Dumb quote of the day--self-serving edition

>> Thursday, April 28, 2011

Get over yourselves, MSM. And do your job - not defending the right of people in power to protect themselves, but scrutinizing them relentlessly, with every fact and document you can get. You don't defuse conspiracy theories or end legitimate doubts by telling public officials they need not provide clear and available evidence to rebut them. Yes, some will still suspect. But many will walk away. That's worth doing.

Do you know what I am saying?

-Andrew Sullivan, "Why Did Obama Wait So Long?"
The Daily Beast, April 27th, 2011.


Okay, okay, okay: I kid, I know exactly what you're saying, Mr. Sullivan. You're saying that Salon hasn't really made you look like a moron and a jackass over your whole "Trig Truther" schtick because all you were doing was asking legitimate questions that needed to be answered. So, like Donald Trump, you haven't been embarrassing yourself so much as you've been vindicated for asking the tough questions that somebody else needed to step up to the plate and answer.

Good for you!

(Not really.)

Look, there are actually several problems with what Sullivan's saying. The first is that he commits the fallacy of shifting the burden of proof away from the proponent. If somebody says that Barack Obama isn't qualified to be President or that Trig Palin is Sarah Palin's kid, it's not on Obama or the Palins (or anyone else, for that matter) to rebut or even respond to those claims unless the original proponent has some sort of evidence to back up what he's saying. This is particularly true where Obama's qualifications are concerned, since he was, in fact, legally required to assert his eligibility for the office of the President when he filed to run for it: having affirmatively demonstrated to the satisfaction of fifty states that his name can go on the ballot, he's entitled to the presumption that he's proffered sufficient proof until such time as anyone has any evidence he engaged in some kind of deceit.

If I were to write, "Andrew Sullivan killed Vince Foster" (note: I am not claiming Andrew Sullivan killed Vince Foster and have no reason to believe he did), it's on me to offer some evidence, to offer something more than some random assertion. It's not on Sullivan, to prove he didn't. Indeed, it can't be his obligation (or yours) to rebut every single batshit crazy claim I could possibly make up, because my imagination is fairly considerable and other people probably need to devote time in their schedule to such minor considerations as sleep, food and hygiene instead of having to dig up evidence to show that Andrew Sullivan isn't actually the Loch Ness Monster, part of an alien invasion conspiracy, the father of twenty-three illegitimate children, the Zodiac Killer, the pen-name used by a Malaysian neo-Nazi, a member of a terrorist organization devoted to a campaign of ultraviolence unless all livestock is henceforth put into frilly dresses, the director of musical snuff films, the love child of Marilyn Monroe and Bobby Kennedy, the output from a surprisingly successful Turing Test, the twenty-first hijacker, a CIA plant, a houseplant, an eggplant, the eggman or the man who came in from the cold. (I can keep 'em coming, folks, I'm not going anywhere.)

This is basic reasoning, but apparently not so basic as to be commonly understood by the general public. It's not up to anyone to prove vaccines don't cause autism or that the "psychic" John Edwards doesn't talk to dead people or that man wasn't created by a big magical sky man on the sixth day of the week or George W. Bush to prove he didn't plan the controlled demolition of the World Trade Center or that there aren't baby unicorns hiding in my refrigerator behind the milk and iced tea. It's on whomever wants to make these claims to provide affirmative proof, and then someone can rebut the claims, and so on, back and forth until someone is satisfied or someone just gives up. And yet we seem to live in a time and a place where people want to say, "Oh, well I know that vaccines cause autism in spite of a lack of credible evidence for it, so prove they didn't" or "There may not be any actual evidence that Sarah Palin faked a pregnancy nor a plausible motive for her to do it, but prove she didn't" and that somehow gets passed as smart skepticism or vital questioning, when maybe it's just a bunch of stupid bullshit from people who don't understand how critical thinking actually works.

