Wednesday, March 21, 2012
The Unliterate Hallq
“Unliterate” is a neologism used to refer to someone who is able to read but doesn’t bother to do so. Atheist blogger Chris Hallquist, who calls himself “The Uncredible Hallq,” might consider adopting it as a replacement for his current adjective. “The Non-credible Hallq” would be a good choice too. About my recent post on the Reason Rally, Hallquist writes: “Ed Feser has a post up denouncing the Reason Rally on the grounds that it is a mass gathering and all mass gatherings are bad.” He then accuses me of “hypocrisy” for not similarly denouncing the Catholic Mass and Catholic World Youth Day. He suggests that “it should be obvious that Feser started with his conclusion (atheists are evil) and then set out in search of a way – no matter how lame – to justify it.” But did I really say that all mass gatherings are bad? Did I hypocritically make an exception for rallies for causes to which I am favorable? And did I say that the reason I objected to the “Reason Rally” is because its participants are atheists, or that all atheists are evil?
As those who have bothered to read my post already know, what I actually said there was:
I dislike such rallies even when the cause is good and the participants well-meaning. They may sometimes be necessary, but they are always regrettable and to be avoided if possible.
The reason is that reason is impossible with a crowd. Serious matters require calm reflection, sufficient background knowledge, careful distinctions, the give and take of objections and replies, and always the willingness to submit oneself to superior arguments and objective truth. But the thinking of a crowd is, in the best circumstances, dumbed down, slipshod, and banal…
And in combox remarks posted three days before Hallquist’s rant, I wrote:
[W]hat I had in mind were rallies intended to promote some program or ideology and… I dislike such rallies even when I am sympathetic to the cause.
Hence, I don't much like even e.g. pro-life rallies or Tea Party rallies, even though I despise abortion and big government as much as the next guy. I'm not saying that such rallies, or even all rallies of the left-wing sort, count as raving mobs -- of course they don't, and I never said they did. The point is that they are still rallies, and thus prone to a mild level of groupthink where one is moved by feeling and group identity rather than reason. And the reason why that matters is that the point of political rallies is to promote an end which should be primarily rationally- rather than emotionally-driven. Still, I also explicitly said that such rallies are sometimes necessary. They just rub me the wrong way.
At the same time, not all crowds count as rallies. For example, concerts, sporting events, funerals, and events whose aim is religious devotion (e.g. outdoor Masses or gatherings to receive a papal blessing) are not intended to promote an end of a political or quasi-political sort. These don't bother me at all, because they don't involve the paradoxical attempt to promote an ideology or program in an emotive rather than rational way…
It's silly to accuse… [any] school of thought (including atheists) of "groupthink" merely because they share firmly held opinions. That's not what "groupthink" is. Groupthink is evidenced by things like being moved by the feelings prevailing in a mob rather than by reason (as at a rally) or by mostly reading only each other's work, and ridiculing and demonizing outsiders without even attempting to understand their views (as "New Atheists" do though other atheists -- e.g. Mackie, Smart, Smith, Sobel -- do not).
Are some conservatives and Christians guilty of groupthink? Sure. Are some left-wingers and secularists innocent of groupthink? Sure.
End quote. So, contrary to what Hallquist tells his readers, I explicitly denied that all mass gatherings are bad, I explicitly said that I dislike rallies of a political or programmatic sort even when I am sympathetic to the cause, I explicitly noted why there is a principled difference between such rallies and other mass gatherings (such as religious gatherings), I explicitly said that what was problematic was promoting a practical agenda about complex matters in an emotive rather than rational way (rather than the content of the rally, atheist or otherwise), and I explicitly acknowledged that not all atheists are guilty of the sort of groupthink I was criticizing. One is tempted to conclude (to paraphrase the Unliterate, Non-credible Hallq) that “it should be obvious that Hallquist started with his conclusion (Feser is evil) and then set out in search of a way – no matter how lame – to justify it.”
This isn’t the first time Hallquist has exhibited his unwillingness actually to read something before criticizing it. In a bizarre blog post about my book Aquinas some time back, Hallquist complained that in the 15 pages of the book he’d bothered to read, all I’d done was defend Aquinas’s metaphysics against certain objections, but hadn’t made a positive case on its behalf. In particular, he complained that while at pp. 8-23 I provide an exposition of some of Aquinas’s key metaphysical claims and respond to various criticisms, I don’t thereby show that those claims are true. And on the basis of these 15 pages, he judged that:
[S]howing that objections to a view fail is different than showing the view is correct, and as far as I can tell Feser isn’t even trying to do the second thing, at least in the bits of Aquinas I’ve read. That means that, personally, I don’t find the book very interesting…
Because he doesn’t even try to show Aquinas was right, Feser can’t expect atheists to be very interested in his book.
Now, leave aside the obvious point that one can hardly make the case for a certain view without dealing with objections that have been raised against it. (And you can be sure that if I had not dealt with the objections that have been raised against Aquinas, Hallquist would have been badmouthing me for that.) Let’s just consider the fact that most readers in Hallquist’s position would think: “Gee, I’ve read 15 pages and I still haven’t seen what I’m looking for. But maybe it’s there in the remaining 177 pages of text, so I’ll keep reading before drawing a sweeping conclusion about the book, or at least before posting a sweeping conclusion about it on my blog and thereby making a complete ass of myself in public.”
But most readers aren’t the Uncredible Hallq. Because most readers, you know, read. And as those who have actually read the book know, in the long chapter on Aquinas’s metaphysics, pp. 8-36 are mostly devoted to an exposition of his general metaphysical claims (though there are in fact some positive arguments for those claims there too), while pp. 36-61 are mostly devoted to making a positive case for those claims. And of course, positive arguments for various other aspects of Aquinas’s philosophy can be found throughout the rest of the book.
“[M]ost of what [Feser] write[s],” Hallquist assures us in his recent post, “is a transparent post-hoc rationalization for bigotry.” This from a guy who by his own admission draws sweeping conclusions about what’s in a book whose conclusions he dislikes without bothering to read it first!
Really, what is it with these New Atheist pots constantly calling the kettle black? Do they get paid per kettle or something?