Fanaticism is Bad – Even When You Agree

So, an incident happened. I know very little beyond what I read on another blog.  Apparently a professor got an e-mail from a certain group.  She was fed up with dealing with this group and some of the leaders of this group.  She sent back a three word reply and the first two words were “Fuck You”.

Unfortunately, this e-mail she replied to was a from a student organization on the campus were she worked.  Uh oh.

Let me say, first I agree with her sentiment completely.   I also support her first amendment rights to say how she feels.  On the other hand, as a professor at the school, she has a responsibility to maintain the decorum expected of a professional.  A disagreement should probably have been sent to the provost’s office or whatever.  (Apparently, the group invented racist games, actively went out of their way to harass those that are different, and the responses to her e-mail… just wow.)

However, her response, however provoked and agitated she was, was wrong.  It gave the student group ammunition to file a complaint against her.  It gave them the moral high ground.  If gave them a legitimacy that they desperately wanted.  Just like the bullies at school, this group pushed and pushed and pushed until someone blew up and then, all of a sudden, they are the aggrieved party.

That all is all just background.  What I’m here to talk about is fanaticism.

fanaticism (noun) – wildly excessive or irrational devotion, dedication, or enthusiasm.

There is a particular blog that I often enjoy reading.  It is by someone I once respected, but I have lost much of my respect for him.  I don’t know his motivations, but he has a following (by choice or design I know not) and they are fanatics.  He does nothing to quell them.

I’ll let you read the comments to his post about the incident I related above.  There were (as of 5PM Central time today) only three persons out of several hundred that looked at the incident and said, “that was out of line”.  (BTW: The professor knows she was out-of-line and apologized.)

The responses on this blog to one of the people saying she was wrong was all out of proportion to what was said.  Ad hominem attacks, strawman attacks, and nearly universal support for the “F- you” comment.

I was very disturbed by this behavior.  This blog has lost the ability to think rationally (as a group).  They are so for their own side that anything done in support of that side is OK… exactly like their opponents.

I understand the need to lash out at stupidity and irrationality.  I’ve been there and done that and it’s not nearly as good as they think it is.  It’s a wrong response.

I don’t know if PZ will ever read this (I will post on his blog and twitter this to him).  I hope that he does and he realizes that he is a leader of a personality cult (whether he realizes it or not).  He has a responsibility as a leader to think about things responsibly.

I think that his situation is more like a man riding a wild dinosaur.  He’s just along for the ride, controlling the beast will be impossible.  I think he should try though.  Especially when the attacks that the ‘other guys’ use are used against people who support his side, but not 100%.*

Maybe he can’t control it, but he’s built this thing up, whether on purpose or accidentally.  I think he needs to think about things a little more.

I’m not sure I expressed myself very well.  I just hate to see fanaticism on the part of the side that I agree with.  It’s depressing to realize that anyone can slip into this mode of “we right, you wrong” no matter the circumstances.

I fully realize that he can say and do as he pleases and honestly, I’m not worried about it.  I support his rights to say and do as he pleases and those right for everyone on his blog and everyone the blog is against.  I also agree with much of what he says, writes, and does.  I just hope that he realizes he does indeed have a devoted and fanatical following.  And that he realizes what can happen with that.

PZ, don’t end up like all those other guys.  Please.

If anything this has driven me to become more fanatical too… about being rational.


The blog post in question at Phyrangula.

The response of the group in question.

(someone read those two threads and point out the difference)

The complaint.

The apology.


* It’s important to realize that every commenter (except for one or two) agreed with the sentiment.  The few that disagreed with the execution were as vilified as those who disagreed with the sentiment.

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8 Responses to Fanaticism is Bad – Even When You Agree

  1. I’d say that if you find yourself in agreement with fantics, it’s time to step back, take a deep breath and get some perspective before you hit a point that there’s no coming back from being increasingly fanatical.

  2. ogremkv says:

    I’m not in agreement with the fanaticism, but I agree with the principles upon which they are based. But that’s about it. Both sides can be fanatics. I try not to be.

  3. Eugen says:

    “Both sides can be fanatics. I try not to be.”

    You are quite reasonable person(for an ogre) 🙂

  4. horace says:

    What is depressing is that the comments on Free Republic are fewer and slightly less offensive than ours (as in suggestions of sex with live rather than dead animals).

    There are still some good threads on Pharyngula, but it seems to play a therapeutic role for many of the people who post there. My read of Pharyngula threads like this is that many of the posters are left wingers in small american towns who don’t get much contact with other atheists. Dealing with right wing america in their daily lives constantly, the last thing that they want is to examine their own ideas. They look to the thread for idiological solidarity rather than for any genuine debate. I hope that this is true anyway, as I would hate to think that their postings reflected their behaviour in everyday life.

  5. Tomato Addict says:

    I found that I simply was not reading Pharyngula any more, and took it off my RSS feeds a few months ago. I figured that if there were something too good to miss, I would find out about it via the other blog I follow (like this one). For a much longer time I found the Pharyngula comments to be little more than an echo chamber, endless repeating the same words. Worse, some of the comments can be just as ignorant as what they protest, which is just bad behavior from people who profess to be rational.

  6. horace says:

    Tomato addict,

    maybe I should do the same. It is depressing to read threads that start of well until the same few names turn up to hurl insults. Could you recommend a couple ?

  7. David says:

    You recognised early what many of his fans can’t even see know. Kudos.

  8. David says:

    *now. How embarrassing.

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