Rebecca Watson is at it again, getting “booted” out of DragonCon for breaking the rules about what she can and can’t sell at her table. Normally, I wouldn’t pay this much attention because that is exactly what Watson counts on when these kinds of incidents happen, but I wanted to comment on this one because it brought to light that Watson makes her living as a blogger, and I find that somewhat difficult to grasp.
I’m not sure how one goes about making a living in such a way. Certainly, I wouldn’t know where to begin if I chose to try to earn money from my web space. Such is not my goal. It isn’t that I don’t need extra money; it is just that I have far too many other items on my plate to put energy into the enterprise. Therefore, you’ll notice this space has no ads, and recently I decided to disallow comments on my posts. I realized that I have no desire to provide a platform for other people. This space is my space, and I don’t want to share it.
But looking at Watson’s formula for making her living as a blogger, it is clear that the most important tactic is to get attention. Well, of course it is. If I took a notion to attempt to earn money from my web space, my inclination would be to gain such attention by means of quality and timely prose and by participating in the community that the blog addresses. Watson’s gift, probably her best gift, is gaining attention through the creation of drama. It doesn’t matter if that attention she generates is good or bad. Either has been a powerful tool, I assume, for enabling her to earn a living from blogging.
The thing about Watson is that her blog isn’t all that interesting or well-written or even salient with respect to her subject-matter. There are far better writers out there who write circles around Watson, both in terms of the quality of the prose, and in terms of the construction of arguments. Nothing Watson writes, has ever written, has managed to make it into my daily essential reads. Nothing she has written has given me pause and prompted reflection.
Of course, most of my readers here will know about elevatorgate and realize that Watson first burst onto the consciousness of the Skeptic community by means of riding the coattails of Richard Dawkins. I love Dawkins, but can we jump into the Way-Back machine and destroy his computer before he writes the now infamous “Dear Muslima” comment? He gave Watson pure gold, and Watson being the consummate opportunist, recognized it and scooped it up.
There’s another character who has managed to gather quite a bit of attention by riding Dawkin’s coattails: Ray Comfort, the creationist, the banana man.
Both Comfort and Watson share the gift for self-promotion. Both strike me as opportunists of the highest order with no other discernible talents. Neither seems to add anything of substance to the discourse. If you watched Comfort’s Evolution vs. God, perhaps you were struck by how silly it is, how laughably face-palm-worthy it is. I can never quite decide what Ray Comfort is. I can’t decide if he is as stupid as he seems, or if he is crazy like a fox. I can’t decide if he is genuine in his beliefs or or cynical charlatan who has figured out how to make a living by doing nothing of value.
Same goes for Watson. Is she sincere? Is she a charlatan? A combination of both?
No matter which it is, both Comfort and Watson have found a way to earn a living with no discernible skill or talent for anything more than self-promotion and attention-getting. I envy this, to a point. I have to do a job for a living, a job I love, but nevertheless I am beholden to an employer to bring home a paycheck with which I can support my family. I don’t have the gift of self-promotion, and I’ve always found money quite difficult to come by. It seems to me, though, especially in the case of Comfort, given the rampant dishonesty of much of his work, the gift of self-promotion requires a degree of unscrupulousness. Truth and truth-seeking are secondary to the attention, and one must do whatever one must do to get the attention.
It seems completely beyond Comfort’s ability to fairly represent evolution. Watson’s criticisms of evolutionary psychology also strike me as unscrupulous, as a failure to fairly represent the subject of her criticism. Skeptics, it seems to me, have a duty to pursue the truth. Evangelists like Comfort have no such duty. That would seem to make Watson’s rhetoric all the more poisonous.
In Watson and Comfort, we have two people with no clear talent for anything other than self-promotion, who have found a vehicle for self-promotion in people with far more talent and far more significant contributions to the world (Dawkins).
I guess every community has its Ray Comfort. In Skepticism, that character just may be Rebecca Watson.
Update: Apparently, there was no booting at DragonCon. That story seems to be a fabrication.