Whenever someone brings up the point that the Western feminists, and a certain subset of the Western ‘skeptic’, ‘atheist’ sphere are AWOL when it comes to Islam, there is such a wailing.
“Do you mean to say that the existence of far worse injustices means you can ignore issues closer to home?”
In a word: yes.
You see, there is this thing called ‘opportunity cost’. We all have only a set amount of time, energy etc. that we can bestow. In fact we have only a limited amount of care and attention we can bestow. We devote the majority of our resources to our own existences – which is both unavoidable and right and proper.
So, when presented with a sob story – such as the “Great Terrible Offer Of Coffee” – my question would be: Why should I care? Why does your suffering present a claim on the precious resources of my life? Or the life of anyone who isn’t you?
There are two ways of answering this question. The first is the altruist answer. This goes you should care just ‘cos. Even asking for an answer is morally suspect. The simple fact that someone has been negatively effected, even to the extent of having her feelings hurt, is a claim on your time and resources and you have to answer that claim, end of.
The problem with this argument is that, even granting it, taking the limits on resources into account, it must follow logically that the greater suffering has the greater claim. In short, under this argument, people like Watson and Benson should shut up and devote themselves to the alleviation of all the suffering caused by Islam, and then all the other suffering in the world, and when that’s done, then, maybe, we can get around to their trifling concerns.
Now, I am an Objectivist and so set no store by altruism. There is, however, something I set a great deal of store by, and that is solidarity. Solidarity is not altruism, it isn’t charity, or any other dirty word. It is the only true foundation of human brotherhood – the brotherhood of values. It’s a recognition that you have a direct stake in the fate of those who share your values – that those who abuse them are likely to abuse you.
Under this heading – let’s say Rebecca Watson, Ophelia Benson etc. have a heart attack, or fall under a bus, or are devoured by the hungry earth. What conceivable loss would that be to me? What business would that be of mine? How is anything I care about in this world negatively affected by that hypothetical?
Lest you think I am cold-blooded here, notice that this crowd show little enough concern about those poor souls who suffer under the Islamic lash – that was the whole point of Dawkins’ post to begin with.
On the other hand, the loss of, say, Richard Dawkins, or Ayaan Hirsi Ali, or Sam Harris would be a catastrophe. It would be a loss for the cause of secularism and atheism, especially since we’d lose one of those rare voices that show that there is a secular and atheist way to resist Islamic aggression.
Similarly, the Jihad attacks on Kenya, or India, or Israel are matters of profoundly personal interest to me. I want to stress that – when I see the Islamic State wage a war of genocide against the Yezidi, I take that personally. Why? Because these bastards come from countries where I live, and I know they would do it to me and mine if they had half a chance, and I have no quarrel whatsoever with the Yezidi people. The fact that I attend demonstrations against IS and try to do what little I can, is not something abstract or altruistic. It is a profoundly personal, selfish matter. The infidels of Kenya, of India, of the Middle East – these are my brothers and sisters, and their struggle is mine.
So under neither the altruist nor the solidarity premise endorses the complaint above.
There is, however, one that does. It goes like this: “Who cares how you justify it – our complaints are those of well off, well heeled Westerners – and much more than that, well off, well heeled Americans! We’ve always taken it as read that our complaints deserve respect the way all those other people’s don’t! Who are you to say differently?”
And my response would be – unprintable in anything that might be read in mixed company.