The alleged problem with “Me too!” comments

February 15, 2007 | By | Reply More

One of our earlier posts concerned the efforts of evangelicals to relegate early hominid fossils to the back room of Kenya’s National Museum.   That post recently drew this comment from James Davenock:

It seems that many here could simply replace the name Sam Harris, with Jesus, Newton or Sullivan in their writings. Many keep quoting others in an attempt to get their point across rather than just trying to get their point across. You could say “Dave, I admire Jesus’ viewpoints” or “Dave, I admire Sam Harris’ viewpoints” or “Dave, I admire Newton’s viewpoints”. . .

 The difference between Science and Religion is Science has a process by which to prove its ideas while Religion does not and requires you to simply accept or excommunicate. I have found the same smugness in both religious and science types and that is a bit disquieting.

The wise man first says “I do not know”

I started responding to James Davenock’s comment at the location of that earlier post, but it grew long enough to justify posting at this separate location.

Davenock raises a good point.  I suspect that there are many non-believers out there (all of us, some of the time), who “hero-worship” people like Richard Dawkins just like many theists hero-worship James Dobson or Jesus. You can quickly spot these folks by their writings, which essentially amount to “Way to go, Charles [Darwin]!”  Or “Way to go, Jesus!”  This lack of thoughtful content is no more informative than the rote prayers many people utter in churches.  “Amen!”

Admittedly, it doesn’t take much to write a “me too!” comment.   Such comments don’t add much to the conversation.   I suspect that most “me too!” comment writers could tremendously enhance their contributions by adding even one extra sentence to let us know what motivated the “Me too!”   But, alas, many of them don’t give us that extra sentence or two.

Maybe they can’t.  Some “Me too!” comment writers who admire scientists or freethinkers might not be sufficiently intellectually engaged with the ideas of those they purport to admire to write that additional sentence.  Maybe they can’t yet articulate why they are attracted to a writer.  Or maybe what attracts them is only the ultimate conclusions of a Richard Dawkins or the panache of Sam Harris, rather than the intellectual path that those writers have mapped out.  Or maybe those comment writers are driven by frustration with the theories offered by believers and they are essentially rebelling without a well-articulated reason for rebelling.  Perhaps they are engaged emotionally, but not intellectually.

On the other hand, there are also lots of thoughtful readers who have carefully reviewed the arguments of people like Dawkins/Harris before giving their fully-informed consent.  When those people say “Way to go, Sam [Harris],” they have read, pondered, critically analyzed and only then approved of Harris’ writings.  Unfortunately, they sometimes don’t add an extra sentence to their comment to let us know that they are truly intellectually engaged.

In short, a “Me too!” comment might mean a lot and it might mean not much.”  Approval and admiration fall along a continuum.  “Me too!” might constitute only the mindless name-dropping by someone who amounts to a groupie or it might be the too-quick and too-short work of someone much more intellectually engaged.   Each “me-too” comment needs to be judged individually.  Again, there’s often not enough information in the comment to evaluate the extent to which the me-tooer is mindlessly me-tooing.

As a general rule, I don’t mind providing space to me-tooing skeptics.   In a world where Jesus is promoted on every fourth billboard, as well as on t-shirts, books, political speeches and all of those Bibles I find in my hotel rooms, the interests of skeptics have traditionally been underserved.  They need and deserve more places to show their common interests, whether well-developed or not.¼/p>

James, I don’t have a problem with the failure of thoughtful readers to re-invent the wheel rather than trading quotes written by exquisitely good writers.  Why require total originality from every person who wants to participate in an Internet forum?  What purpose would that serve?  Why not rely on the writings of those people who have already carefully pondered these issues and written eloquently as a springboard for further comments and observations?

I understand your frustration with “me too” type comments.   But they do serve another potentially important purpose.   That initial “me too!” is how some people get started when they are intrigued by a writer.  Eventually, some of those people go on to develop and express their own nuanced views about the writings that intrigue them emotionally or proto-intellectually.  The initial “me too!” is sometimes the toe in the water by a future swimmer.

I too have also seen the same smugness you’ve seen in both pro-religion and the pro-science writers, though I haven’t seen this smugness to the same degree by both sides.  In my experience, the “me-too” comments of theists, with notable exceptions, tend to be hackneyed and less thoughtful when compared to the comments of those people who are me-too-ing the skeptics.  As evidence, compare the theists and non-theists comments (there’s 495 comments and growing) to this earlier post about Bart Erhman.  Notice how many of the theists rely on the Bible to establish the authenticity of the Bible. It is a rare non-believer who makes such an egregious mistake—you don’t see skeptics holding skeptic books high over their heads and exhorting others that the contents are self-proving.  That would be oxymoronic if don’t by a skeptic.  Your point reminds me, though, of a post I previously wrote about the need for scientists and freethinkers who appear smug to develop better presentation skills (“Speech Coaches for FreeThinkers”).  Also, I try to keep in mind that “smug” doesn’t necessarily mean incorrect.

Interesting, the quote you chose to close your own comment:

“The wise man first says ‘I do not know.’”

It seems to me that most bureaucratized and systematized religions would never have gotten off the ground if those sorts of wise people were in control.   If those sorts of wise people had initially been in charge, there wouldn’t have been any need for people like Sam Harris or his sophisticated me-tooers or his naïve me-tooers.


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Category: Religion, Science, Writing

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Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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