Thursday, July 11, 2013

One of My Pet Peeve's

The picture to the left shows a typical thing you see posted to the news-feed by people on your Facebook.  Notice what is being done.  Some facts are presented, and then an accusation, an assumption about motives, is being leveled and passed off as fact.  It is true that the media is,
by and large, fairly "liberal" (depending on the source).  It is also possible that the media may cover certain things up.  But are we really to believe that the death of the man in the picture was not reported by the "media" because of some grand conspiracy to cover it up and hide it from our eyes?

I did a little looking around on Google, and I found out that there is plenty of information about the incident, and not just from those online media sources that claim to give you the scoop that the mainstream media is trying to "hide" from you.  I found an article about the incident, in fact, on the CBS Atlanta website.  They seem pretty mainstream to me.

Oh wait, are we complaining because the incident didn't make headline news on CNN?  With no disrespect toward the deceased or his family, may I gently point out that, according to the FBI's crime statistics, there are around 40 murders a day in the USA, on average.  That figure does not include a whole host of other forms of violent crime that do not end in death and are not classified as "murder."  My point is... could it be that there simply isn't enough time in the day to report every violent crime that happens every day in our country on the headline news?  Sad, but true.

Well, the picture just says the "liberal media" is covering it up.  Maybe CBS Atlanta doesn't fall under this category.  That liberal media, some nebulous group that is completely undefined by this accusation, is surely out to control us.  It's us versus them, right?

Where am I going with this?  Well, I am going to tell you.  One of my biggest pet peeve's is when people take sides on a matter and seek to demonize their opponent.  And one of the simplest ways to demonize the opponent is to read malice, as a sweeping generalization, into all of their motives and then present it as fact.  This is used by a lot of those "conspiracy theory" folks who salivate over the idea that someone or some group is trying to do something evil to them and the rest of the world.  They may or may not be, but these folks almost seek to like entertaining the idea that it is definitely happening.

Maybe we can call this "hysteria-thinking," because rational thought has left the building.  It is the kind of thinking that says, "I'll tell you what is going on, I'll tell you what they are doing... bother me with facts, later."  And if any facts are presented, things that even remotely support the position of skepticism and fear and division are focused on while facts that oppose such an idea are discredited and dismissed.

The problem is that it doesn't just happen with those conspiracy theory folks.  It happens between ordinary people, usually when discussing an issue of contention.  Take the gay-rights, gay-marriage issue.  I have heard people, even Christians, argue that Christians who are against gay marriage are doing homosexuals evil and are trying to control them and make them act like Christians by forcing their beliefs upon them.  While there may be Christians who are motivated by such feelings and do want to control homosexuals and anybody not like them, has it ever dawned on anyone that maybe some people are against gay marriage for other reasons?  Has it ever dawned on anyone that maybe those reasons have nothing to do with trying to "stop gay people from acting gay?"

What if I went around accusing gay-rights activists of just acting that way in order to piss off the conservatives?

But see, if you can successfully generalize and demonize your opponent's motives, you have gone the first step in silencing them.  After all, nobody wants to listen to a "bigot" or a "tyrant."  And their voice goes silent under the rumble of false accusations while the other party, the accusing party, gets to not only act like they are victims (or at least on the side of the victims) but also noble and superior to the people with those allegedly sinister and unloving motives.

It reminds me of one of the no-no's in formal debate, called ad hominem.  The phrase is Latin and literally means "to the man."  A debate participant is guilty of ad hominem when he moves his arguments and discussion away from the topic at hand, away from the facts, and toward personal attacks on the opponent and his character.  It's like saying, "You can't listen to this guy.  His arguments are not valid because he is a bad person... I heard he slept with a prostitute back in college."  He may be a bad person, but that has nothing to do with the validity of his arguments.  Truth stands or falls on its own.

Some people pick up on this fallacy and disregard it, though many do not.   When it comes to demonizing your opponent's motives, likewise many do not.

Why does this bother me so much?  It bothers me for a few reasons.  It bothers me primarily because I value truth and fairness.  Whether intended in this way or not, to use such tactics is essentially to use a "trick."  It isn't fair play.  It isn't honest.  It isn't honoring to the truth.  Furthermore, I hate it when people with whom I agree resort to such things because it just makes us look bad.  Even if I agree with a person or a group of people in substance, I want to distance myself from them if they do this kind of thing because I do not want to be associated with hysteria and irrational thinking.  If one really stands on the truth, they should not need to resort to underhanded mechanisms.

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