Online debates takes too much time from my life. That’s a lesson I should have learned years ago, but for some reason I have continued to believe that it is possible to debate important matters on the Internet. But a recent incident makes me think of something the British philosopher Richard Hare writes in his book Moral Thinking. In one of the first chapters, he makes the observation that those who are intrically antagonistic on his theory will undoubtedly be so even after reading the book.
On some fundamental level of human discussion, reasoning, it seems, has little, if anything, to do with reason. What is more important to debate than sound reasoning is positioning. If the debaters agree on the fundamentals, opinions about minor issues can be fairly reasoned about. In the best scenario, this only results in tedious backslapping and harmless mocking of opponents. But in the worst-case scenario, the result of positioning is that members who are considered insiders are allowed to get away with things that would be condemned and frown upon if an outsider did the same.
In my online diary, which is now running on its ninth year, I have tried to be consistent in my criticism of racism, homophobia, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, and other types of xenophobia. For obvious reasons, religious homophobes have been my main target over the years. As a gay man, I see and feel the damage they do. People close to me have literally died because of religious homophobia. And on one occasion, I had to physically comfort a young man who was nearly beaten to death by his own father after coming out. Online and in real life, I have debated religious people who have said the most outrageous things about sexual minorities. In my mind, I have had to remind myself of the reason for doing this. Because I was an outsider in their forum, my arguments against their homophobia would never win over the hard-core insiders, but I could—perhaps—reach some of those in the fringes. So I continued to post comments on extremist blogs and forums.
In recent years, I have noticed an incessantly intolerant Swedish atheism. The most bizarre lies about ethnic minorities are being relabelled as criticism of religion. As is the case with homophobia in religious groups, the xenophobia amongst atheists is limited to a loud and attention-grabbing few. Atheism in itself is no problem. The fact that there is such a vast variety of ideas about God makes just about everyone an atheist in some context. The problem is that hateful people have hijacked atheism the way hatful people so often have hijacked religion. This brings me to my latest disappointment in humanity.
I have written about the Swedish Humanist Association several times. The organisation runs a blog called Humanistbloggen, which is—unfortunately, I must say—one of very few Swedish blogs devoted to religion. The blog often makes me angry, but it’s overall fairly entertaining and informative. However, the blog and the organisation are an example of positioning at its worse. Idiotic ideas about homosexuality, religion, and minorities are tolerated from a small group of insiders.
Most recently, a man I have criticised before for having homophobic ideas wrote about a meeting he had with a group of “non-extremist” Muslim youths who expressed a wish to torture those who disagree with Islam. I pointed out that this is in fact a very extremist view not shared by most Muslim youth. But my reasonable objection fell on deaf ears and was met with slander and more irrational stupidity. (If someone had written that he had spoken to a group of non-extremist atheists who wanted to torture Christians, I’m sure the blog editors would see that it was wrong.)
In the debate that fallowed, another extremist, Anders Hesselbom, contributed with a comment about me being dense for saying that people like him are hatemongers. To exemplify, I quoted a passage from his blog where he writes that Jews consume blood of children and that Judaism considers inflicting pain in children an end in itself. This is pure anti-Semitic nonsense about Jewish sadism that doesn’t exist.
Anyhow, his response to this was the following (in my translation):
Christopher Aqurette, I read your blog and I am ashamed on your behalf. What would you think of me if I portrayed my opponents as hateful? When you reflected on this, you have passed the first step towards the ability to see yourself from the outside—how normal people see you.
To Hesselbom I have only this to say: if normal people are anything like you, I’m not normal and proud of it. I have lived my whole life as a despised man in the eyes of men who considered themselves normal and therefore superior to me. I stopped seeking normality a long time ago, and I will shed no tears now. I don’t give a fuck about normal people’s opinion of me. What I do care about is fighting hatemongers wherever they try to poison society.
PS! I intended to blog about the honour killing in Verdi’s Otello but made the mistake of revisiting a dead-end online debate. Sorry about the angry rambling.
(Seen in the picture is part of a mediaeval painting portraying Jews as bloodthirsty sadists.)
Hesselbom’s texts in Swedish:
1. Bland de riter som syftar till att avlägsna förhuden hittar vi t.ex. de där förhuden bits av, vi ser riter där rabbiner suger blod från barnets penis, och vi ser riter där barnets smärta är ett självändamål. Även här håller man den pseudovetenskapliga flaggan högt. Bland judiska utövare förekommer föreställningen att spädbarnets smärta på något sätt skulle bidra till bildandet av självkännedomen. Att påstå något sådant är knappast är ett vuxet sätt att förhålla sig till det problem man utgör.
2. Christopher, jag läser din blogg, jag skäms på dina vägnar. Vad skulle du tänka om mig om jag utmålade mina meningsmotståndare som hatiska? När du reflekterat över detta, har du tagit första steget mot förmågan att se dig själv utifrån – hur du uppfattas av normala människor.