To forestall any misunderstandings I ought to begin by acknowledging that I fully respect Richard Dawkins’ right to speak his mind. That such a mind has spoken, and at such length, can only be seen as a boon to the scientific community. With Dawkins, after all, we finally have incontrovertible proof that zombies can speak.
Of course we already knew, starting mid-1980s, that zombies could tie a tie. But the proof Dawkins has provided of linguistic competence raises the zombie debate to a whole new level. And now many other zombies (as demonstrated by “lively” discussions now splattered over the Internet) are themselves entering the lists in greater and greater numbers.
Though recent studies correlate high-functioning autism with atheism, I think for Dawkins and the other New Atheists the diagnosis isn’t apt. No, with this latter crowd I believe we are dealing with full-on zombism.
Whether Dawkins and these other newly vocal zombies are what is called philosophical zombies or whether they are rather the traditional flesh-eating zombies is not a question I can determine here. Personally I incline toward the theory that finds in them elements of both. In any case, it is not the type of zombie that concerns me, but rather their sudden ascent to language.
What does it mean?
We are still at a loss to answer this question. Admittedly, my current interests are not so much in their recent acquisition of speech, but more in what they actually say when they do speak. Or when they write. Because Dawkins has also proved that zombies can write human-like prose.
From the start, when they first began talking back in 2004, I noticed that New Atheist zombies were liable to toss out all manner of interesting material. It’s the striking oddness of their pronouncements, floundering there at the edge of human language, that’s kept me following their “work”. That they self-identify as atheists is secondary for me. Because in their pronouncements, it’s not so much the atheist element that stands out, but the zombie element. Non-zombie atheists have been around for centuries, and one might at any time have a beer with them. But with Dawkins? Could one have a beer with Dawkins?
Others have remarked on this too. With Dawkins and his fellows there’s a certain zombie panache that both attracts attention, if only for the curiosity of the phenomenon, and horrifies. There's a manic, mechanical flippancy one almost never finds elsewhere.
For instance, Dawkins last year opined that we in the non-zombie community would do well if we aborted infants with Down syndrome. The remark was worthy of note for a number of reasons. First, it demonstrated a nascent zombie “desire” to play some kind of directive role in human affairs. Why? That zombies would even presume to give us advice on social issues is striking in itself, almost as if my electric range were to start telling me how it wants the French toast made.
Still, regardless of the politically lame and often horrific things Dawkins and other New Atheist zombies say, I believe we should allow them the right to say on. If only to keep an eye on them. Further (because many have already started to think along these lines) even if we did have prenatal tests that could determine a child would be born with a mind like Richard Dawkins’, I would not be among those in favor of aborting it. Why not? Well, for one, the tests might be inaccurate. It’s happened before. And ethically speaking, the possibility of error more or less ties our hands. Myself, at least for now, I'd rather let a hundred babbling zombies live than abort one healthy baby by mistake.
Perhaps some will see my position as extreme.
To what degree a person suffering from Dawkins syndrome is a human person like the rest of us is still hotly debated, but again, I think we must err on the cautious side. Zombies like Dawkins do have rights. Though I grant that their work does tangible harm to the larger culture, we must keep in mind that their innate idiocy has so far managed to undermine the influence they might otherwise have. Their own speech clearly proves their inhumanity to anyone with ears to hear. Rather than outright censorship, then, I think it sufficient for now if we simply keep an eye on them, all the while adamantly resisting their crazed efforts to change us.
Yes, I'm aware that some fear we may be on the brink of a Zombie Apocalypse. But I think that fear is premature. Given the limited number of actual zombies out there (a few thousand perhaps) added to the aforesaid stupidity of their discourse, I highly doubt a Zombie Apocalypse is imminent. So far most people are smart enough not to be swayed by the shabby rhetoric zombies deploy. We must hope this continues.
There are so many sad questions raised by Dawkins syndrome. Why it broke out so suddenly and with such virulence in the first decade of this century no one knows. We still don’t really understand the etiology of New Atheist zombism. More research is needed, and needed swiftly. Once we’ve got a clearer understanding of what is turning these men (it is mostly men) into zombies, we can begin work to decrease incidence of zombism in coming generations.
A careful study of the early years of the most prominent New Atheist zombies might provide helpful clues. With Dawkins himself, some have speculated that an accident at the time of birth or in youth may be to blame. Did perinatal asphyxia perhaps shut down the parts of his brain capable of spiritual intelligence? Or did he maybe, as a child, drink a bottle of laundry detergent, thinking it was soda?
Dawkins and Sam Harris are very possibly walking/talking evidence of the need for better child-proof packaging. It’s a tragedy really, for everyone. On the one hand, the whole English-speaking world suffers from their drooly pronouncements, their frantic construction of straw men; on the other, they themselves suffer from their inability to comprehend the human minds around them.
I often wonder what it’s like to live inside such brains, where all the neural activity is located in the mechanical and calculative sectors.
Oh, and the moneymaking sectors. The “Dawkins Circle”, after all, which Dawkins himself launched some years ago, is certainly proof that zombies can make a quick buck. There is a clear cult-like hierarchy to the organization, carefully designed to lure others who may have drunk laundry detergent. And the price exacted from sycophants each time they try to move up a level--it's repugnant really, but has so far proved surprisingly successful in English-speaking countries. Which makes one wonder: What is in our drinking water?
