That’s something we can all be clear on, right off the bat. Telling parents who are thinking of vaccinating their children that “elderberry… blocks the H1N1 virus”? Yeah, fuck you. But that’s not what I want to talk about. (For one thing, Steve Novella’s got it covered. Again. Doesn’t he ever get tired of being awesome?)
Someone called Michael Hawkins wrote an article, on a WordPress blog, criticising Maloney and pointing out some of the crap he’s peddling. WordPress received a complaint about this, and ended up shutting Hawkins’ blog down. Yes, this is WordPress I’m blogging on now. I’m betting I’ll be saved from a similar fate by being too obscure to be noticed.
PZ Myers blogged about this again, pointing out that Christopher Maloney is still a quack, and highlighting how unsurprising it is for a woo-monger to apparently resort to bullying and censorship instead of actually defending any of his ideas. But that’s not what I want to talk about either.
What I want to talk about is something that happened next.
Apparently Maloney started complaining about receiving harassing emails from the Pharyngulites – PZ’s readers who wanted to express their ire at the Maloney’s quackery. Now, there’s been some discussion in some comments threads as to whether this harassment is likely to have really happened, at least to the extent that the quack is complaining about it, but the point I wanted to make is about PZ’s response: he posted again, only a couple of hours after the last one, urging people not to harass the quacks. He essentially told off a chunk of his own base, in no uncertain terms.
I’m not saying that he deserves any humanitarian awards for his basic decency here. It should be a no-brainer that making unpleasant phone calls to some guy whose number you found on the internet is a dick move. It’s kinda important that he should remind people not to go overboard, and to keep the debate within certain bounds of civility.
But however obvious this kind of thing should be, there are some areas of discussion where it happens much more reliably than others. Some political and philosophical demographics seem more capable than others of saying things like “I agree with this group’s core principles, but think they handled themselves poorly and inappropriately in this instance”, or “I know we’re on the same side here but I don’t agree with the way you’re going about this”, or even something as simple as “I was wrong”.
I was prompted to think about this by this post, which links to a video by a WorldNetDaily columnist, praising Uganda for upholding good Christian principles by trying to make homosexuality an offence punishable by death.
It’s a weird video, not least because it feels like I’m not understanding something that’s going on, like I must be missing some clever irony, because it seems like the kind of thing you’d make if you wanted to parody a whole bunch of idiotic right-wing fundamentalist claims. But apparently it’s real. And it’s seriously fucked up.
It does not, though, represent the views of all Republicans, or of every person who voted for John McCain in the last US presidential election. A lot of right-wing conservative voters out there would surely be appalled at seeing some dick’s twisted reading of the Bible being used to justify culling gay people. Even Rick Warren came out against the proposed Ugandan law, eventually.
But where are they? This sort of stuff never seems to be condemned or addressed by the rest of the conservative movement; it always seems to be up to liberals to expose this kind of thing. Whereas the left seem to have a little more awareness of themselves. Not universally, by any means – every camp has its fundies – but they seem far more capable of finding the humility to give a little ground once in a while, to admit that a certain move by one of their comrades may not have been entirely legitimate.
Example. It comes out that, some months ago, in a private meeting, Rahm Emanuel described some idea or other as “retarded“. Sarah Palin calls for his resignation, because of how offensive this is to the disabled community. Then, while discussing this story on the radio, Rush Limbaugh calls some liberals “retards”. Palin, being a fair-minded and even-handed rationalist, chastises Limbaugh in similar terms.
No, wait. I got that last bit wrong. She hasn’t said anything of the sort about Limbaugh. Or about Glenn Beck, who has repeatedly used the word “retarded” and laughed about it on his public TV show, and who interviewed Palin on Fox News just recently. Keith Olbermann might not be the best example of the humble and self-aware left-wing commentator I’ve been claiming definitely exists out there somewhere, but on this point he pretty much nails it.
That turned into a bigger rant on that one point than I’d planned. But it’s a great example of what I mean. Glenn Beck is a colossal douche, and if any right-wingers wanted to publicly acknowledge that, it’d be totally okay with the rest of us. Why doesn’t it seem to happen? Is it just my skewed perspective? Am I just not watching the right shows and YouTube clips to see where this goes on? Will I see the other side I’ve been missing if I turn over and find Jon Stewart’s conservative equivalent on some hitherto unexplored channel somewhere?
If that show exists, I’ve not seen it. And I haven’t see many conservative bloggers or commentators reminding their audiences to play nice like PZ did here, or highlighting and correcting when people on “their side” get things wrong.
So, conveniently, it seems to be the case that all these qualities of humility and objectivity and awesomeness line up very neatly with my own positions on stuff. I wonder if that should make me wary of how objective my own conclusions are… Nah.