It’s always kind of distressing to find something you agree with being said by people who also espouse views you find nutty, repulsive, or reprehensible. It doesn’t make them any less right, but it makes it a little more difficult to be associated with those views.
So, for instance, there’s this broadside against ineffective math education, via Arts & Letters Daily. It’s got some decent points about the failings of modern math education, which lead to many of our entering students being unable to do algebra. But along the way, you get frothiness like the following:
The educational trends that led to the NCTM’s approach to math have a long pedigree. During the 1970s and 1980s, educators in reading, English, and history argued that the traditional curriculum needed to be more “engaging” and “relevant” to an increasingly alienated and unmotivated–or so it was claimed–student body. Some influential educators sought to dismiss the traditional curriculum altogether, viewing it as a white, Christian, heterosexual-male product that unjustly valorized rational, abstract, and categorical thinking over the associative, experience-based, and emotion-laden thinking supposedly more congenial to females and certain minorities.
This veers a little too much in the direction of “we must protect our precious bodily fluids!,” and really undercuts the effectiveness of the rest of the argument. This is not to say that there weren’t nutty things said by people on the other side of the math-education argument, but any time you start to sound like Jack D. Ripper, you’re headed to a Bad Place.
Of course, that’s only the lowest-order effect of nuttiness. The next highest order contribution comes when people are able to use the reprehensible views of your associates to construct seemingly devastating counterattacks, such as Malcom Gladwell’s response to Steven Pinker (who wrote a fairly devastating review of Gladwell in the New York Times), which consists mostly of pointing out that Pinker’s comments about NFL quarterbacks are based on arguments from a creepy racist. Which is superficially very effective– after all, who wants to be associated with a creepy racist, even twice removed?– but doesn’t really address the substance of the critique. It also neatly dodges the whole “igon value” issue (namely, that Gladwell misuses technical terms in a way that suggests he has no idea what he’s talking about), which I’m sure Gladwell is more than happy to pretend never happened, but which is much more central to Pinker’s argument than the NFL business.
So, not only do nutty views end up making it difficult for people who generally agree with you to, well, agree with you, but they also provide aid and comfort to those who disagree with you, by giving them an easy rhetorical dodge past people who use your arguments. The moral here is clear: people with creepy political views need to stop agreeing with me about stuff.