So how does the sycophant proceed once he's joined the Dawkins Circle?
Consider: For $1,000 a year you enter the first level, what is called the “Reason Circle”, which allows you discounts on cult merchandise and the chance to meet “personalities” from the Richard Dawkins foundation; but not Dawkins himself.
For $2,500 a year, the price of joining the “Science Circle”, you get a chance to actually attend an event where the Alpha Zombie will speak; but you won’t necessarily meet him.
Then come the “Darwin Circle” at $5,000 a year and the “Fifth Horseman Circle” at $10,000 a year. Those who have attained to the Fifth Horseman Circle will get to sit at a table with . . . Richard Dawkins Foundation Executive Director Robyn Blumner.
It's mind-boggling almost.
In fact if you want to get close enough to the center of this Zombie Circle Jerk to actually kiss the Ring of Reason, you’ll have to come up with a staggering $100,000 a year. That’s the entrance fee for what is called “The Magic of Reality Circle”, which I take to be the very rectal center of the organization. For your $100,000 cheque, you’ll get a "private breakfast or lunch" with Dawkins himself.
Don’t ask about dinner. Dinner is a different price scale entirely.
This is all as ingenious as it is zombiesque. Can one imagine non-zombie scientists like Charles Darwin or Albert Einstein creating such an organization? Or any of the prominent Western scientists who are also Christians?
Yes, it’s sad what can happen to otherwise normal humans when they fall under the spell of the Dawkins. Or at least it’s sad what can happen to those with money. Because look--the lower classes (even the middle classes!) are not meant to attain Reason in this particular cult. And really: Why in God's name would anyone pay such money to sit by and maybe, just maybe, talk with a tie-wearing zombie?
I can talk with my coffee grinder any time for free. Like a zombie, my coffee grinder is entirely lacking in spiritual intelligence. I don’t much see the need to spend my hard-earned money on the Dawkins model. But others, perhaps because of the water, beg to differ.
As a zombie is a human-like creature adept at simulating humans but lacking consciousness, so New Atheism is a religion-like phenomenon adept at simulating human meaning but lacking soul. With the Dawkins Circle, Richard Dawkins is using a religion-like hierarchy to soak money, in sometimes substantial sums, from deluded admirers who want to say they sat next to him. Founding this little cult does demonstrate business acumen, as I've indicated. But money is, here, largely a matter of the merely calculative. What do zombies need money for anyway? Dawkins’ success in building this cult doesn’t do anything to controvert the sad reality of his zombie state. He and Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett with them, have brains in which all the eggs are in one basket--the calculative. And the three of them together, along with a few frothy others, are swiftly on their way to becoming one huge, messy Omelet--an insipid, spreading, tasteless Omelet that those of us with human brains had best keep a close watch on. Because if these zombies aren't using their financial power for human means, what in the end will they use this power for?
A crucial part of our close watch must be the constant work of keeping zombies and their repellent ideas away from Christian children. And Jewish children. And Muslim children. And Hindu children. This task is especially difficult because the young are so susceptible to the lure of virtual or mechanical things, as anyone knows who sees how quickly children take to computer games. We must remember that the relation zombie discourse holds to human language is similar to that which computer-generated images hold to the real world. In short, it is seductive but deceptive; it is empty. New Atheist zombies clearly recognize that enticing our children into alignment with them is their surest route to dominating us. It's a perilous mix of factors we face here. We must not let them succeed.
It is my thesis that the arrogant and eggy certainties of the zombie mind are aimed specifically at engulfing our more flexible and receptive human minds--especially those of our children: Christian children, Hindu children, Shinto children, Shia children. To defeat this threat, we must point out the irreality of zombie discourse at every turn.
As I’ve already mentioned Dawkins, Harris and Dennett, I should probably say something about Christopher Hitchens, the so-called Second Horseman of the Arsepocalypse. Hitchens passed away three years ago. Though there's still some debate on the question, I personally believe Hitchens was not in fact a zombie, though he did exhibit increasing zombielike symptoms in later years. Hitchens attributed his esophageal cancer to a life of drinking and smoking, but I suspect a different culprit: the existential pressure wearing him down as the zombie part of his psyche struggled to push out the remaining human elements.
Which raises a frightening question: Is zombism perhaps infectious? Did Hitchens maybe contract his condition from the wrong drinking buddies? God forbid. And yes, I mean the real God.
To conclude, I believe we must continue, at least for a time, to allow the New Atheist zombies to speak and write as they will. But even as we do so, we must be wise enough to see the serious threat their discourse poses, and we must take every single utterance they produce with a big grain of salt.
Like I do, when my refrigerator tries to tell me what juice to buy.
“Thanks for the advice, Siri,” I say, “but you can’t taste the juice, so why get involved?”
And Siri shuts up. Unlike our New Atheists, she at least knows when she’s out of her league.
Which is why I prefer dealing with the simpler mechanical devices. They may say impertinent things now and then, but at least they’re not likely to go and start their own fake religion. I mean--Can you imagine a vacuum cleaner trying to tell us our place in the universe? Before the rise of the New Atheism, I couldn't imagine such a thing. Now I can.
This and 42 other important public service announcements can be found in my new book Idiocy, Ltd.