Sunday, October 20, 2002

The herding up of those who have expressed opposition to the wars, those who have kowtowed to dictatorial power, those who have apologized for hate, those who have insulted the survivors of the attacks of 9/11/01 and since under the rubric of "Idiotarian" is a popular approach with some folks. It may have some measure of utility in contexts of discussing what should be done, but it is, in my opinion, not the right approach to the life-and-death debates that matter.

I'm not against calling stupid things said "stupid things". I'm not against having well-formed and firmly-stated opinions about idiotic comments. But I am skeptical about the degree of correlation presumed, even in a string of consistently stupid things said, between what someone has said and what they're going to say next.

There are two aspects to this: The first is, as noted below in the diversity entry, people are often internally conflicted. We have ways of holding nearly-conflicting opinions and feelings at times. The upshoot of that is that just because someone has a really stupid opinion or has made a really inane comment in one area, it doesn't necessarily mean that their comments in some other area are going to be equally stupid or inane. Example: More than one of the "Idiotarian" slingers has questioned Chomsky's linguistic theories. The fact is that it's perfectly consistent with human nature as observed that Chomsky could be Mr. Super Linguist Who Figured Out the Secrets of Language and be wrong wrong wrong about how human societies should be organized, on either the national or international levels.

The second aspect is that people aren't necessarily consistent in time. They change their minds -- sometimes discontinuously, sometimes along a continuum -- about particular issues. While how folks see things today might be a fair indicator of how they'll see things tomorrow, it's not really an excellent indicator. Just think of some of the things Hitchens has said and advocated over the years.

There's also a dynamic exchange involved where people hopefully read, listen, learn, change, grow. The changes that lead one opinion or another to be expressed don't just happen internally: they happen in a larger context involving other people. Not only people, but power, either formal or informal. I'm not so naive as to not understand that many of the so-called Idiotarians would be big trouble if they ever actually had real governmental power. There is, undeniably to me, an fairly-consistent misindentification of which governments really misuse governmental authority for causes that denigrate humanity. If there is a they, then they seem to be speaking out for the wrong side. But, the fact remains that they're part of our culture. They might even play some useful role in criticizing, however wrongheadedly, proposed policies and actions.

To me, it's easy enough to identify stupid things said and done on a case by case basis, without getting totally into an "us and them" mentality. These people who are often wrong and who often say stupid things and who really seem to miss the larger picture about human freedom and who's really denying it shouldn't be totally ignored, blackballed, put into the corner, or wrongly labelled as idiots.

Identify their output as stupid, call them every time they say something idiotic, do what you will to refute and dispute dumb or hateful things they say, but don't cross the us-and-them threshold. Each of us very likely has some opinion or attitude that goes against either clear thinking or the opinions of broad groups of society, and each of us is very highly likely to say something really stupid at some point. So can the generalization and stick to the details. Refuting the details is the only refutation of the hateful and stupid ideas promoted at times by some people that matters. It's almost certainly the only refutation that will convince others now (unless you're looking for anti-idiotarian bullies or sheep) or convince others at distant times and places.