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PostPosted: Sat May 21, 2011 12:30 pm 
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Partisanship and polarization are not new issues, but they've certainly seemed particularly strong in recent years. Lately, I've noticed a specific worsening (or maybe I've just become more observant): a self-aggrandizing tendency to state the "other side's" beliefs in absentia, in the most ridiculous terms possible, attribute them to far more people than probably actually believe them, then mock them.

The obvious example this week is the Rapture, which we are all anxiously awaiting. Now, I don't know a single person who believes that today will bring Rapture. Nor do I know many people who believe in a Rapture at all - and most of those aren't keen to browbeat anyone else over the head with their beliefs. But what I have seen is an absolutely gleeful mocking of the Rapture throughout the left and center. Now, I laughed at the FB event "Post-rapture looting" - good times. But, the more Rapture jokes I've seen, the greater my sense of their ugly undertone: "Let's all of us smart people make fun of those morons and their hilarious views."

Now, I'm not defending the merits (such as they are) of the underlying belief; no one will be surprised to learn that I strongly disagree. I just don't see that we're gaining much, as societies, from the ugliness of the mocking.

Another example that struck me recently: The Onion did a blistering, hilarious satirical piece with respect to the Planned Parenthood controversy, gleefully "reporting" that the organization would use continued federal funding to expand its abortion services via Abortionplex, a full-service facility that would make abortions so fun (from karaoke to floating rivers), that women would try to have abortions as often as they could! The piece itself was great, and responded to the most distorted Republican claims from the debate (like Kyl's). What I thought was less great were the hundreds of comments (direct to the Onion) and the many reposts I saw, essentially jumping ahead of any conservative/Republican response to the piece to predict that conservatives (touchingly named "conservatards") would take the piece literally, that it accurately reflected "their" view of abortion, etc. (Several pro-life conservatives actually later entered the comment section to say that they'd understood the satire and found it entertaining.)

Now, I know it's just The Onion, but I thought it showcased an important part: we are increasingly moving towards societies in which "we" (the enlightened, moral, values-based, individualist, educated, communitarian, religious, traditional, progressive, egalitarian - whatever attributes the group in question thinks are positive) are battling a caricatured, distorted version of "they" (the backwards, uneducated, amoral, valueless, delusional, superstitious, selfish, moronic, stuck-in-the-past or fighting-for-a-brave-new-world, etc.), whom "we" are unfortunate enough to share our respective countries* with. Although I've given examples on the left, the same thing is true on the other side. I was recently startled to read some absolutely vicious Catholic comments about "feminist trash" in academia, apparently relative to the "virtuous Catholic women" the speakers would prefer.

And as enlightened as "we" surely are, I fear that "we" aren't proving ourselves enlightened enough to work towards anything resembling understanding. But of course, that's not "our" fault in the least - we are quite reasonable and enlightened; thus the country's failure to move towards a tolerant and mutually-respectful society is fully attributable to them. Those idiots.

*I say "countries," because I've noticed the same tendency in both the US and UK, at least. The skewed descriptions I've been given of Lib Dems by Tories, and Tories by Lib Dems (for instance) in speakers' respective rants are as blistering and caricatured as Republicans' and Dems' frequent depiction of each other in the States.


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PostPosted: Sat May 21, 2011 1:16 pm 
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When was the last time Mallard Fillmore was funny?

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PostPosted: Sat May 21, 2011 1:41 pm 
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nel, this is something I feel quite keenly but could probably never articulate as well as you did above.

The Rapture Example

I actually do believe in the Rapture, though, as I've said on b77, I personally think it will probably happen differently than people think, with none of us quite right about it all. I base that opinion on the way that Jesus surprised the Jewish people of his time with who he was, how he got here, what he did, etc. I also don't think it will happen today, because I do think the Scriptures at least make that part clear about no one knowing when it will happen. (And, no, as much as I love the idea, I don't think the Éowyn clause applies here, but I could be wrong! :D)

I've joined in a bit of the mild-mannered poking fun of this date picked by a group, though I've tried to walk the line between good-natured joking and this nastier type of joking, which is really not joking at its core. It is what you have described above--a supercilious attitude that reduces the opposing side to a caricature of ridiculous imbecility.

I am annoyed by these people predicting the Rapture. Groups like this continue to do damage to the world's view of the Christian faith. However, I doubt all of those people from Family Radio are imbeciles. Maybe some are, maybe the leader is. <shrug> But I doubt most of them are; they are people of faith who have chosen to place their trust in this prediction, which may make them misguided and foolish but not necessarily idiots or crazy people.

