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Starman Ghost

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Sometimes, respect is overrated. · 9:05am Sep 15th, 2015

There'd be a lot more civility in this world if people didn't take it as an invitation to walk all over you.
-Calvin's Mom, Calvin and Hobbes

There's something I noticed come up a lot during the arguments when the Supreme Court decision to legalize marriage was coming up, a point brought up mostly by the side that wanted to continue to deprive gay people of the right to marry their loved ones. I often found them stating that anyone who disrespected or mocked their beliefs had given up the moral high ground, and that their idea deserved respect and consideration.

But why should ideas automatically deserve respect?

There are a lot of legitimate controversies in the world today, and there always will be. But some things just aren't, and you can usually tell with some digging. These are the claims that fly in the face of scientific consensus, the ones whose "experts" are pulled from diploma mills, unrelated fields, or whose studies are funded solely by organizations founded specifically to advance those claims. Creationism, global warming denial, and white supremacy are a few examples.

Another good indicator is that the people who hold these views rely on sockpuppeting, forum flooding, and poll stuffing to make their ideas seem to have more support than they really do. For an example of this, see the below image, where a user in white nationalist forum Stormfront announces a plan to flood Reddit comments and votes (hotlinked because large):

So, why do I think these ideas shouldn't be treated with respect? If the evidence is against them, why not just use it? Well, there are a few reasons:

The people who hold these ideas don't typically care about evidence.

As I said before, I'm not talking about ideas where there's legitimate controversy. I'm talking about ideas that have been utterly, thoroughly debunked by the scientific community. Ideas that have very little or no unbiased evidence in their favor. Ideas that are promoted almost solely through urban legends, illusory popularity, and astroturfing. Bottom line, these aren't reasoned positions taken by people who carefully considered the evidence. They believe them because it makes them feel good, or they're getting paid to do so, or because they see them as belonging to "their side" in a political and social war. These people won't listen to reason. On the other hand, mocking and ridiculing these ideas sends a clear message that they're not welcome in a community. It makes their followers less likely to promote them and, just possibly, may get them to consider if such harshness is deserved (ridicule can succeed where evidence fails).

And, all that aside, you can't win against an opponent who never had any intention of playing fair.

Engaging with these ideas on an equal level gives them undue prestige.

If I seriously tried to claim that I was an actor on par with (to pick a favorite of mine) Christian Bale, I'd rightfully be laughed out of the room, or at least, laughed at behind my back. I'm not a good actor by any means. Hell, half the time, I can't even act normal. So yeah, it's only natural to think this claim would be dismissed out of hand and no one would try to waste time seriously arguing it with me.

But what if people treated this claim with respect, even after seeing me try to act? What if filmmaking organizations and actor's guilds propped me up as though I were a serious rival to him? I'd imagine that at least some people would figure that "Well, if all these high-profile experts are saying it, there's probably at least some degree of truth to it." The platform of "Starman Ghost is a good actor" would no longer be a quickly-forgotten punchline. I'd probably start getting at least a few offers to play major roles that might otherwise have gone to Bale (which would do nothing but ruin perfectly good movies). It'd become a serious, respectable position, one people would have to at least pretend is worth considering. Even if they'd actually seen me try to act. It'd be an utterly insane farce, and yet it happens all the time in the world of politics.

So why does it matter if these ideas get undue prestige? Well...

Many of these ideas get people killed.

Anti-gay sentiment leads to, at best, pre-2000 America. For those of you too young to remember, it wasn't a pleasant time for gay people in this country. Being unable to marry or adopt was the least of their problems. More pressing were the possibilities that they'd be fired from their jobs, thrown out of their homes, sent to hellish "straight camps," or beaten and brutalized by police who knew they wouldn't be censured for their actions. In the worst case scenario, society drops any veneer of well-intentioned concern and goes for good old-fashioned state-sponsored murder - see Nazi Germany, Iran, and Uganda (whose "kill the gays" bill was backed by anti-gay organizations in the US).

This, of course, isn't even getting into the very real possibility that global warming denial could eventually end in it quite literally killing everyone on Earth. Or, if you're an optimist, we'd "only" have to deal with massive famines and enough coastal flooding to create hundreds of millions of refugees. This is what happens when we give these ideas undue prestige. This is what happens when they gain enough popular support to steer policy. I'd think, if nothing else, that should put some mean words and gestures into perspective.

As a final note, before anyone jumps down my throat about this: no, I am not advocating government censorship of stupid, harmful ideas. I'm not advocating committing crimes or physically hurting people who hold them. I'm just saying that people who recognize how awful these ideas are shouldn't be afraid to mock and ridicule them, because sometimes, it's just the most sensible thing to do. Better for people to hurt ideas than for ideas to hurt people.

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Comments ( 3 )

Well said.

In a similar vein, the idea that "it's part of his/her/their culture" is a defense for these ideas. Female Genital Mutilation is part of many people's culture, but it's still an atrocity.

Very interesting. I don't have much to add besides perhaps a little bit more emphasis on when you are dealing with someone who you do not understand or who does not understand you or with people who have confused an idea with a large part of their identity so that by making the idea unacceptable they think that they are being made unacceptable instead of just that idea/practice/option.

So much truth in here.
It's a shame that those that need to read something like this just disregard it as "opinion".

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