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Relative Levels of Concern

Relative Levels of Concern October 16, 2012

I’d never heard of the Amazing Atheist until a few months ago, when I found that the only thing that was amazing about the guy is his general assholeishness. His latest example of vile behavior is noted at PZ’s blog. In the wake of the suicide of a young girl named Amanda Todd who was subjected to relentless bullying from an online stalker, he decided to slam those who care and are paying attention to that tragic situation.

It started with him posting a picture to his Tumblr account holding a sign that said:

I am the other hundreds of thousands of people who died today other than Amanda fucking Todd

And then he proceeded to defend himself when he got criticized for this callous reaction. He just thinks her suicide and the all common circumstances that prompted it “doesn’t warrant the attention of strangers across the internet. There are many people who suffered worse than she did and died struggling and fighting. She was, at the end of the day, a very privileged girl who killed herself for very shallow reasons. She shouldn’t be of any great concern to anyone who didn’t know her personally. She is no hero.”

No, she’s not a hero. I don’t know of anyone claiming she is. But she is a victim. But that doesn’t seem to matter to him because “she was privileged. She was a teenage girl living in the western world. If she couldn’t cut it here, I’d hate to see how she would have handled being a teenage girl in Iran.” And he continued in another post:

We know that she had enough money to access video equipment and upload content to YouTube. And we know she was born in a country where her genitals weren’t mutilated to make her less likely to seek out sexual pleasure. We know that she wasn’t born into a country where women can be lashed for being out alone on the streets, or where girl’s are executed for being the victims of rape. We know she didn’t have to worry about stepping on a landmine on her way to school. We know she had access to clean water and healthy food.

That seems like privilege to me.

Shades of Richard Dawkins’ appalling statement about Rebecca Watson in the wake of elevatorgate, the notion that if others have it worse than you, you don’t have any right to complain about mistreatment and others should not care. PZ eloquently answers that attitude:

Well, you know, we have a couple of choices in our lives.

We could, for instance, search the world for that one person who is in the worst circumstances of anyone; the person who is suffering the very most right now. We can do this while turning up our nose at each other afflicted individual who isn’t hurting enough for our standards; why, you’re a quadriplegic dying in a ditch? But you don’t have shingles! And both your eyes are intact! I’m sure we can find someone worse off than you. And then when we find that ultimate person in pain, we can promise to do everything we can to help them.

But I’ve noticed that people who make that kind of argument aren’t actually offering to help anyone. Their perversely inverted, demanding standards are really an excuse to turn away from the miserable they consider undeserving, to justify refusing to help…because that ultimate sufferer will never be found.

I remember Michael Kinsley back in the 1980s, when there was debate going on over whether left-wing dictators were better or worse than right-wing dictators, arguing that it’s pointless to argue over what he called “comparative awfulocracy.” The same is true here. The reason Amanda Todd is getting so much attention is because it shines a light on an important issue, the dangers of stalking (whether online or not) and the cruelty that is far too often excused away or diminished.


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