BS outrage and the atheist blogosphere

A few days ago I stumbled across an article by David Wong titled “5 Ways to Spot a B.S. Political Story in Under 5 Seconds.” One item in particular was uncomfortably familiar: “The Headline Is About a ‘Lawmaker’ Saying Something Stupid”:

A low-level politician with no power said something incredibly stupid, and the opposing party is trumpeting it from the mountaintops to make everyone in the low-level politician’s party look stupid.

Here’s one: “Kansas Lawmaker Says Women Should Plan Ahead for Rape: ‘I Have a Spare Tire’”

Now, that story is true. The guy did say that. But now we need to ask ourselves a two-letter question:

“So?”

In every single group of human beings, you have a certain percentage of crazy shitheads. Find me an organization of a million charity workers who have devoted their lives to saving homeless golden retrievers, and I’ll bet my life that within that group I can find a faction of crazy shitheads. Hell, I’ll bet I can find at least one in any group of a dozen people. Liberals, conservatives, moderates, weed advocates, anti-drug advocates, cupcake bakers, window washers. They all – all – have their crazy shitheads that can be pointed out. I bet I can find at least one in your family.

Therefore, their existence proves nothing about the group as a whole. And, therefore, it is always wrong to dismiss a political movement by simply pointing at their craziest shitheads and saying, “See! That is what (insert group here) is REALLY thinking.” It’s a cheap shot, anybody can do it and it’s an outright lie.

[snip]

See, headlines tend to use that word “lawmaker” for a reason — if he were a U.S. senator, by God it would say “U.S. Senator,” and if he were a member of Congress, it’d say he was a congressman. They use “lawmaker” because it makes him seem prominent, like he should somehow matter to people who don’t live in Kansas. Now, don’t get me wrong — if the Kansas legislature collectively passes some atrocious rape law, that’s news — a lot of people are affected. But the fact that their legislature is 1/165 crazy shithead is not news.

Wong goes on to point out that “there are literally high school class presidents who garnered more votes” than some state legislators, along with the even greater absurdity of reporting on things Ted Nugent has said.

If you spend a lot of time in the atheist blogosphere, does this all sound way to familiar to you?

It does for me… and I hate where that line of thought leads me for a lot of bloggers I like. I generally like Ed Brayton, but he does like two posts a day on crazy stuff said by people I’d probably have never heard of if I didn’t read his blog. And Hemant Mehta generally lives up to his “Friendly Atheist” moniker, but he does a fair amount of that kind of stuff too–just two days ago he dedicated a blog post to something some random “Chrisian pastor” said.

On top of this, today I came across a book excerpt from last July on BoingBoing, which told a couple stories of one particular Jezebel writer ginning up outrage through completely bogus stories, including one case where a few posts about a bullshit controversy involving the Daily Show generated 500,000 pageviews.

500,000 pageviews with a few posts? Crap, if I could do that on a regular basis I’d be set, financially. But I won’t do it by generating fake controversies. Maybe I’m in the wrong line of work.

I’ve written before about how I “never got into doing the ‘look at this horrible thing some religious believer said’ posts,” but that was mainly on the theory that we should have low expectations for fundamentalists so those stories really aren’t surprising. In light of Wong’s article and the exceprt on BoingBoing, though, this tendency in the atheist blogosphere is starting to look a lot darker.

Again, maybe I’m in the wrong line of work. One of the challenges of being an atheist blogger is that any kind of periodical writing is supposed to be timely, but how do you do that writing about atheism? “In today’s news, God continues to not exist…” Manufactured outrage really is one of the obvious routes to take.

And I wonder about the effect of these tendencies on the health of the atheist community as a whole. When outrage is your default mode of blogging, you stop having friendly disagreements with other people in the atheist community and instead start turning everything into an outrage that we need to have an extended flamewar over.

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