Tuesday, July 22, 2014

If it sounds too bad to be true

PZ Myers does not like the men's rights movement.  In fact, it would be a fair statement that he finds it detestable.  On his blog, he routinely castigates it in language that fairly drips with scorn.  So, when someone sent him -- anonymously -- an article claiming to be written by an MRA advocate that stopped just short of endorsing pedophilia, if it didn't actually cross that line, Myers couldn't resist the bait.  He posted it to his blog and made sure that nobody missed the point that a men's rights advocate was also a pedophilia advocate.

Unfortunately, the article turned out to be a hoax.  The person initially claimed to have written it, hadn't written it.  It is unknown at this time if the article actually represents the viewpoint of someone who didn't have the courage to sign his own name to it, or if someone was merely yanking PZ's chain and the whole thing was someone's idea of a joke.  Whatever.

To his credit, when PZ realized he'd been had, he re-wrote the blog post.  You can read the re-written post here:


I'm not writing to criticize PZ (whom I agree with maybe half the time, and whose writing skills I admire even when I don't agree with him).  He fell into a trap that probably all of us have fallen into at one time or another; that of assuming the worst about a person or ideology with whom he disagrees.

It's a powerful temptation, for those who hold strong and passionate views about things, to assume that those on the other side are not merely misguided but evil.  It's a small step to go from there to a willingness to believe anything bad, and the worse the better, about those on the other side.  That's why my email inbox is routinely cluttered with spam from both right-wingers telling me that President Obama is a Marxist Muslim terrorist sympathizer who was born in Kenya and hates America, balanced only by mirror-image spam from left-wingers telling me that Republicans are Nazis who hate women and minorities and want to go back to the days of Dickens when children were chained to factory benches for 16 hours a day and didn't have health care.

Most such claims, on both sides, turn out to be pish-posh on closer analysis.  But it's oh-so-much-fun to believe they are true, and pass them on as gospel.  And oh-so-satisfying to share outrage with other gullible people who actually take such claims seriously.

Most people on both sides of most issues are basically decent human beings who simply see the world differently.  All of us are products of our past, our biases, our experiences and our presuppositions.  And taking the position that I'm right, and everyone who disagrees with me is Satan, not only requires a huge amount of hubris; it is also grossly unfair to honest people who honestly don't see it that way.

So.  You've heard the line that if something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn't?  Well, the same thing is true in reverse:  If it sounds too bad to be true, chances are it probably isn't.  Remember that next time someone tries to turn this or that political or social issue into a battle between good and evil.

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