Wednesday, 20 June 2007

Against Silliness


I've realised recently that the majority of my opinions about current events are influenced to a large degree by the principle that, the more hysterical and overinflated the claims of one 'side' of a given argument are, the less likely I am to agree with them - no matter what their argument is.

The best example of this is the Israel-Palestine debate. Now, I'm reasonably aware that both parties to that struggle have legitemate grievances and concerns, and that without compromise on either side there can be no solution to the conflict. But the hyperbolic accusations of the pro-Palestinian cause - that Israel is based on a
system of apartheid; that Israel has committed genocide against Palestinians; that Israel's government is like the Nazi party; and that "Israel is the worst human rights violator in the world", have served in the past year or so to considerably sway my opinion against the Palestinian cause and toward Israel, whose supporters don't resort to such (frankly) silliness, and who comport themselves in a generally reasonable and responsible way - that is, without bandying about wild, patently untrue accusations.

Likewise, while my politics could be defined as broadly centrist and I find myself therefore disliking the policies of President Bush, I'm so sick of hearing talentless comedians making jokes about how stupid he is on the BBC that I've come to dislike his detractors even more. Personal attacks, especially obviously false ones - Bush might be inarticulate, but he's no fool - make me immediately hostile towards those using them; because if that's what you have to resort to, it's more than likely an admission that you don't have much else to say. "Bush is so stupid! Bwahahaha!" Yes, but what are your ideas about how to make the world a better place, again? More importantly, because you think he's stupid, does that mean you think that the millions of people who voted for him are stupid too? If so, what are the implications for your view of the democratic process?

And there's global warming too. I would describe myself as an environmentalist, and I regularly make contributions to Greenpeace. I believe that the most important task facing mankind today is how we can generate wealth in the developing world without impacting negatively on the environment, and how we can create sustainable fishing and forestry industries. But I'm tired of hearing about how global warming will spell the
end for polar bears (who are highly adaptable, and lived in Greenland when the temperature there was considerably warmer than it is today), how it will destroy fish stocks (when the truth is much more complicated), and how it is responsible for the disappearance of British songbirds (when all reliable reports indicate that increased temperatures have led to greater berry growth in woodland, tempting songbirds away from gardens and actually leading to a large, sustained increase in their numbers) - especially when those animals and environments are under greater threat from direct human interference in the form of hunting, overuse, or habitat destruction. Global warming might be a legitemate fear and it might well require of us drastic measures to deal with it, but its cause is not served, as far as I'm concerned, by falsehoods and bombast, which can only damage the veracity of genuine calls for greater environmental protection.

Of course, I usually make my mind up on such issues based on the balance of probabilities - even though I dislike Bush's detractors, I also usually disagree with his policies; even though I detest the global warming bandwagon, I recognise that it is scientific reality and that it has to be tackled; even though I loathe the pro-Palestinian propaganda machine, the real reason I support Israel is because I've examined the facts. But I really, really wish that people would be sensible about these matters, without feeling they have to resort to shrill, sanctimonious blather. Hurled accusations are the last resort of the intellectually impoverished, and contribute nothing to constructive debate.

2 comments:

mattiecore said...

"Bush is so stupid! Bwahahaha!" Yes, but what are your ideas about how to make the world a better place, again? More importantly, because you think he's stupid, does that mean you think that the millions of people who voted for him are stupid too? If so, what are the implications for your view of the democratic process?

But just because a person dislikes the president doesn't mean that s/he has to back up their views with ideas of how the country should be run... The average person can judge who's better at, say, mathematics when given a choice between two candidates, regardless of how much math this person may actually know. The same holds generally true for politics: the average person can judge when one politician is doing a better job than another, regardless of how the state of things "should" be managed.

For the most part, I don't think people honestly think he's stupid, but he is inarticulate. A Yale graduate who took office in our country's most powerful position (for a single office; Congress is technically much more powerful) sounds like a buffoon. Granted, his inarticulateness doesn't affect his policies in any way....but when you go on television speaking the way Bush does, you sound foolish. And when you sound foolish, you're going to be judged as such, and that will lead to questions about policy. It also leads to questions about those millions who voted for him.

noisms said...

But just because a person dislikes the president doesn't mean that s/he has to back up their views with ideas of how the country should be run...

No, but they should at least refrain from name calling. I especially think that the onus is on people who call other people "stupid" to prove their own intelligence!

For the most part, I don't think people honestly think he's stupid, but he is inarticulate.

It's likely that the view of him in the US is more sensible. Here in the UK, people genuinely do seem to think he's stupid, and you can't watch 'satirical' comedy programmes these days without hearing a reference to his lack of intelligence (usually, not even funny).

And when you sound foolish, you're going to be judged as such, and that will lead to questions about policy.

Yes, questions about policy are fine. I'm certainly no supporter of Bush. But there's a difference between sensible debate over policy, and immediately dismissing a person's policies just because that person isn't so good at speaking in front of people - which is what many liberals and Leftists tend to do.