Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Further Occasions for Pedantry

Long ago, before Lexifab was Lexifab, the Student Union used to show interesting movies on occasional weeknights in the refectory, and before these movies they would sometimes show dull but worthy documentaries about one thing or another. I remember one of these dull but worthy documentaries was about the oppression of homosexuals, and that it featured at some dull but worthy woman in sensible shoes explaining her worldview.
The future Lexifabricographer turned to me and said, ‘Did she just say that heterosexuality isn’t normal?’
I agreed that yes, that was what she had said.
‘Good,’ said Lexifab. ‘That means I can ignore everything she says.’

This guiding principle has stayed with me ever since.
There are lots of people out there with opinions, and it is too much trouble to try to refute them all. To simplify our task, we can keep an eye out for these occasional giveaway statements that reveal they are completely unhinged. Then we can confidently ignore everything they say. Conversely, as a favour to those who disagree with me, I try to salt my own otherwise irrefutable arguments with ludicrous statements so they can take the option of ignoring everything I say.

Actually, there are two kinds of statements that allow us to ignore everything else the other person says on that topic. The first sort is the more fatal, and indicates that the person making the statement has no idea how to think. An example of this sort of statement might be, “Evolution is a heinous plot of the Godless liberal conspiracy.” If someone says that, there is no point arguing with them about anything. You cannot refute them with evidence- unless they are very young or illiterate and merely parroting their elders. They already have evidence and to spare. They are just no more able to think than a bar of soap can think.

The second sort is what I really want to talk about, because it is curable. Every so often- painfully, painfully often- someone will make a statement on a topic of current interest that they would not make if they had the slightest clue, unless they are deliberately trying to spin the argument by concealing facts. This causes a Pavlovian response in me to jump up and correct them. Of course I can’t actually do this, because they are usually making this statement on the radio, or in the newspaper, but the ‘fight or flight’ response is there and keeps me giddy with adrenaline all day. I guess the things that are bothering me are all kind of trivial, but they are half-truths which people keep quoting again and again and again nowadays without including the other half of the truth which ought to be compulsory.

Irritating Statement #1: ‘Israel is some kind of European settlement in the Middle East,’ Ahmadinejad et al. If you take away the 1990s immigrants from the former Soviet Union, half the Jewish population of Israel have no ties to Europe. They or their ancestors were thrown out of bona fide Middle Eastern countries like Yemen, Iraq, and Egypt. The native language of the President of Israel is Farsi.

Irritating Statement #2: ‘The Crucifixion was the beginning of anti-semitism,’ anyone commenting on Mel Gibson’s self-immolation. Anti-semitism is part of the heritage of Mediterranean Civilisation that has come down to us from the Greeks and Romans. There were pogroms in Alexandria hundreds of years before Christ. The books of Esther and Maccabees attest to anti-semitic persecutions by Hellenic civilisation long before it was Christian. My impression is that the rise of Christianity actually took the pressure off the Jews for a while, because the Christians were even more peculiar than the Jews. The Empire was anti-semitic before it became Christian and its successor states are still anti-semitic since they have ceased to be Christian.

Irritating Statement #3: “blah blah disputed Shabaa farms blah blah blah,” every radio report about ceasefire conditions etc. Did Lebanon complain about this nigh-uninhabited strip on the border before 1967, when it was administered by Syria? Did Lebanon complain about it at any time between 1967 and 1982, when it was occupied by Israel as conquered Syrian territory? Did Lebanon complain when the United Nations drew up the maps to accompany resolution 1559? No, no, and no. Nobody had ever heard of the Shabaa Farms before Hezbollah seized on them in 2000 as a convenient excuse to continue an armed struggle with Israel. Can a territory be considered disputed if a fringe group suddenly pipes up and claims it for one country rather than another? Only if the rest of the world takes them seriously. So they shouldn’t. The rest of the world, that is.


Marco said...

I'm still struggling with what to write about what Australia should do with its deployable troops, aid agencies and diplomatic posturing.


Jenny said...

Something I was reading recently..I think it was a recent new scientist..was discussing a particular Scientists' work and the complete sidelining of this scientist after he started making statements of an extreme nature in an area of science outside of his expertise (eugenics I think and he was a physical science/engineering/nobel prize winning type).

They pointed out that this has happened to several scientisty types who may have a stirling career, but can't help but try to use their reputations in one field to push a personal and probably not well researched agenda in another, thus alienating many many people. Their comment was there may be mental health issues involved here.

I thought of it when you commented on the completely unhinged nature of some statements.

Please note - I rewrote this a little more carefully when the original reply made it sound like I was accusing Dr Clam of "making statements of an extreme nature in an area of science outside of his expertise". I on the other hand carefully express no opinion. heh.

Dr. Clam said...

I believe you, Jenny :D
I am certainly open to the charge of making extreme statements in areas of science outside my expertise... but hopefully usually just to balance extreme statements in areas outside their expertise made by other people, e.g., Academies of Science pontificating on embryonic stem cells...

Nato said...

Hey Dr.Clam - Noel Small here (Nathanael now).
I connected with your blog via my bro's (winstoninabox) over your Narnia comments.

No-one's actually identified you yet...but given your breadth of christian commentary and chin up prowess my aging brain (with the help of Google & Friends Reunited) thinks u might now be living in Armidale? If not, any clues as to your tru identity?

Dr. Clam said...

Hi N*l! Long time no, er, hear from. A wondrous thing is blogdom, aye and verily...
If you ever have plenty of time to kill, I would be honoured if you felt like looking back through my archives and breathing new life into some abandoned threads. Most topics are far from exhausted, and a fresh voice will get us all twitching again. :)

Nato said...

Will attempt to do so...although time is limited (lunch-time doubly so, according to Oscar Wilde).

I enjoyed seeing / hearing that Spit has managed to survive for c.20 years, through various additions and incarnations - hang in there long enough, and you'll become a tru supergroup one day :-).

Marco said...

I thought that the quote was "Time is an Illusion, Lunch time doubly so" Douglas Adams. And perhaps the illusion that we have time to blog etc.

Oh Yeah. Hi Noel