Settling for Second Worst

That phrase popped into my head just now to describe an argument that’s popular with religious fundamentalists, misogynists, and other assorted trolls.

One example that’s been in my blogosphere is Amanda Todd, and how a guy calling himself The Amazing Atheist demonstrates that you don’t have to be religious to be an asshole. Amanda was driven to suicide by an online stalker, but apparently we shouldn’t feel sorrow because she had it better than women in radical Islamic countries.

A similar attitude from the opposite direction is an argument from Gary Bauer that feminists should pipe down because they’re better off than Malala, who was shot by the Taliban for advocating women’s education. In another example, a number of bloggers were criticizing an unconstitutional heavily Christian school district, and a troll came in to ask if we’d prefer the school to be heavily Islamic, as if there were only two choices.

That’s where “Settling for Second Worst” comes in. It’s an attitude of moral laxity. It’s the idea that we shouldn’t strive to be better people or improve our society because the satisfaction that we’re better than the worst example should be all we need. I don’t think we’re one literally one step away from being the worst, but the attitude sounds like an effective way for a second worst to salve his conscience without actually doing anything or making any progress. It’s an argument for maintaining the status quo.

Yes, women in first world nations are generally better off than those in radical theocracies, but they’re still being wronged in various inexcusable ways. Why should I accept that? Why shouldn’t we try to expose and correct those wrongs? Why should these injustices be allowed to continue?

Thinking a bit more, I wonder how the Heaven/Hell model of the afterlife influences it. Given such extremes and the human capacity for half-assing, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of fundies are trying to be just good enough to get into eternal bliss while still indulging in slightly less selfish behavior than they think they can get away with. Kind of ironic that such black-and-white cosmology likely encourages ambiguous gray as the ideal moral position.

2 responses to “Settling for Second Worst

  1. Another reason to not settle for second worst is that it easily devolves to settling for just barely second worst. This is especially true when it involves one group oppressing another, where every bit ceded to the oppressors simply becomes the new baseline they push further oppression from.

  2. Something about the Amazing Atheist fellow bothered me from the first videos I watched. “Tone trolling” is a problem these days that has led to a somewhat too strong push back, but the guy was just being a jerk. There’s pointing out how evil religion can be, there’s pointing out how silly or outright dumb religion can be and make people. Then there’s reducing religious people who’ve done none of the most egregious evils or idiocies into subhuman monsters by association.

    So, when it was revealed just how horrible his attitude towards women was (and it was shockingly horrible, some of the worst and most sexist and violent stuff I’ve heard), yes I was angry, but I can’t say I was that surprised.

    I was more surprised by Richard Dawkin’s rather stunning dismissal of women’s issues some time ago (even then, he brings up the “overzealous hunting of merely suspected pedophiles” rather too often for my comfort, even if I very much enjoy the majority of his books).

    I love your phrase “settling for second worst”. People should strive to be better. I can sympathize far better with someone’s mistakes if they are recognized as such. I don’t expect much beyond that. Of course, casual dismissal is very difficult to point out. Someone can say “that’s sexist” but if someone doesn’t know why, well just saying it won’t open their eyes. It takes someone explaining in detail. Even there, it may not work. Sometimes the misconceptions and thus apathy go to a far deeper misconception that takes a long time to deal with. Who’s in the best position to deal with that? Probably family and close friends, the ones who should be taking on the long and slow task of carefully dismantling and rebuilding them, stronger, better, faster.

    All too often lately big figures in the rationalism movement have revealed some rather startling bigotry. Some of it is at least just a lack of empathy, like Penn & Teller’s objectivist leanings that dismiss forcing the wealthy to do anything because force is “never right”. Others seem to have a seriously deep seated issue taught to them in the long long ago. I can’t say how it happened. There are plenty of men in Oklahoma who seem pretty on the ball (and plenty who aren’t I’m sure). It’s hard to deal with because they truly believe they have “reality” on their side, even if their reality stems from the same confirmation bias and exceedingly small sample size that leads to other problems.

    Neil Cicierega is a surprising exception. That fellow is the King of all Internets, making funny and memery for over a decade now. A few years ago the guy reveals himself to be an atheist, much to my joy, and recently he revealed himself to be a feminist in taking sides on some really sad problem with so called “bronies” co-opting what was once a safe spot for women. You know you gotta take your victories where you can.

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