Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Freedom Of Speech Includes The Freedom To Call Crazy Lies, Well, Crazy Lies (UPDATE)

What follows is an expansion of this comment.

It isn't just me. The level of crazy-stupid-bullshit in our public discourse rises and rises. We are actually having a serious discussion whether or not the United States will meet its debt obligations. We are treating a fiscal deficit due to a seriously warped revenue system in line with a bad economy as a puzzle on par with quantum physics.

For the life of this blog, I have made it my policy that I do not "argue" with, first, Holocaust deniers. Seems simple enough. I haven't encountered any, but, if I do, well . . . I have, in the intervening years, come to include creationists, global warming deniers, and now birthers. In each case, the principle is simple enough - I refuse to coddle people who hold beliefs that are counter to reality. If you wish to believe, say, that pouring billions of tons of carbon compounds in to the atmosphere in a relatively brief span of time has not created easily measurable effects on our climate, with disastrous results, that's OK, I can't stop you. If you refuse to acknowledge the .5-degrees centigrade rise in global temps over the past couple decades, bully for you. Just don't expect me to treat your ideas with anything like legitimacy.

Part of our problem, I think, is we in America believe that freedom of speech means we need to treat all ideas as having some kind of equal demand upon our attention, some equality of potential truth value. That's nonsense. If we had a public figure who insisted that he or she was the spokesperson for a group of aliens from the 28th century who wanted to rule us for our own good, I think most people would assume a serious mental illness.

Why do we not do the same thing for notions equally insane? Because a whole bunch of people, sincere, honest, hard-working, otherwise good-enough folks, hold them? Since these ideas - say, birthers - are rooted in claims that are demonstrably false, why not just make the point they continue to hold false beliefs and carry on? I mean, seriously. Are newspaper editors, journalists, and public figures so afraid of hurting the feelings of large groups of people they will coddle people who hold crazy ideas? We do these sections of the public no demonstrable good by indulging their fantasies.

We would be far better off if someone in a position of authority made it clear that, while there is no harm done by individuals holding all sorts of fanciful notions - I was abducted by aliens! Bigfoot ate my dog! - we cannot conduct our public affairs based on such ideas. I see not qualitative difference between believing in the tooth fairy and birhterism, say, or "cryptozoology" and "creation science" (or Intelligent Design, as it is now called). Why pretend otherwise? Since our country has been demonstrably harmed by social, economic, and political ideas that are the equivalent of belief in Hobbits, it seems to me a wise way of moving forward is taking these folks by the hand, smiling at them indulgently, and moving on. If their feelings get hurt, well, that can't be helped. Best to treat adults like adults, and inform them it is time to surrender belief in Santa Claus.

And, no, this is not "cowardice", as one person recently told me. There is nothing cowardly about laughing at nonsense. It is the height of intellectual integrity to tell someone who says something crazy, "That's just nuts."

UPDATE: Just one of so many stories that, I am quite sure, Marshall Art will dismiss as liberal lies.
Global warming is driving the American pika, a unique cousin of rabbits that dwells in the snowy peaks of the Rockies, to extinction. Pikas, who spend the summer days collecting alpine plants and flowers for their winter nests, die off when exposed to temperatures above 78 degrees. New research published in Global Change Biology find that local populations of pikas — each isolated on the upper reaches of different mountains — are being extirpated by warming temperatures at an increasingly rapid rate.
And Al Gore is fat.

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