I‘m not exactly Mr. Sunshine, so you might think the curmudgeonly grousing of atheist blogger P.Z. Myers would resonate with me.
It rarely does, and yesterday I was reminded why. In writing about the suicide of comedian Robin Williams, Myers went from prickly to prickish in three seconds flat. Under the telling headline Robin Williams Brings Joy to the Hearts of Journalists and Politicians Once Again, Myers sneered that
[Williams’] sacrifice has been a great boon to the the news cycle and the electoral machinery — thank God that we have a tragedy involving a wealthy white man to drag us away from the depressing news about brown people.
Myers was referring to the killing of African-American teenager Michael Brown by police in Ferguson, Missouri, this past weekend.
Boy, I hate to say it, but it sure was nice of Robin Williams to create such a spectacular distraction.
If that sounds cold and dismissive, that’s because it is. Getting pissy over Williams’ death as if it’s an irrelevant distraction is one thing (stunningly tone-deaf, of course, but rationally defensible); but the phrase “wealthy white man” is a gratuitous, sour putdown in this context. I have no idea why Williams deserved that.
Myers is angry that Brown’s death was supposedly wiped off the front pages by Williams’. That simply isn’t true. Every major news organization I checked has already put out multiple stories about the troubling shooting, and the Brown case will no doubt fill dozens more news cycles in months to come, whereas remembrances of Williams will be petering out in another week.
Even if it were accurate, though, it wouldn’t be William’s fault, now would it? Then why attack him with toxic snark?
(I understand that Myers’ main intent was to indict the media and politicians, but I found it impossible not to flinch at the rudeness and spite he throws the comedian’s way while he’s at it.)
It’s astonishing that, in Myers’ perspective, we apparently cannot give our attention to more than one story.
And it’s doubly astonishing that the same person who considers news reports of Robin Williams’ suicide inconsequential fluff saw fit to publish on his site, only one day earlier, a substance-free 15-word post whose main attraction was a photo of a cute bulldog puppy. Yes, really.
This seeming inability to examine the log in his own eye rather than the speck in someone else’s (thanks, Matthew 7:3!) has caught up to Myers before. Last year, after I wrote a half-amused post about a violent Muslim fundie who got his head chopped off in a case of mistaken identity, Myers thundered that I didn’t show enough regret over the victim’s death. However, we subsequently learned that Mr. Humanist of the Year unapologetically rejoiced in the death of a priest who was lost at sea; Myers even fantasized about personally killing other clergy, describing how he’d pick them off with a gun, like clay pigeons.
Guess who I won’t be taking advice in empathy from?
Lest you suspect that I have some personal bone to pick with Myers (whom I’ve never met or corresponded with), atheist and fellow biology professor Jerry Coyne also thinks that the man’s post about Robin Williams is calloused and dickish. Coyne has even harsher words for Myers than I do:
This is one of the most contemptible and inhumane things I’ve ever seen posted by a well-known atheist. It reeks of arrogance, of condescension, and especially of a lack of empathy for those who loved and admired Williams not because they knew him, but because he brought them happiness and made them think.
Yes, we can care about the oppressed, but we can also care about the loss of someone who did a lot of good in this world. Let’s face it: few of us atheists will make the difference that Robin Williams did. In a time of immense brutality, it does no good to ride roughshod over the feelings of those of us who really did admire and respect Robin Williams. What is gained by that?
P.S. Another upsetting take on Robin Williams’ suicide comes from Christian blogger Matt Walsh, who displays so little understanding of the causes and results of clinical depression as to make one-time sufferers like myself despair all over again.
I’ve seen it on the news and read about it in books, but I can’t comprehend it. The complete, total, absolute rejection of life. The final refusal to see the worth in anything, or the beauty, or the reason, or the point, or the hope.
The words rejection and refusal, of course, imply choice. The reality is that those who are in the bleakest throes of depression can’t just choose to appreciate life’s beauty or to entertain hope. By definition, depression makes that impossible.
If, Mr. Walsh, by your own admission, you “can’t comprehend it,” then why demonstrate your cognitive deficit by secreting 1,500 unilluminating words on the topic?
(Image via Wikipedia)