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PostPosted: Sat May 21, 2011 1:52 pm 
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But I doubt most of them are; they are people of faith who have chosen to place their trust in this prediction, which may make them misguided and foolish but not necessarily idiots or crazy people.


Studies show intelligent people are no less likely to be taken in by scams, and in some cases more likely. I've heard the interviews. These people are suckered in by the same desire that makes otherwise smart people fall for Nigerian email cons: the idea that they are special, and will be rewarded for that specialness by getting something for nothing.

It's a "spiritual" get-rich-quick scheme.

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PostPosted: Sat May 21, 2011 1:57 pm 
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not something I would recommend
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I'm not really old enough to know if this is all really new or actually getting worse but if it is, I think it's very likely that it is because the advent of truly mass-media - cable TV and the internet - facilitate this kind of stuff so much. If Facebook didn't own the world right now, would most of us even know about a fringe Christian groups belief about the Rapture?

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PostPosted: Sat May 21, 2011 2:33 pm 
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nerdanel - I'd reach out across the ocean and hug you if I could! You've stated many of my thoughts on this matter very clearly and precisely.

I've wondered whether it's been present all along but confined to awkward family visits where "that" relative holds forth these points of view, from whatever side they may come, while everybody else squirms but is too polite to pipe up - as opposed to the modern day internet with its forums, comment threads, etc, that makes it so easy to hang that stuff out in public. The thought pattern is probably not new, but the ease of expressing it is. When I quickly think back to South Africa, I try to remember whether and if so, how these points of view were expressed. Of course, South Africa is a very different kettle of fish from a first world country. My first impulse was to say "Hmmm, never encountered that. There's too many 'real' problems in that country for people to waste their time on that kind of thing." but that isn't correct. There are people who pretty much attack "them" in the same way. The difference is that the topics themselves are maybe more serious - Julius Malema springs to mind - and therefore the attacks and rhetoric seems more weighted. But the principle is still there - the "other" side needs to be mentally reduced to something subhuman so that it becomes easier to attack and oppose them.

Like typical good guy/bad guy Hollywood movies. The bad guys are rarely as human, as fleshed out, as the good guys. ( Or they're outright creepy aliens or monsters. ) They are a caricature of evil, because the audience mustn't feel squeamish when they're mowed down.

That's why I think people follow these tactics. You can condemn the "other side" so much easier when you don't think of them as human and on par with you in terms of thought, feelings, motivation, intelligence, etc, and then fondly image banishing them from your country, or from voting maybe, or stripping them of rights they hold dear, or otherwise make yourself feel that they are dangerous and extreme and should be fought.

I think that a good first step would be working towards understanding - but of course, that just gets tripped up by the "What's to understand? They're dumb/stupid and out to destroy everything that's good about this world" mentality.

So maybe the first step is wanting to work towards understanding, wanting to understand that for better or worse, we share close quarters with lots of people who do not think like we do, and unless we're willing to engage in bloody warfare, we need to live and work with them.

ax - yeah, I recently read an article referring a study showing that intelligent people really are not less likely to be suckered in by a scam, or to be deceived. Everybody likes to believe they're smarter than "all those people", but mostly they really are not.

PS: Mallard Fillmore was probably funny to liberals the last time Doonesbury was funny to conservatives, but I wouldn't know. I really don't read either. I stopped reading Get Fuzzy after it began to shade political, too. :puke:


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PostPosted: Sat May 21, 2011 3:00 pm 
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What an excellent thread.

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PostPosted: Sat May 21, 2011 3:32 pm 
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My point about Mallard Fillmore was that it can only be funny (to its intended audience) at the expense of its targets, which are the usual straw men and stereotypes so necessary to movement conservatives: moronic public school teachers, pointy-haired moronic intellectuals, strident moronic radicals, et al. You will note the theme. Thus it falls within the scope of nel's complaint.

While there can be little doubt about Doonesbury's political history, it achieves humor (when it does) via a broader range of techniques. The last Sunday comic, for example, was an extended allusion to O. Henry's The Ransom of Red Chief.

Not gonna see that from MF anytime soon. But I digress.

The problem with the millennial cult in question is not just their beliefs, but the fact that they decided to promulgate them in a media campaign. They put up billboards, printed tee-shirts and posters, and went beyond even their own radio network to get their message out.

