11/4/09

The Big Schism


Ophelia has a really perceptive editorial on the supposed schism between atheists at Comment is Free--  
Many atheists want to be able to be atheists without being dragooned into some boring noisy unsubtle bad-tempered "movement". Many other atheists want to be able to be overt explicit unbashful atheists without constantly being told to be more euphemistic or evasive or respectful or just plain silent by other atheists, who surely ought to know better.
This "who surely ought to know better" is one place where the disagreement really grips. To the first group – let's call them plain atheists – this idea looks like typical political hegemonising, like ideological policing, like the demand for uniformity and agreement and loyalty that always goes with a "movement". It looks like groupthink. To the second group – call them movement atheists – that's not it, it's just that other atheists should understand that euphemism and respect have been the norm for a long time and we really ought to be allowed to talk freely.
The rest is really good.

(Now about commas.... Snazzy!  It never occurred to me you could drop them for effect.)

17 comments:

amos said...

It seems like she's calling for a truce: she's not going to ask us to be noisier as long as we don't ask them to be quieter. I'll drink to that.

Jean Kazez said...

I think she explains the thoughts on both sides very well, while also making it clear why she's on the side she's on. So--very fair and balanced. Given my recent posts, I'm obviously not on the same side, but I can still appreciate her reasoning.

amos said...

Excellent article, Ophelia. Our ping pong team arrives tomorrow morning.

Ophelia Benson said...

Thanks!

Not exactly calling for a truce - because I'm not sure that particular war exists. I've never thought that all atheists were obliged to Join the Campaign, or to do anything at all...so I'm not giving up anything by agreeing to that.

Commas...dropping them for effect...you mean me? Do I do that?

Well I do use dashes and ellipses a lot. I try to monitor that for affectation. O the difficulties of writing!

amos said...

You have a gift for writing well, probably a compensation for some serious personality defects. Just joking, but not joking about the quality of your writing.

Jean Kazez said...

...dragooned into some boring noisy unsubtle bad-tempered "movement". Many other atheists want to be able to be overt explicit unbashful atheists

Isn't the convention that adjectives are supposed to be separated by commas? Or is that like not wearing white after September 1? I thought it was just standard, and you were being artful!

Wayne said...

Someone needs to make a page like this http://apostrophe.me/ for commas. I'm notoriously bad at using commas. I think, they should be, sprinkled in for dramatic, William Shatner-like, effects.

Self-plug here. I've started my own blog... I don't know how often I'll update it, but feel free to read it.

pilesofphilosophy.blogspot.com

Tea Logar said...

Jean, how about a short red dress? Two adjectives, no commas.
(I think even a "playful short red dress" might work, but then, I'm no native speaker.)

Jean Kazez said...

Good heavens, you're right. I'm suddenly realizing I don't know the rule for putting commas between adjectives.

Wayne--I like the apostrophe blog and linked to your blog in my latest post. Nice. Wanna rethink white on black? It's hard to read for us seniors.

Ophelia Benson said...

Oh that! Right, I'd forgotten that. Yes, commas are more usual - a longer string without commas is less usual. It's 'allowed' though - and you're right, it is for effect, though I'm not sure I could say exactly what effect. It's all one breath - so with pejorative adjectives like that it conveys something like exasperation, I guess - in this case projected or imagined exasperation, so it's self-mocking.

Ophelia said...

P.S. I don't pay much attention to putative rules about commas - but on the other hand, commas are probably the single item I tweak the most when I sub The Philosophers' Mag. Sometimes I put them in, sometimes I take them out, and suprisingly often I move them.

Well this is what Lynn Truss was getting at, innit - many people have no real feel for commas.

I doubt that I've ever touched a comma of yours, Jean! 'Imagine That' gets maybe one typo fixed and that's it.

Jean Kazez said...

Yes, all in one breath. That's how I read it, and as gently mocking those ways of describing atheists. Aren't subtle nuances wonderful?

Hey, if you ever did want to do more tweaking I wouldn't mind. Well, probably wouldn't mind. Other editors have subjected me to tweaks that I didn't entirely appreciate! The editor's life must be a bit tricky. To tweak or not to tweak, that is the question.

amos said...

I vaguely recall that the rule about separating adjectives with commas does not apply to colors: hence, a light red dress, not a light, red dress. Even a short red dress or an expensive red dress. However, an expensive, new red dress.

Tea Logar said...

Really? My new, short dress? As opposed to my old, short dress? That makes no sense to me.

Anyhow, it seems perfectly clear that OB is leaving out those commas for effect, which I really like.

amos said...

Here are comma rules for adjectives in series explained:
http://www.chompchomp.com/terms/adjective.htm

amos said...

A more complete version of the rules.
http://www.fortunecity.com/bally/durrus/153/gramch21.html

When I taught English, in my younger days, students called me, Mr.Punctuation.

Jean Kazez said...

Here are the rules (from the first website)--

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If the adjectives are coordinate, you must use commas between them. If, on the other hand, the adjectives are noncoordinate, no commas are necessary. How do you tell the difference?

Coordinate adjectives can pass one of two tests. When you rearrange their location in the series or when you insert and between them, they still make sense. Look at the following example:

The tall, creamy, delicious milkshake melted on the counter while the inattentive waiter flirted with the pretty cashier.

Now read this revision:

The delicious, tall, creamy milkshake melted on the counter while the inattentive waiter flirted with the pretty cashier.

The series of adjectives still makes sense even though the order has changed. And if you insert and between the adjectives, you still have a logical sentence:

The tall and creamy and delicious milkshake melted on the counter while the inattentive waiter flirted with the pretty cashier.

Noncoordinate adjectives do not make sense when you rearrange their location in the series or when you insert and between them. Check out this example:

Jeanne's two fat Siamese cats hog the electric blanket on cold winter evenings.

If you switch the order of the adjectives, the sentence becomes gibberish:

Fat Siamese two Jeanne's cats hog the electric blanket on cold winter evenings.

Logic will also evaporate if you insert and between the adjectives.

Jeanne's and two and fat and Siamese cats hog the electric blanket on cold winter evenings.

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How very helpful. Now I think we can see that Ophelia really is flouting a rule. But flouting's good--it's what colorful language is all about. Artful flouting. Not to be confused with artful flogging.