Not So Bright

As we know, Chesterton famously observed
that the mark of madness is not the loss of reason, but the loss of everything except reason. Periodically, something in our culture will show me the brilliance of that insight with great force.

Long ago, I remember watching some film about human evolution narrated by Richard Leakey Jr. It was interesting, as such films go, but as it went along you got the sense that it explained everything at the cost of leaving everything out — like scientists in a Far Side cartoon analyzing humor.

The crowning moment of the film, for me, was when Leakey stood in front of the gorgeous 20,000-year-old cave paintings in Lascaux, France and, with genuine puzzlement in his voice, wondered aloud: "Why did they do this? What was the purpose?"

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I had the distinct impression he would have expressed equal bafflement were he standing in the Louvre. There seemed to be a gene missing somewhere. He was a man who knew a great deal about human origins — and yet, however smart he was, there was something about him that was radically out of touch with, well, what it meant to be human. You felt he needed tape on his glasses, a pocket protector, high-water trousers, and D&D dice in his pocket to complete the image he seemed to project with such earnest unconsciousness.

That incident came rushing back to me a few days ago as I read the Vox Popoli blog, which seems to have been one of the first to have posted this hilariously subversive Richard Dawkins rap video spoofing the arrogance of Dawkins and his New Atheist devotees.

Now it frankly never occurred to me that anybody — wherever you come down on the "Intelligent Design vs. New Atheists" quarrel (I think they both have big problems) — could watch that video and not know that it was a satire of Dawkins and the New Atheists. (It is, in fact, transparently the work of viral advertisers for Expelled.) However, I discovered that, thanks to the same sort of bizarre lack of elementary social aptitude that Leakey displayed in the film I saw decades ago, the humor and satire are indeed lost on . . . Richard Dawkins.

I don’t mean that Dawkins got angry about being spoofed. I mean that Dawkins was too thick to figure out if he were being spoofed or not. On his blog, after discovering the video, he pleads for enlightenment from his fellow Brights:

If anyone can understand a single word of this, don’t bother to translate, just tell me whose side it’s on.

That would be funny enough, given that Dawkins is our natural moral and intellectual superior, according to his own press releases. But the hilarious part is the response of the Brights who chorus into his combox to assure him and each other that the video is, in fact, on "their side." Indeed, the many Brights analyze the data carefully and then deliver themselves of magisterial opinions like:
Maybe I am showing my age too, but I found it too embarrassing to watch for long, and have no clue as to the "angle."

Aside from the intro, I can’t really see any anti-anything in the rap.

Seems rather pro-science to me.

It’s pro science, pro Dick in an irreverent way that would appeal to younger, hipper audiences.

I think there are enough pro-science lyrics in it to think it rests on "our" side. Plus the visuals are quite ironic in many cases. I can understand a little confusion but I put that down to muddled and mangled use of the language (which I believe is normal for this kind of music). On the whole it’s entertaining IMO.

However, my favorite comment (and this really does summarize a huge amount of the commentary on the video from the Dawkins crowd), is this:
I just want to assure everyone that everyone is looking very deeply into this, and it isnt necessary. i understand this kind of thing very well, and i can say with no doubt that the intent is to flatter a pro-science stance.

Chad, one of the readers over on the Vox Popoli blog summarizes Dawkins & Co.’s lightning-swift-on-the-uptake response to the satire:
1. Video posted around 11:00 PM
2. 1 hour and 44 minutes later, Dawkins implores his more intelligent readers to help inform him as to whose side the video is on (his side, or not his side). He then pokes fun at people that think things are funny that he doesn’t understand just in case it turns out to be ‘not on his side.’ Comment #151544
3. Dawkins now presumably goes to sleep.

4. Nearly nine hours later, he wakes up and checks the post again. He sees that his fellow scientific elites like the video, but also don’t understand it. Dawkins tries to get in a little dig on postmodernism, but just ends up making fun of his posters. Comment #151685
5. Nine and a half hours after posting, Dawkins wonders how his fellow comrades could laugh at something they don’t understand. He then lauds The Life of Brian as the pinnacle of comedic evolution. Comment #151704

6. A couple minutes after the last post, he gets in another jab at Postmodernism. Comment #151713

7. Under chastisement for his humbuggery, Dawkins admits that Daniel Dennett popping his head up from out of nowhere is, in fact, funny. Comment #151715

8. Nearly ten hours after posting the video, someone postulates that the humor is derived from the silly dancing bodies (not the satire). Dawkins seems to accept this theory and thanks the poster for his intellect. Comment #151723

9. Sixteen hours after first watching the video, Dawkins finally realizes that it is, in fact, making fun of ‘his side.’ Dawkins defends himself again by saying that he didn’t understand it. Comment #151849.

10. Seventeen hours after posting, Dawkins attempts to comprehend the humor by equating similar scenes of incongruousness that Monty Python has also done. Dawkins has apparently not yet pondered why, if this were the only thing funny about the video, he did not catch on before this. Dawkins chalks this up to the video not being funny, and dismisses the obvious conclusion that his head is too big to see the satire behind it. Comment #151889
11. The next day, Dawkins chimes in again to defend his Ph.D. status to a poster who dared question it. Comment #152142
12. Nearly 36 hours after posting, Dawkins discovers what a ‘grill’ is and waxes philosophic as to why Sam Harris would have one in the video. The conclusion he comes up with is that it adds no humor to the video and should not have been put in. Comment #152168
13. After a full three and a half days after first watching the video, Dawkins (obviously perturbed at the fact he didn’t get that he was the butt of the joke, when every other non-elite who saw it could tell in an instant) attempts to equate the video with ‘The worst poem ever written.’ He then satisfies himself by settling on the conclusion that this is the only reason why people might like it. The final analysis is that it’s not only ‘not good,’ and not even ‘pretty bad,’ but so incredibly bad, that it is in fact, good. He gets in a snobbish comment about the Bible for good measure. Comment #153061

Kathy Shaidle remarks that she thinks 9/11 Truthers and conspiracy theorists typically suffer from a form of personality or relational disorder. They often seem to lack a fundamental ability to connect with other human beings at a normal affective level. Their whole world is The Conspiracy, and all the psychological energy of their existence is bent on feeding that machine. Reading Dawkins and his acolytes attempting to respond to the humor of this video made me realize that the most zealous of the atheist-materialist crowd (meaning Dawkins and his acolytes, as well as the acolytes of the other New Atheists) appear to suffer, in large numbers, from something similar in the personality disorder department.

No, not every atheist is a humorless geek out of touch with elementary social skills. John Derbyshire, for instance, gets the joke, though his earnest reader with the pocket protector does not. So do a few of Dawkins’s readers — eventually. But those who make their intellect the focus of their worship (and especially those who make intellect worship an evangelical religion) are more prone than the general population to this sort of social ineptitude.

And it is these people, mind you, who fancy they know how to build a Truly Human Society as the natural moral and intellectual superiors of the majority of the human race whom they derisively dismiss as "faithheads."

After all, they are, as they never cease to remind us, the Brights.

Mark P. Shea is a senior editor at and a columnist for Visit his blog at


  • Mark P. Shea

    Mark P. Shea is the author of Mary, Mother of the Son and other works. He was a senior editor at Catholic Exchange and is a former columnist for Crisis Magazine.

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