That's known in the media business as "painting a target on themselves." When someone gets in the nations' metaphorical face with manifestly contrafactual nonsense, it is not only right but necessary that they be confronted and pushed back into the gloom at the edge of society they came from until they wise (and grow) up.

One can work with someone who one disagrees with only if both parties can entertain the possibility of being wrong. Otherwise the best one can hope for is to work around them creatively.

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PostPosted: Sat May 21, 2011 3:46 pm 
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axordil wrote:
While there can be little doubt about Doonesbury's political history, it achieves humor (when it does) via a broader range of techniques. The last Sunday comic, for example, was an extended allusion to O. Henry's The Ransom of Red Chief.

Not gonna see that from MF anytime soon. But I digress.

I really can't say - the few Doonesburys I've read happened to be political. Like I said, I don't really read either. ( I checked a small handful of recent MF ones online and found that the May 20th one poked fun at wannabe Republican candidate Donald Trump, and the May 21st one at a typo in a critical letter. Neither were really amusing. The May 19th one were a joke about high gas prices. It didn't seem particularly partisan in how it addressed the high gas prices - and I don't really know how the conservative and liberal viewpoint would differ on high gas prices. The May 18th one were about smartphones being too smart, but the joke was the kind of thing you could find in Bizzaro as well, I guess, so saying it points to conservative paranoia and distrust of the gov'mnt would be a bit of a stretch. Kind of bland, really. ) Doonesbury may be better in that regard, and that's fine. But when either use political issues to advance a ( political ) point of view, each is more likely to be considered clever or funny by people who support the point of view being advanced. That was my point. :D

EDIT: Heh, I decided to try one more MF, from the 17th, and that one was a conservative zinger about racism. That may be more representative of the whole strip, I dunno. Maybe the past few days were just meh and they're normally like the 17th? But my attention span for investigating MF ran out, so I'll never know. ;)

axordil wrote:
When someone gets in the nations' metaphorical face with manifestly contrafactual nonsense, it is not only right but necessary that they be confronted and pushed back into the gloom at the edge of society they came from until they wise (and grow) up.

I think the problem comes in when the confrontation includes an overly broad brush - which is a squishy definition since the broadness of the brush depends on your perspective and where you're standing.

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One can work with someone who one disagrees with only if both parties can entertain the possibility of being wrong.

Naturally. But could there ever be consensus on which party is less likely to entertain the possibility of being wrong? ;)


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PostPosted: Sat May 21, 2011 4:14 pm 
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Griffy--

You can tell what MF is doing by glancing at the art. The presence of a stock character he reuses as a straw man is a giveaway that the day's strip is going to be mean-spirited.

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But could there ever be consensus on which party is less likely to entertain the possibility of being wrong?


It's usually self-evident when one or both the parties believe they have the Truth going for them.

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I think the problem comes in when the confrontation includes an overly broad brush - which is a squishy definition since the broadness of the brush depends on your perspective and where you're standing.


Yes and no. There are obvious extremes, that is to say, obvious to everyone except the people occupying them. Then there's a lot of territory in the middle where disagreement can flourish. What divides them? Willingness to admit error, or event he possibility of error, in the face of the facts. The guy who said today was IT predicted it before. He then said he got the math wrong and moved the goalposts back a few years. Yeah. In other words, he was wrong, but he wasn't REALLY wrong. That's not admitting error--that's repackaging it.

I agree it is far too easy to paint a stubborn opponent as blinded to reality. However, such people do exist, or at least go through a phase where they do. In our zeal to be understanding of those who think differently than us, we should not lose sight of the fact that some do not care to be self-critical, and take that into account.

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PostPosted: Sat May 21, 2011 4:43 pm 
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ax wrote:
Yes and no. There are obvious extremes, that is to say, obvious to everyone except the people occupying them. Then there's a lot of territory in the middle where disagreement can flourish. What divides them? Willingness to admit error, or event he possibility of error, in the face of the facts. The guy who said today was IT predicted it before. He then said he got the math wrong and moved the goalposts back a few years. Yeah. In other words, he was wrong, but he wasn't REALLY wrong. That's not admitting error--that's repackaging it.

