Bearding the lion

Back in my younger days, when I was still a creationist, I used to participate in the talk.origins newsgroup, trying to convince people that God really did (or could have) created the universe. I mentioned this to a fellow church member, and surprisingly, he not only knew what Usenet news was, he was familiar with talk.origins. “Wow,” he told me. “You’ve got guts!” And my spiritual reputation went up several notches, both with that guy and with a number of other people who happened to be within earshot of our conversation.

I was thinking about that incident in connection with some of the interactions that followed my recent exchange with Vox Day over who was really running away from the argument about God (or gods, in Vox’s case). If you’ve ever heard of the practices of “counting coup” or “bearding the lion in his den,” it goes a long way towards explaining the rather peculiar behavior of Vox and some of his followers.

The peculiar behavior was this: As you can see at the bottom of this post, I have turned on the option that puts new comments from unknown posters into a moderation queue until I can verify that they’re not spam. When Vox mentioned my post on his blog, I got a bunch of extra hits from his readers, and a few who even left comments. Then they turned around and went straight back to Vox’s blog, saying things like the following:

Only because I know the moderators won’t pass it at evangalicalrealism, where it was initially posted:

Great post. You nailed VD once again. He really is all talk and no action.

Vox offered a debate. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, it consists of all talk. That’s why the proposed radio venue was ideally suited for it.

As for the value of action, I can see that you are quite impressed with PZ’s action of running away.

I did, of course, approve his comment, since it was not spam, and I even responded to it. But too late! He was outa here. Another poster made a comment here, and then did the same thing: high-tailed it back to Voxland.

# Ric Says:
June 11, 2008 at 10:54 am
Great post. You nailed VD once again. He really is all talk and no action.

I commented there. It did not pass moderation.

All I did was suggest that TIA is not representative of no action.

Evangelical Realism is a blog of little worth, strutting about and running away like a whipped little doggie.

Run little doggie, run.

Once again, as soon as I checked my moderation queue and found his post, I approved it (since it was not spam) and responded to it. He, however, did not reply; he was too busy bragging (from a safe distance) about how I was the one that ran away.

And that brings me back to bearding the lion, counting coup, and my own experiences as a talk.origins contributor. “Bearding the lion,” so I’ve heard, was an ancient practice designed to demonstrate bravery (and possibly to thin out a surplus population of foolhardy young men). The idea was that you would sneak up on a sleeping lion in his den, give his beard a yank, and then run away while your friends went “Wow!” (or sometimes, “Ow!”). It wasn’t that you killed the lion or necessarily even wounded him. It was just that you were brave enough to put yourself within striking range of a full-grown lion.

And that’s what I realized in church that day. It didn’t matter whether I was actually convincing anybody on talk.origins. It didn’t matter whether I was getting ripped to bloody shreds, rhetorically speaking. All that mattered was that I dared to show my face there, and could brag about it. It bumped me up a couple notches on the scale of social status. It even improved my reproductive chances. Well, theoretically anyway (sigh).

But that’s what I think of, now, when I see people standing up and making pointless arguments in favor of this or that popular superstition. They’re not really trying to convince anyone, otherwise they’d refine their arguments (and in the process evolve towards a more reasonable and defensible position in the first place). No, they’re just bearding the lion, counting coup, winning their bragging rights. Winning is irrelevant. As far as they and their peers are concerned, it’s a victory just to show up at all.

 
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One Response to “Bearding the lion”

  1. Ric Says:

    Wow, the rabid VD-loving hordes really took umbrage to my comment, huh? Hehe.