How We Discuss Things In Public Forums

OK so maybe it's to much to ask that our public discourse resemble debate club. Can we all agree on particular rules so everyone knows what the boundaries are?

OK so maybe it’s too much to ask that our public discourse resemble debate club. Can we all agree on particular rules so everyone knows what the boundaries are?

Since I started getting involved in online discussions I’ve had one steadfast rule: I do not “debate” climate-change deniers, Holocaust deniers, or creationists. Engaging in “debate” with such ideologues means that their claims might well have legitimacy that can be established through argument. Except, of course, they don’t. I did a paper on the Scopes Monkey Trial for a history class when I was in college. One thing I learned back in 1987 was that the “arguments” offered by creationists/intelligent designers/whatever name they give themselves haven’t changed. They just stick a new label on the same bag of crap and think they can sell people said bag of crap under a different name.

Holocaust deniers are usually Nazi sympathizers or some kind of anti-Semite. Nope, sorry, not gonna give you folks the time of day.

Climate-change deniers are very special flowers. Usually combining several conspiracy theories at once, they refuse to consider actual science because, they insist, it is all part of the larger set of conspiracies that drives the false claims of climate-change political activists. Appealing to science doesn’t work precisely because climate-change deniers refuse to accept it as science.

A few weeks back a right-wing group posted a video purporting to show Planned Parenthood officials discussing selling the parts of aborted fetuses to labs for research. It took almost no time to demonstrate (a) the fraudulent nature of the video; and (b) the reality that Planned Parenthood does indeed donate tissue samples for experimental purposes, that doing so is both perfectly legal and unsurprising. All the same, the “video” has become the centerpiece of yet another attempt to end federal support for Planned Parenthood’s work on women’s health. The politicians in Congress who are leading this fight are, I’m quite sure, aware the video is crap. They just don’t care. As the abortion debate, at least on the political level (as opposed to the cultural level), has always been about women’s autonomy; since Planned Parenthood helps empower women by offering reduced-cost health services that the most vulnerable women might not be able to afford otherwise; and since they also provide abortion services (which I honestly wish Planned Parenthood wouldn’t keep trying to downplay; it’s a medical procedure that some women need or choose to have done and for which PP needn’t ever apologize); all of this together makes the question of the truth-value of the video irrelevant.

Except online discussions aren’t political debates. Not really. No one wins or loses, questions of the real impact on people’s lives are negligible. I’m certainly willing to talk about abortion as a matter both of public policy and in reference to women’s health. One thing I won’t do, however, is have anything to do with the doctored, edited video. Using that as a jumping-off point for any kind of discussion should just be off-limits. As one of my favorite lines from my favorite book says: “It’s like seriously factoring in Santa Claus in the GNP.” It isn’t that I won’t consider anti-abortion arguments; I just won’t take seriously invented evidence. Personally, I think we would all be better off if this was a rule more people followed. The fact there are many people who accept the authenticity of the video doesn’t add a shred of legitimacy to it; it just shows that, as someone wrote on my FB wall this morning, people will believe what they believe, evidence be damned.

And that’s a shame.


Comments are welcome, as long as they apply to issues rather than individuals. Don't make me break out the Benevolent Banhammer Of Love

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