That guy's an extremist, though - so whether or not he's willing to admit error or the possibility of it doesn't fall into the same division, does it? Uhm, what I mean by that is: I think the majority of those who occupy "the territory in the middle" realize that this guy is an obvious extreme, and therefore, isn't it a subpar example to use his inability to admit error as an illustration of how the middle is divided into those who can admit error and those who can't? I may not be understanding you properly, here, but I don't want that guy anywhere near "the middle", because to me it feels as if the next step is to conveniently divide "the middle" into the reasonable ones who can admit error, and by extension from this example do not believe the world ends tonight ( it is tonight, isn't it? I forget. :D ) and those who think this guy is right, and therefore are the part of "the middle" who cannot admit error, and by association with this guy, are also conveniently the part of "the middle" who is conservative and religious - and then we're back to the point where "they" are dumb and "we" are clever.

ax wrote:
I agree it is far too easy to paint a stubborn opponent as blinded to reality. However, such people do exist, or at least go through a phase where they do. In our zeal to be understanding of those who think differently than us, we should not lose sight of the fact that some do not care to be self-critical, and take that into account.

I think it is very hard to lose sight of the fact that people don't care to be self-critical, because it is an extremely prevalent position. I don't know that there exists a single person who can be truly self-critical in all matters, because we all form biases based on our background, education, etc. And, if this article is to believed, now even Google is in on the deal and helping us affirm our biases and drift apart more: http://www.cnn.com/2011/TECH/web/05/19/online.privacy.pariser/index.html?hpt=Sbin

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A couple of years ago, when you Googled something, everyone would get the same result. Now, when I've done these experiments, you can really get these dramatically different results. One person Googles and sees a lot of news about protests and the other person gets travel agents talking about traveling to Egypt.


Myself: I would rather give people the benefit of the doubt and engage with them as if I believe they are capable of being self-critical, than to push them further on the defense and there further into the realm where they won't be self-critical by making it clear that I don't believe they are capable of being self-critical.

There's an article that I need to find ( but first I need to go to a home & garden show, help move a shed, and have lunch, so this post is being released into the wild before it is mature :D ) that contains some really interesting information on how people's minds prevent them from being swayed by information that contradicts their viewpoints. Unlike that other article about how liberal and conservative brains differ that was kind of mean to conservatives, this article acknowledges and provides examples of how both sides do this. :D


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PostPosted: Sat May 21, 2011 4:53 pm 
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Myself: I would rather give people the benefit of the doubt and engage with them as if I believe they are capable of being self-critical, than to push them further on the defense and there further into the realm where they won't be self-critical by making it clear that I don't believe they are capable of being self-critical.


See, when I figure out people are like that, I simply avoid them, or if that's not possible (hello, work! hello, family!) I avoid any topic on which I know they've lashed the wheel to the deck. They would learn nothing from me, and I would hear nothing new from them.

It takes a while for someone to get there, though. Perhaps not as long now as before, but that's because age and experience help me sniff out the warning signs earlier.

Bias-affirmation is a real phenomenon for all of us, it's true. That's why I try to stick with a bias toward novelty, discovery, and wonder. ;)

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PostPosted: Sat May 21, 2011 4:59 pm 
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People tend to mock what they don't understand or agree with and then become emboldened with a sort of gang mentality to maybe feel like they part of the righteous or just part of something.

This particular "rapture group" has played right into the media's hands, as Ax said, by painting a virtual target on their backs. There is nothing the media loves more than building someone up and then tearing them down. The ratings are always huge.

We love seeing stars like Arnold and Charlie Sheen brought back down to earth with the rest of us and we love seeing fringe groups, who think they know better than the average person, ridiculed. I'm not a psychologist by any stretch, but the mocking seems to have something to do with feelings of inferiority, being left out or some sort of safety mechanism.


Fanatical sects tend to get people killed and maybe bashing, in a perverse way, is doing some good. I wouldn't mock the idea of a rapture or anyone's belief, but I would tend to tear down the people who purport to "know" certain things or who reinforce destructive behavior.

Stating a belief in the rapture and making people wear tennis shoes and commit suicide to reach an alien spaceship that was allegedly following a comet are two different things.

edit:

People also seem to be particularly agressive and belittling to scam artists, so I guess I am not surprised or particularly fussed about the treatment Family Radio is getting. It may not be right, but it is understandable to me.

http://money.cnn.com/2011/05/19/news/economy/may-21-end-of-the-world-finances-harold-camping/index.htm?hpt=C2

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PostPosted: Sat May 21, 2011 11:17 pm 
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What I think is a huge problem (and not necessarily a new one) is the eagerness of idealogues to openly assume their opponent's motives. People who support gay marriage have some sort of secret anti-family agenda, criticism of Islamic fundamentalism or illegal immigration is based in racism, people who support action on climate change want to destroy the economy, some sort of economic policy or another is designed to destroy the economy or make some undeserving group rich at the expense of another. It's not enough for people to simply be in error - they need to be guilty of active malice.


