“…A Fifth Column of Insanity…”

Here’s a fun article by the Chronicle’s Mark Morford on how to talk with complete idiots. You ignore them, in Denialism blog fashion.

Morford points to this youtube video, which is divine:


10 responses to ““…A Fifth Column of Insanity…””

  1. Marilyn Mann

    I generally agree that there is no point in talking to committed HIV/AIDS denialists or THINCS members and the like. However, there are people who fall into a grey zone. They may be perfectly reasonable on some subjects and totally nutso on others. Or they may be genuinely naive and susceptible to being educated. Sometimes it is hard to tell the difference between these different categories of people. Also, the world being an imperfect place, it is not possible to avoid idiots in one’s daily life.

  2. The reason for debating these people is so those who are on the fence (perhaps because they haven’t heard all the arguments), will hear the rational arguments and form rational conclusions.

  3. However, debate needs to be on an open forum, without time limits Skeptico. The problem with “debates” as defined in the political world, as I learned in high school, is that a) there are time limits, b) people will talk over you, if possible, c) even your allies may value debating points that hedge, work around, or ignore the central issues, and d) the other side just has to throw more bullshit in your path in their time than you can shovel out of the way, before getting your point across, in the time available.

    Obama made some comment a bit back on how social studies and history teach critical thinking. Bullshit! History teaches, at best, with a good teacher, and most are more boring than hell, what choices people made, and what *interpretation* someone has of the events. It neither requires, nor, usually, allows examination of if the interpretation is right, if other alternate views are possible, etc. There isn’t time to *think about* it, and learn it too. Why do you think its the first things creationists and other wackos edit to teach their insane versions of events, because people are told to think about it, not just memorize? Civics/social studies have the same problem. On some level they tell you how your country projected its ideas into law, and maybe, if you are lucky, how someone else did too. It includes debating, but.. how much do you want to bet that in the crazy segment of society the “technique” is to use a shotgun, to throw out so many problems, objections and silly arguments, that your opposition can’t come up with rebuttals? Sure, a bit more critical thinking happens in those classes, but, from my own experience, as one of the members of the “team” sent to do debates at some meet or other, of which we never went to more than one, all the arguments where shallow, superficial, not well argued, etc. We had our ass handed to us by the only people we got to debate, and it was precisely because my side had **nothing** beyond the simplistic and shallow presentation that they got into, and while I think I brought up and interesting point myself, all our time was wasted going over the stupid shallow crap, so no one ever had any time to address my own point, on *either* side. No, if these are the places we are teaching “critical thinking”, then.. sorry, but its just too damn easy to steam roll over that, in favor of asserting patriotism, shallow facts, and cursory historicity. Critical thinking needs to come from something, anything, that actually teaches “finding a solution”, not just, “lumping enough facts together to win the class debate, or drown the opposition.” And, when winning means that the village morons beat the village idiots…

    All you have to do is look at how “debates” on science issues go down with these same people, and you see the same thing. Deep arguments only work with people already thinking on that level. Shallow ones are not worth much, because there is no time to hand hold someone through the process, to “get them” to the deeper issues. Finally, when debating hard core creationists, or hard core evangelicals, etc., you can’t win, because all they have to do is hit you with more than you can rebut, in the time given, then proclaim that they won, because you didn’t address all of their 5,000 points, in 50 seconds. worse, many fence sitters, and too many of the ones leaning their way to start with, are like my parents friends, who sum up their critique of food establishments not on the basis of, “That was the best X I ever tasted”, but on, “They give you enough mediocre food for 3 people.”, and/or, “Yes, but that place only has good sandwiches, while the one I went to last week has 800 items of a buffet (all of which tasted like they came out of 1960s TV dinners).” They will pick the side that had the most “stuff”, because they don’t necessarily have a single damn clue which “stuff” is better, just that one side seemed to have more of it, and the other side couldn’t match them.

    That is the problem with “debating” these people. It takes longer to explain why they are making shit up, lying, getting things wrong, or simply not looking closely enough, or in a different, and, from your perspective, better way, at a problem, than it does for them to trot out all the stuff you have to “debate” them on. The only place this works is places like forums, and then it “only” works if the moderation is turned off, and neither side can delete the others posts. Where do you get this in the “real world”, where a debate is set between X and Y time, not everyone gets to say anything, people can’t revisit prior statements effectively, if someone else helps their point, and all the other things that go wrong in the “live” world, not the least of which being “deck stacking”, by people that want to make damn sure you have no chance to address *any* points at all?

    The only way you get any place is, really, if people are paying attention, and they are seeing “every” mini-debate, and, most importantly, they are not already so mired in one sides vision, that they think the tactics in use are valid, not abusive or detrimental to the process.

  4. Morgan-LynnGriggs Lamberth

    I post on many sites where some theists seem to reason and others are on the Ferengi Carousel, making inane questions and misusing logic [ Ferengi- fool for Christ @ Amazon Religion Discussions].
    I find like my friend Dr. Dawkins, that advanced theologians are as whimsical as any others!
    By the way, the atelic [ no teleology] or teleonomic [teleonomy- no pre-programmed outcomes] rests on the weight of evidence that there is teleonomy rather than any kind of directed outcomes, and such outcomes, perforce, contradict natural selection and other natural causes. So, creationist evolution is just another oxymoron!
    Dr. Jerry Coyne in his ” Seeing and Believing” illustrates this fact! He and Amiel Rossow in his essay on Dr. Kenneth Miller @ Talk Reason put sword to the creationist evolution dracula’s heart!

  5. Deep arguments only work with people already thinking on that level.

  6. Obama made some comment a bit back on how social studies and history teach critical thinking. Bullshit! History teaches, at best, with a good teacher, and most are more boring than hell, what choices people made, and what

  7. Kagehi, your criticism of formal debate perfectly describes the ‘gish gallop’ – the use of points which take seconds to make, and minutes to rebut, in order to simply exaust the opponent’s time. Named for creationist Duane Gish, who is infamous for his wielding of the technique. Formal debate with time allocations is a good thing when both sides are playing fair and honestly trying to see the factual truth, but that is rarely the case – more often one or both sides is playing to win, and will stoop to any tactic to achieve that.

  8. Precisely. So, either you have to admit that political debate **isn’t**, and be done with it, or, you have to find some way to change the forum used to express it, so that both sides **must** play fair (or, if one refuses to do so, it becomes obvious that this is the case).

  9. Free Lunch

    One of the tougher problems in discussing things with denialists and other crazies is that the audience is not willing to believe that the crazies are just repeating falsehoods and inventing nonsensical claims. If you get into a discussion with someone like that and your answers have to be “not a single claim you made here is accurate” you run the risk of annoying those who assume, mistakenly, that the denialist is trying to be honest and accurate.

    I wonder if such a discussion might be prefaced by a discussion of the “doctors who endorsed specific cigarettes in the past” to get the audience to realize how breathlessly dishonest some folks are willing to be to succeed.

  10. Free Lunch

    Yes, in a formal debate setting, any time spent correcting a falsehood should be taken out of the time of the person making the false claim. Gish would have gotten three minutes at the beginning and the science supporters would have the rest of the time to rebut.

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