflammatory way.
    Activism is predicated on the idea that one perceives a wrong that needs to be righted.
    Being self-righteous does make one less empathetic, people start thinking more in terms of ends, rather than means.
    That is the nature of the war that seems to percolate everywhere Social Justice crops up.

    Activists fall into the trap:
    X is right
    X, via Y
    Y = by any means necessary.

    Y is wrong

    It’s all about what gets sacrificed for the greater good.
    Victimhood is an easy excuse for bad behaviour.

    1. Indi

      > Y = by any means necessary.

      I have a hard time believing that there’s actually any non-strawman social justice activist who *actually* thinks that way.

      Of course there are extremists, and no doubt some of them do think that way, but that’s extremism. Extremism is hardly specific to social justice activism – you’ll find just as many people *opposed* to social justice who think that way.

      But ignoring extremism, everything I’ve ever heard or read about social justice activism suggests that “by any means necessary” is not just incompatible, it is absolutely and utterly contradictory to the whole concept of social justice. In fact, social justice activists often *agonize* about actions that might throw one group under the bus for the benefit of another.

      I have never once, *ever*, heard a social justice activist say that anything needs to be “sacrificed” for the cause, except their own time. (That of course is not counting tongue-in-cheek comments about those with privilege having to “sacrifice” that privilege for the sake of justice; this is not true sacrifice, because whole point of privilege is that it is undeserved in the first place.) Most social justice rhetoric I have read talks about how social justice *benefits* everyone – even in the immediate short term – not about how you have to put up with crap, or sacrifice anything, for some future golden age or vague “greater good”. Most social justice activists are extremely pragmatic in their goals and strategies.

      Nor can I think of any *actual* situation where there has been any serious objection to the general tactics of social justice activists (again, ignoring a handful of extremists on the fringe). Usually the only complaints I hear about social justice activism boil down to “they annoy me” or “I wish they’d shut up and stop making me feel bad about doing this thing that they’re trying to get me to stop doing”… not “what they’re doing is ethically wrong”. Okay, sure, there have been some activists and some groups that have done stupid things, or pulled stupid stunts… but they are always *roundly* criticized *by other social justice activists*; this is not what an epidemic problem looks like. Can you name *ONE* incident of any social justice activists doing something immoral or underhanded that *wasn’t* widely and loudly criticized by the majority of social justice activists?

      None of the claims you make or the things you imply about social justice activism seem to have any basis in reality.

      I don’t disagree that fashionable victimhood is a problem in social justice, but that’s hardly something new or unique to social justice activism. If I had to choose, I’d say Christians are the undisputed masters of the victim game, not social justice activists.

      1. Joe

        Nietzsche called it slave morality, where the ‘oppressed’ or weak, seek to pull down the strong, by making weakness a virtue. And yes, he attributed it to Christians mainly.

        But I wasn’t just referring to only extremists. By any means necessary doesn’t always equal murder and violence. It can be #killallwhitemen, but It could also be coercion via government, or bully tactics like boycotts. Activists, social justice or otherwise, often take it upon themselves to demand others make sacrifices… That the activists feel are necessary for the ‘goal’.

        This tends to lead to increasing extremism… Relative to those who dont put the same value on the goal. When others ignore their requests, or tell them to get stuffed. Activist tunnel vision leads to the expectation that others should care about their pet issue. Atheist activists do this at times, as well. SJ tunnel vision is the obvious recent example, but the danger for activists is not limited to them.

  2. Diane G.

    I agree with your comments, Joe. I suspect the blogs Jerry was thinking of are those like Skepchick, Atheism-Plus, and many at Freethought Blogs, which I now avoid as much as possible. IMO there’s a lot to be found in those places that gives anti-atheists a ton of ammunition.


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