I've been thinking recently about the tendency of bloggers and commenters to take a post they don't like and say "I don't even need to bother to refute this because it's so self-evidently stupid". No, actually, you do. That technique may have worked on the C String of the high school debate team, but it hasn't since. What that statement screams is "I can't refute it, and it's a really good point, so I'm just going to assert that I don't need to and hope you don't realize that I'm an idiot."
There's a lot of idiocy on the internet that I, like every other blogger, look at, recognize as unbelievably flawed, and toy with the notion of refuting. Then I realize that shooting fish in a barrel isn't really very much fun, and annoys the fish, so I go find something more productive to do. This mental scenario is repeated millions of times a day by all of your favorite bloggers.
The thing is, when I encounter someone whose argument really is so boring that it isn't worth refuting, I don't refute it. I don't link to it. I don't say anything about it, because I feel my readers probably have enough idiocy in their lives. If I link someone, I am conceding that they are worth arguing with--that their argument is worthy of refutation. This is what intellectually confident people do. Only people who are pretty sure they can't win try to claim a moral victory--the blogging equivalent of standing at the Olympic starting line and saying, "Well, I could outrun everyone, but that's so obvious that I needn't bother getting my shoes dirty."
I bring this up a propos of a completely different sort of childishness: saying or doing things merely because other people find them offensive. This goes on here (and you know who you are), and I wish it would stop. And sadly, it also goes on at some top-notch bloggers. I like PZ Meyers, but this is really, really juvenile:
All of these have in common the lack of any "actual" damage — no one is physically hurt or loses money as a result — and great offense to people who share particular beliefs or a particular emotional bond. It's hard for non-believers in the doctrine of Transubstantiation to grasp the emotional impact on believers of mistreating the consecrated wine and wafer, just because the doctrine itself seems so impenetrable: unlike the corpse-and-gravesite examples, you can't just imagine that it was your own mother's corpse or gravesite. But "hard" shouldn't mean "impossible."
Naturally, PZ Myers is being a jerk about it, begging someone to steal him a consecrated wafer so he can desecrate it on camera. For someone who loves calling the dearly-held beliefs of other people "childish," Myers has an astonishing capacity for infantile behavior.
Equally predictably, Bill Donohue of the Catholic League is being an equal and opposite jerk, trying to get the University of Minnesota, where Myers teaches, involved in the controversy.
Myers and Donohue deserve each other; but what did the rest of us do to deserve either of them?
Yes, I know that Meyers has been the target of some religious nut jobs because of his writing on evolution. On the other hand, he clearly invites it. And no matter what he feels has been done to him by the god-fearing community, this is wildly inappropriate, for the same reason that you do not respond to your political enemies by urinating on their shoes at a fundraiser.
I'm thinking of declaring August "Grow the hell up, internet people" month. Who will join me in my crusade?
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