And that's just the first problem with what Sullivan is saying. The second major problem is the statement about legitimacy--"You don't defuse conspiracy theories or end legitimate doubts by telling public officials they need not provide clear and available evidence to rebut them." There's actually not a lot of legitimacy to doubts about Obama's candidacy, simply because of the fact that if there were, Hillary Clinton and/or John McCain would have pressed them, unless you really think they didn't want to be President Of The United States all that much. And there's not a lot of legitimacy about doubts over Trig Palin's parentage (what Sullivan is really concerned with, one suspects), because who gives a fuck? I mean, seriously, there's a lot of reasons to hope and pray that Sarah Palin is never within a heartbeat's distance of the Presidency--she's a pathologically narcissistic, under-educated, not especially intelligent, ruthlessly vindictive, essentially dishonest, selfish, lousy excuse for a human being, and that would still be true if Trig Palin were the son of Bristol Palin, a Nazarene virgin, or the wife of a Kryptonian scientist preparing for the sudden destruction of his homeworld. Trig Palin could be a magical homunculus capable of curing warts when his belly is rubbed, and Sarah Palin would still be an abominable and detestable woman; he could be the star-child from 2001 or a changeling planted in the cradle by Titania herself or an undersized vermicious knid in toddler's clothes, and Sarah Palin would still be a vile bitch.

You defuse illegitimate doubts and stupid conspiracy theories by ignoring them. And, anyway, you have to ignore them as much as possible because they're a bloody waste of time. To treat idiots as intellectual peers who deserve a response is to invite madness, because the sad, sorry truth is that there will always be a small, tough pit of unreachable idiots that cannot be cracked and you'll break your teeth trying. If you give them the rebuttal evidence they ask for, they'll accuse you of faking it with the same fervor with which they accused you of hiding it before you procured it. Debunk a claim that Oswald met with David Ferrie and Jack Ruby on a Wednesday, and they'll demand his schedule from Thursday. Show them photographs of airplane wreckage on The Pentagon lawn and they'll mutter darkly about Photoshop. They like the old pixelated photos of Cydonia more than the new ones that have obviously been scrubbed. Oh, and also: weren't the conspiracy theorists right about Watergate (you mean a conspiracy in which participants were caught red-handed because a security guard noticed a piece of tape over a door latch?) and wasn't the establishment wrong about the Earth being flat (not really)? Because, you know, if there was ever a conspiracy or anybody was ever wrong at any point in history, then the conspiracy nuts must be right, that's logic.

You know what the most ironic thing about the Sullivan quote is, in my mind? It's that the big fault of the mainstream media in matters such as Obama's birthplace isn't that they defer to people in power (that would be the mainstream media's fault in covering things like the buildup to the Iraq war); the media's big mistake in dealing with things like birtherism (or global warming or vaccination) is that they legitimize stupidity by giving it equal time, covering "both sides" as if there actually are more that one side. "Truth," Howard K. Smith said, "is not equidistant between right and wrong." He was speaking of moral right and wrong, but the principle is just as applicable to factual or rational right and wrong; well, hell, there's a moral principle there, too, if you believe that the rational has moral superiority to the irrational and facts are morally superior to lies. There's no moral victory to be had in asking a stupid and irrelevant question.

POSTSCRIPT: After I wrote the above, I came across a smart quote from Slate's David Weigel:

...Donald Trump gave—of course!—a press conference, taking credit for the release and asking why it didn't happen sooner. Look: There's really no way to spin this that doesn't reveal Trump as a buffoon or a conspiracy theorist. The White House's position for more than two years was that all "birther" questions were answered by the COLB. And the long-form certificate proves that the COLB was legitimate and answered all reasonable questions about Obama's birth. If you were "just asking questions" about the COLB, you were not a truth-seeker. You were a fool.

That. Exactly.


Nathan Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 9:02:00 AM EDT  


But being who I am, you know I can't resist providing proof positive that "baby unicorns [are] hiding in [your] refrigerator behind the milk and iced tea". It's the only part that weakens your argument.

Phiala Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 12:35:00 PM EDT  

I want a baby refrigerator unicorn. Share!

Phiala Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 12:36:00 PM EDT  

And don't you just love when your long and well-reasoned post only gets comments on the throwaway bit of humor?

Nathan Thursday, April 28, 2011 at 1:07:00 PM EDT  

Hey! I gave him props for the perfection of his argument before I dived (dove?) into the rabbit hole!

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