Biography

RWP was born in Manchester, in the north of England, in the late 1950s, so he is very old. He really liked the north of England, which by 1965 was hip and had three TV channels, and where he went to a coed school. His parents, for reasons best known to themselves, then yanked him away, to Belfast and then Dublin, which had one TV channel that started up at 6 pm with the Angelus (Catholic call to prayer). He also had to go to an all boys school, where he realized he really missed girls. This probably let him focus on schoolwork, though, and at age 19, after he had finished college, he set off for America, where he still resides. He has a bachelors degree in biochemistry and a Ph.D. from Harvard in biophysics, and has lived also in Mainz, Germany, Setauket NY, and Richland WA. He currently divides his time between Nebraska, Rosslyn VA, and Florida.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The power of mockery.

You can't change people's deeply held beliefs with facts. That's the finding of a decade of studies, amply documented in Jonathan Haidt's The Righteous Mind. Decades of experience arguing with creationists, climage change deniers, and antivaxxers have taught me the same thing.

And it's gotten worse, not better. I'm not the first person to notice that expression of stupidity you couldn't utter a mere couple of years ago is everywhere in newspaper comment sections, internet fora, even at a UNL frat house. The catalyst, of course, has been Donald Trump, who constantly spouts 'alternative facts', un-American ideas and just plain stupidity. Trump has liberated his fellow stupids.

This creates a problem for civil libertarians. Our doctrine over the last 100 years has been Oliver Wendell Holmes'

If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence -- Holmes concurring in Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927).
Of course, if facts make no headway, you can't expose those falsehoods and fallacies -- people for whom they run coutner to their beliefs will simply filter them out, and go search for Alternative News. At the same time, a First Amendment near-absolutist like myself cannot countenance 'enforced silence'. Speech should be legal unless it's defamatory, criminal or creates a clear and present danger of imminent lawless action. So what's a (libertarian) boy to do?

My solution is still more speech; but not rational argument, which won't work. Rather, the remedy is to embarrass or shame those who espouse obnoxious ideas. And mockery can do this, because people hate to be laughed at. Self-righteous lecturing, on the other hand, just annoys them. It sure annoys me. And you can't persuade people with insults.

Trumpkins and creationists and the like need to be incessantly mocked, in public. You won't change their minds, but you will show them that ideas have consequences, and shame them into being a little more careful about what they say. Embrace the snark!

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