Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Contempt is Not Whining

PZ Myers is dismissive of Paglia's latest comments on the recent works on atheism:

This has been the week that the whiny little twits have risen up to complain about atheism. The latest entry is from Camille Paglia, and many have written to me about it. I'm not going to bother. I've never cared much for Paglia, and Salon's infatuation with her as a columnist is incomprehensible to me — her specialty is haughty pseudo-intellectual blurts of pretension, strung together on the one common thread of her febrile narcissism.

So, sorry, no evisceration of her babblings — there have just been too many of them lately, so all she gets is a curt dismissal.

Whatever one might say about Paglia, she does not once "complain about atheism"; which is not surprising, since she explicitly says that she is an atheist, as anyone who reads the article can see. Nor does she by any stretch of the imagination whine. (Paglia is in any case not the sort of person who whines; where others might whine, Paglia is merely contemptuous.) The particular passage on the basis of which Myers lumps her in with the "whiny little twits":

Now, in contrast, aspiring young filmmakers are stampeded toward simplistic rejection of religion based on liberal bromides (sexism, homophobia, etc.). Religion as metaphysics or cosmic vision is no longer valued except in the New Age movement, to which I still strongly subscribe, despite its sometimes outlandish excesses. As a professed atheist, I detest the current crop of snide manifestos against religion written by professional cynics, flâneurs and imaginatively crimped and culturally challenged scientists. The narrow mental world they project is very grim indeed -- and fatal to future art.

My pagan brand of atheism is predicated on worship of both nature and art. I want the great world religions taught in every school. Secular humanism has reached a dead end -- and any liberals who don't recognize that are simply enabling the worldwide conservative reaction of fundamentalism in both Christianity and Islam. The human quest for meaning is innate and ineradicable. When the gods are toppled, new ones will soon be invented. ("Better Jehovah than Foucault," I once warned. For more on this, see "Religion and the Arts in America," a lecture I gave at Colorado College earlier this year that was broadcast on C-SPAN's "American Perspectives" series and that has just been published in Arion.)

The article is about the decline of the art film, and she has just finished linking Ingmar Bergman's creativity to a religious impulse; that's the contrast indicated in the first sentence. Needless to say, the theses put forward in the above passage are controversial in a high degree (given that Paglia is always controversial, this isn't surprising). But Paglia fairly clearly is not whining about atheists of the sort Myers likes; she's being contemptuously dismissive of them. Myers should understand the difference, given that that's precisely what he's being to Paglia. Of course, it's rhetorically convenient to call what one's opponents do 'whining'; but in this case as in so many others where similar tactics are used, the attitudes on both sides are of exactly the same kind, and the attempt to make them different by mere fiat is unreasonable. If Paglia is whining, so is Myers; if Myers is simply being curtly dismissive, so is Paglia.

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