The phrase Dog Whistle Politics refers to a type of political campaigning or speechmaking which employs coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has a different or more specific meaning for a targeted subgroup of the audience.
It seems to me that something of this sort is increasingly on display in opinion pieces that suggest that militant or strident atheists should pipe down because their tactics are “not helping”.
In today’s Guardian, for example, Julian Baggini has a piece on how Atheists and Believers can get along. At first blush, it appears to be a reasonable enough piece. Who, for example, could fail to disagree with Baggini when he writes:
I see my allies as being the community of the reasonable, and my enemies as the community of blind faith and dogmatism. Any religion that is not unreasonable and not dogmatic should likewise recognise that it has a kinship with atheists who hold those same values. And it should realise that it has more to fear from other people of faith who deny those values than it does from reasonable atheists like myself.
But hang on, who would Baggini then classify as “unreasonable” atheists? Tellingly, he doesn’t actually name names, but I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to hear the “dog whistle” calling out names such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins. Indeed, the very first comment following his piece says:
Nice article Julian and I think you’ve made an important distinction between fair minded atheists like yourself and hateful bigotted [sic] “anti-theists” like Dawkins.
Clearly, this person has heard a dog whistle loud and clear and responded with Pavlovian predictability.
It’s all a bit depressing. We seem to be moving towards a situation where robust and overt debate of religious matters is being increasingly thought of as being “shrill” and “militant”. Ophelia is noticing the tendency as well. She suspects that, as an overt atheist, she would be lumped by Baggini into the class of “unreasonable” atheists, but since he, like others brandishing their dog whistles, doesn’t name names, it’s difficult to be definite. But the implication is clearly there. As Eric MacDonald points out in a comment:
This is beginning to border on the absurd! First of all, where are Ruse and Baggini and Mooney, and the rest of the gang, getting the idea that the gnu atheists are hostile? There is actually very little hostility. Listen to some of the debates that Hitchens and Dawkins have taken part in. There’s no evident hatred or hostility. Instead, what you see is an incredible willingness to discuss, to debate, to answer questions, to give explanations, etc. etc. Where did the myth of hostility and stridency and shrillness come from?
It’s all very strange.