Tim Minchin: "Just Don’t Be Cruel To ANYONE, Ever."

In the comments section of a Rebecca Watson post, Tim Minchin writes:

I stay in a lot of hotels and travel in a lot of elevators. They are very helpful, what with their elevating properties and all. Sometimes, I am in an elevator with a woman. Just me and her. In this little, quiet, rumbly box. Actually, this happened this evening here in New York, just a couple of hours ago.

And I thought to myself, “What would it be like right now if I asked this woman for a coffee”? I’ve pondered this many times in the months since Rebecca’s video managed to unlock the secret door into the mysterious fuck-head chamber of the personalities of a thousand commenters, and the answer is always: fucking weird.

It would be really pretty fucking weird. No, not “deserving-of-arrest, definitely-a-rapist, just-as-bad-as-female-circumcision” kind of weird. But just about weird enough to justify, say… a comment. Y’know, the sort of comment you might make if you were, say, a video blogger who talks about life and skepticism from a woman’s perspective.

I have been substantially depressed by the scale and tone of the subsequent brouhaha.

Some advice, if you’ll forgive me, from someone who has, in the past, been rude to people on the internet, and also has been the subject of plenty of abuse:

Just don’t be cruel to ANYONE, ever. On the internet, or in your life.

Just imagine, as you sharpen your pen, that every man is your uncle or your brother, and that every woman is your mother or your sister. Just don’t spread vitriol. It’s not clever, it’s not funny, it doesn’t improve anything, it fails to educate, elucidate or encourage debate. It’s lazy. It’d be boring if it wasn’t so awful.

Just stop. Breathe. Don’t be defensive. Think hard about what you think. Clarify your point of view in your head. Try to find a way to articulate it – if you still feel you must articulate it – in a manner that assumes the person you are addressing is an actual human.

Preferably make it rhyme. Rhyming your anger seems to help, in my experience.

Go on, I dare ya – go all fucking Gandhi on their arses. Even if you hate them. It’s a good feeling. Little glasses, sandals, chilling out and drinking chai. Trying not to have sex with your great niece. Lovely.

You can experiment on me, if this post ignites your ire.

Or, as Ophelia amusingly puts the point: Go All Fucking Gandhi On Their Arses. Kylie highlights numerous other remarks from skeptics making similar pleas to Minchin’s in her post: Therefore, Tim Minchin, Should We Be Actual Humans As Skeptics and Atheists Too?

Here is something close to an answer to that question from the writer and performer of “The Pope Song” himself

in an interview with Dan Savage from this summer:

There was a shitstorm at my paper when I posted—and this is really reaching back to some of your early stuff—”Fat Children” on our blog.

Oh, yeah, Jesus! I didn’t know that caused a shitstorm at your paper, but I did drop that song and stop performing it because, well, I’ll tell you why after you tell me what happened.

Some folks thought it was bullying. I thought it was tough. But the shitstorm left me wondering how you, as an artist and a satirist, balance your clearly empathetic, humanistic side, you know, the part of you that writes passionate and funny songs about the Palestinians (“Peace Anthem for Palestine”), about women’s rights (“Confessions”), and gay rights (“I Love Jesus”), with your role as a satirist? Being a satirist requires taking the piss out of people. But being a humanist can get you boxed into this corner where you’re not allowed to be “mean.” How do you balance that? And now that I know you’re not performing “Fat Children” anymore, I have to ask why.

Fuck, I love talking to you. I stopped performing that straight after the first tour because I didn’t want everyone to look at the fat people in the room and think, they must be hating life. It was the same reason I dropped the word “nigger” from my song, “If You Really Loved Me.” To be fair to myself, I understand the history of that word, but I didn’t understand it quite deeply enough, but I wasn’t unaware at all of the history of that word in all its power. You don’t hear that word in Australia outside of hiphop. It’s not like anyone calls a black person that word here. It’s just sort of a hiphop gangster word. There’s lots of highly offensive lyrics in that song, and so I wrote this lyric, “We go together like a cracker and brie, like racism and ignorance, like niggers and R&B.”

Oh my god.

You can imagine how that went down. My point, which is clear when that lyric is taken in context with the rest of the song, was that racism is the result of ignorance, and yet the R&B industry promotes the use of this word. It doesn’t matter. It wasn’t good enough. I got in trouble and dropped it because the people who got cross at me were right. As an empiricist and rationalist, it’s incredibly important to be able to learn, to admit when you’re wrong.

And so what about “Fat Children,” then?

I don’t mind offending people if I know how to defend my song, you know? I’ve got a case brought against me by some idiot with the Australian Human Rights Commission for religious prejudice because “Pope Song” was played on TV in Australia. And I would go to the highest court in the land to defend that song—not that I’ll need to, because it defends itself, because it’s very well thought-out and clear. Everything that I could possibly say about that song is in the song. It’s got its defense built in. “Fat Children” is a funny song about not overfeeding your children. It’s not a song about fat people. It’s a song about people who are abusing their kids by forcing a choice on them and not helping their kids make the right choices. But, fuck, I just didn’t feel comfortable doing it. I just didn’t care enough about the issue to sit in a room knowing I was making the overweight people feel sad.

How do you pick and choose whom to make feel bad? I mean, clearly you’re willing to really scald people of faith, as we call them here in America.

[Laughs] But I don’t, actually. I mean, “Ten Foot Cock and a Few Hundred Virgins” was pretty mean, and that again was early on, but if you think about all my songs I’ve written about religion since “Ten Foot Cock,” they’re all specifically addressing the place where erroneous belief meets discrimination and prejudice. When I’m being mean about religion, I’m being mean about where religion goes wrong. I’m not just being mean to people for having faith. I think about this shit a lot. But to bring it back to what you were saying, I do want to be a humanist, and I do want to point out to people that beauty is in the real world and not in the fake one, and how the language of spirituality is empty. I mean, I’m not on a mission. I’m on a mission to just play fun gigs and make people have a fucking riot of a time. But the bigger my audience gets, the more I have to take responsibility for what I’m saying. And I guess that’s the short answer. At some point I have to decide whether I’m going to be one of these comedians that says the unsayable for shock, or whether I’m going to be a comedian who says stuff he can back up intellectually in an interview with someone on the phone five years later. What do you think about “Fat Children”?

I for one think that we as atheists need to be as scrupulous about not descending into hate towards the religious as possible. To the extent that we get into a frame of mind imagining that we are always the good and the just and the rational simply by virtue of being skeptics and atheists, and that the religious are always (or primarily) untrustworthy villains simply by virtue of being religious, is to the extent we are vulnerable to being blinkered and bigoted.

For more on my views on what our attitudes in these areas should be like, I recommend the following posts:

My Thoughts on Blasphemy Day,

How Evangelicals Can Be Very Hurtful Without Being Very Hateful

What I Think About How To Engage Religious Liberals, Moderates, and Fundamentalists

Don’t Call Religious Believers Stupid

Don’t Demonize Religious People’s Motives, Focus On Their Objective Harms

Be Unapologetic, Rigorous, Patient, And Gracious With Religious Believers

Love Religious People

I Am A Rationalist, Not A Tribalist

Audiences and Approaches

I Don’t Really Give A Fuck About Tone, Per Se

Who Are You Calling Stupid?

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • sunsangnim

    When I first heard the song about the Pope, I didn’t imagine it would also apply to my alma mater.

  • Laurance

    I’ve seen/heard the Pope song before, but in light of what’s happening here in central PA at Penn State, well, makes me want to substitute “Paterno” and “Spanier” for “Pope”.


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