Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Why Expressing Yourself is Important: An Example

The short version:

  • New Atheist and Professor of Biology at the University of Chicago, Jerry Coyne, recently debated Catholic theologian John Haught on the question "Are science and religion compatible"
  • Prior to the debate, both Coyne and Haught agreed to have the proceedings video taped
  • Subsequent to the debate, Haught requested that the video not be released publicly and Dr. Robert Rabel, head of the Gaines Center for the Humanities, which sponsored the debate decided to honor Haught's request despite his prior agreement to have the debate filmed (which for all practical purposes is equivalent to agreeing to it being publicly posted.  If you don't want it posted, why film?)
  • Coyne, very upset, as he thought he got the best of the debate, recounted this sequence of events on his blog website
  • The intertubez revolted and send both Haught and Rabel tons of email calling them out for their cowardice and complicity in supressing what had previously been agreed to be publicly disseminated
  • Haught, under pressure from from the blogosphere and emailers, finally relents and gives his consent to post the video
  • The video is posted!
I haven't watched the video yet, but I'm looking forward to evaluating the contenders' respective arguments for and against the compatibility of science and religion.

But that aside, I think this is a great example of how effective such activism can be.  When I hear people cynically dismiss others' activism as futile and a waste of time, it frustrates me to no end.  If you aren't willing to put any effort into affecting change, your cynicism becomes self-fulfilling.  But its probably worse than that.  And that is because if you are not advocating for what you believe in, there is surely someone advocating for what you oppose.

This brings up an interesting point though: if there is surely someone advocating that which you oppose, then it is just as likely that someone is advocating for what you support.  So then, a cynic might argue, you don't need to do anything anyway.  

This is essentially the volunteer' dilemma (from wikipedia): 
Because the volunteer receives no benefit, there is a greater incentive for freeriding than to sacrifice one’s self for the group. If no one volunteers, everyone loses. The social phenomena of the bystander effect and diffusion of responsibility heavily relate to the volunteer’s dilemma.
Of course in the case of activism, the volunteer isn't sacrificing herself, per se, but time and energy.  Actually, I would slightly modify the wikipedia description thusly to reflect the "activists' dilemma":
Because the volunteer accrues all the benefits and marginally more costs by volunteering than  one who doesn't volunteer, there is a greater incentive for free riding than to sacrifice one's time and energy for the group.  If no one volunteers, everyone loses...etc.   
 So the point is, if you feel strongly about a particular issue, do something about it!  Don't be a free rider, and don't assume that those advocating for the position you support don't need your help.  And doing something about it doesn't have to be overly cumbersome - one person could never put 100% effort into all of their positions - a simple public declaration (i.e. via Facebook) for your position (and rationale) is a good start.  Or call/write/email your representative thanking them for their support on an issue or trying to persuade them for a particular position.

Just do something.

Now go watch the Coyne/Haught debate - Science and Religion: Are They Compatible?

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