I think that this blog entry might be useful as a beginning of a series. I should just post examples as I come across them. It’s the kind of thing that you’ll notice more once you see a few examples.
What I’ve noticed is that there are quite a few areas out there where arguments are won not on the merits of the facts or the cogency of the argument but rather because the proponent casts his position as so intellectually self-evident that to believe otherwise is to be… well… an idiot.
If you want to find a glut of examples I submit to you the creation and evolution debate. I am not here referring to the multitude of snide, smug, and generally arrogant portrayals of the creationist position but rather the easy ridicule presented to the young inquirer when first they begin to consider the matter. Long before any facts are brought into the question (if they ever are) the message received is: “Oh child. Don’t you know? Smart people are already well past that. You do want to be counted among the smart people. Don’t you?“
This is pretty common. What has caught my attention is just how effective it is. Apparently, you can persuade people to believe all sorts of nonsense if you gently and not so gently ridicule the alternatives.
Other places where you see this is of course in regards to Intelligent Design which is thrown into the creationism box. I’ve noticed it too in the global warming debate, argued so often as being ‘settled.’ One also detects it within the community water fluoridation movement, the knee jerk rejection of there being any connection between immunizations and unfortunate and occasional- or perhaps more common than admitted- consequences.
In short, I’ve noticed that the opening volley usually comes with a sneer and a degrading subtext. The goal is not to overwhelm with evidence and argument but rather to bring the young skeptic to heel by appealing to his innate goal to be accepted and thought well of.
Another place I’ve noticed it is in regards to the topics of gay marriage and abortion. The pro-life position, especially as it relates to embryonic stem cell research, is swept aside by the assertion, “Obviously we’re just talking about a tiny bundle of cells no different than skin scrapings…” Here the argument rests on the insinuation that all the smart people find it self-evident. You aren’t supposed to ask the follow up question that if its no different than skin scrapings why the fuss with embryonic stem cells?
In regards to gay marriage, one is supposed to perceive that it is self-evident that anyone who cares about civil rights will believe that homosexuals should be allowed to marry. It is presented as axiomatic that homosexual ‘marriage’ is no more than an extension of interracial marriage and that gay rights an extension of all other civil rights. This is not defended by argument. It is defended by floating the one word argument ender: “Bigot!”
And no one wants to be a bigot, right?
I notice that this tactic tends to be used mainly by secularists, liberals, and the left. How many conservative comedians and late night hosts do you know? Is there a conservative answer to Stewart?
Ridicule appears to be a potent weapon. It makes me wonder if it has a legitimate use. I’m not sure if it does but I am thinking about it. Maybe it is just a plain fact that the day of logic, evidence, reason, and discourse is over. Maybe certain elements in our society have made up their mind that the battle will be fought at the level of ridicule. Perhaps it must be answered in kind. I don’t know, but I for one enjoyed seeing a little fire fought with fire. It feels so good to be counted among the clever people, ya know? 😉