Mike the Mad Biologist

Park 51: Lessons for the War on Science

Amanda Marcotte makes a very astute observation about the opposition to the non-mosque not-that-close-to-the-former-World-Trade-Center* that has arisen over the last month (italics mine):

Make no mistake—all soft language about how it’s just too close to the WTC or how this is an assault on 9/11 victims is just crap to keep this whole controversy going, and to gin up more paranoia about Muslims in America. This is very classic behavior for conspiracy theorists, to roll up what they’re really trying to say and put it in softer terms. They feel that most people aren’t “ready” for the real truth, and so dishonesty is an acceptable ploy to warm people up. The hope is that you first buy into the opening gambit—that the Cordoba House is “too close”, that the issue is Obama won’t release his birth certificate, that there are “questions” about how the Twin Towers actually fell, etc.—and once your foot is in the door, you’re opening to going down the rabbit hole.

We see the same crap with creationists: little lies in service to The Big Truth. They really don’t believe in ‘teaching the controversy’: that’s a wedge (to use a phrase) to get the foot in the door for teaching creationism.

Amanda also has some good advice on how to respond:

This is why it’s fucking stupid of Democratic politicians like Howard Dean to play this “both sides” crap and try to please everyone. You’re feeding the beast. You’re adding more doors for people to enter so they can go down the rabbit hole. The only response to conspiracy theories is to come down on them like a sack of hammers, and brook no nonsense.

Admittedly, that’s uncivil, but, as Tristero points out, sometimes that’s exactly what’s called for:

…I can’t laugh at this.

Why? Because some of you, right now, are starting to waste the little time you have here on earth by marshalling reasoned arguments and accurate facts to refute Conservapedia’s lies. And so are others. And that is terribly sad.

Worse, it is counterproductive, because every moment you spend engaging right wing lunatics over tired, out-of-date, and utterly nonsensical argument over science they think is too liberal, is a moment taken away from encountering the truly exciting discoveries being announced almost hourly…

But if we completely ignore their utterly ridiculous lies, distortions, and antiquated disputes, then we, not they, get to set the terms of the discourse… I see no reason why anyone, scientist or layperson, should enter an argument over the relativism of relativity. On the other hand, I do think we need to expose right wing ignoramuses as often as possible. In order to ridicule them. And to sneer.

Because taking them seriously is like taking the crazy person on the subway seriously. Credible people do not put forth ridiculous ideas. Charles Pierce on Park 51:

Move the thing eight blocks and the loons will find something to be angry about there. Move it to, say, Boston, and you’ll hear that two of the planes hijacked on 9/11 came out of Logan, and how insensitive it is to build something like that on the sacred ground where it all began. You don’t assuage lunatics. You ignore them. You medicate them. You don’t put them on television. You suggest to their relatives that a spot of confinement might not be amiss. You don’t assuage politicians who are willing to use the fiery rage of the horribly manic to ride back into office. You laugh at them. Then you vote against them. Forever.

We defeat them by engaging them on our terms, not theirs.

Comments

  1. #1 Art
    August 22, 2010

    I agree.

    One of the hidden ideas the right uses is to engage in pseudo-intellectualism. To present half-baked arguments, objections, requests for clarification to wear you down and keep you busy and distracted while their larger agenda remains in place or advances.

    If you don’t engage you are accused of: ‘forcing your agenda down their throats without debate’, not taking them/their points seriously, being an elitist/ dictator. Expect it. But keep moving.