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PostPosted: Sun May 22, 2011 4:29 am 
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axordil wrote:
Bias-affirmation is a real phenomenon for all of us, it's true. That's why I try to stick with a bias toward novelty, discovery, and wonder. ;)

Now those are words to live by! :D


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PostPosted: Sun May 22, 2011 11:08 am 
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sorry double post, not entirely sure how i did that


Last edited by eborr on Sun May 22, 2011 11:10 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sun May 22, 2011 11:08 am 
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It's would be very easy to respond to this thread in a way that I would commit the crime which it warns against, so I will try to refrain from generalisation.

I think there are a number of forces which are at play here. The first I would characterise as a plea by the demagogue to frightened, disenfranchised and the ignorant, this has been manifest in history, from the historic characterisations of Jews, through to the Israeli condemnation of the palestinians.

It's the oldest trick in the book, if you want to surpress political debate.

On the other hand there are times when you are passionate and angry and you want to get a point across in a way which attracts peoples attention when, generalisation and harsh humour is something you can use.

Sorry to be a little rambling on this, but a further consideration springs to mind, that before we are entirely dismissive of people using "extreme" rhetoric, then we perhaps ought to consider the motives of the speaker, EG the motives of the "shock-jocks" is not to get across politcal opinion it is to secure a bigger audience so that the radio station can get bigger advertising revenues.

Perhaps we should treat that behaviour differently than the demagogues who are empowering the "Arab" spring.

One final consideration, most folk who post here have signed up to take part in measured polite debate, which inherently means that we are agin any form of communication which does not adhere to that value set. One of the reasons we subscribe to that view is because we recognise that it is the most effective way of gaining understanding.

Apologies once more for a brain dump, and thank you all for starting and contributing to a most interesting thread, it really got me thinking this morning

Apologies for my ignorance of the political cartoonists to who you refer


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PostPosted: Sun May 22, 2011 1:50 pm 
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While there have always been those who have profited from hateful outrage, it's certainly easier to draw a regular paycheck from it these days.

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PostPosted: Mon May 23, 2011 12:12 pm 
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nerdanel wrote:
*I say "countries," because I've noticed the same tendency in both the US and UK, at least. The skewed descriptions I've been given of Lib Dems by Tories, and Tories by Lib Dems (for instance) in speakers' respective rants are as blistering and caricatured as Republicans' and Dems' frequent depiction of each other in the States.


'Twas ever thus. Tory itself was originally a term of abuse meaning, in essence, an Irish Catholic bandit applied to those who didn't think James II should be excluded from the throne just because he was Catholic himself.


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Something like the rapture prediction is relatively harmless -- it's not going to affect a single person's life if a group of people believes this and publicizes their belief. So I'm more inclined to regard as mean and unnecessary, the kind of gleeful belittling of that, that we've seen. Other things are deadly serious, like the falsehoods promulgated by the anti-choice community in the effort to stop federal funding of women's reproductive health care, which would result in the deaths of many women. I think people who lie in order to try and impose their religious view on others through law, need to be taken more seriously than people like this rapture group, who aren't trying to control others' lives. So I guess I'm slightly troubled by what I took as the lumping together in the first post, of the harmless with the dangerous in a consideration of civil discourse. I'm reminded of that quote from Barry Goldwater that I used to hear before the Political Junkie show on NPR, something like, 'Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice'. I think we need to be extreme in our criticism of people who are acting dangerously, but we need not be extreme when criticizing harmless people.


axordil wrote:
That's known in the media business as "painting a target on themselves." When someone gets in the nations' metaphorical face with manifestly contrafactual nonsense, it is not only right but necessary that they be confronted and pushed back into the gloom at the edge of society they came from until they wise (and grow) up.

I see no reason at all to confront a group like this just because they publicize beliefs the majority find ridiculous (unless they're being offensive in some way -- are they? I've not been paying attention). This is a free country, and people are allowed to be ridiculous. I'm not saying people shouldn't feel free to make fun, especially since the group went out of their way to garner attention; but the idea that they must be 'pushed back into the gloom' ... no, I think that's overly aggressive and unnecessary. On the other hand, someone like Joseph McCarthy should have been pushed back into the gloom much sooner than he was.

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