Home > Uncategorized > Phil Plait’s video on not being a dick, part 2

Phil Plait’s video on not being a dick, part 2

August 28, 2010

I like Phil Plait a lot, but he’s recently been on a thing about “Not Being A Dick” and his recent video is supposed to be a clarification of that position. 

This reminds me of the scene in nearly every cop show where they take a fuzzy picture and apply enhancement software to it, and see a reflection of the killer’s face on a chrome-plated lugnut.  There’s only so much you can clarify a position that is fuzzy to begin with.

Mind you, I try to be fair-minded and respectful but those are adjectives, which means they are difficult to quantify, like “fast” or “cold”.  In other words, they take on their meaning by contrast to the context in which they are found. 

Phil has said that it’s all right to argue with passion, and that satire and name-calling are OK.  Which is a good thing, because if I couldn’t call Ken Ham an idiot, or Ted Haggard a hypocrite, then we might as well just talk about the weather. 

Perhaps I should have been more clear on what I mean by being a dick. I thought I had been clear, but a lot of people seem to think that I meant anyone who gets upset, or angry, or argues with emotion. I wouldn’t include satire in that category, or comedic work, or even necessarily using insults; tone and attitude count here. Think of it this way: when someone argues that way do you think to yourself, “What a dick”? I don’t; at least not necessarily. I think that way when the person belittles their opponent, uses obviously inflammatory language, or overly aggressively gets in their face.

Y’know. Being a dick.

Gee, Phil, thanks for clearing that up.  What, specifically, are you trying to say?  Is it wrong to use profanity?  Why and in what context?  I hardly ever use profanity online but that’s me, not a prescription for you.

Is it wrong to perform symbolic actions?  This seems to be the one that most angers traditionalists.  Draw a picture of Mohammad, or stick a nail through a cracker, and you are making a point about the value of those symbols outside the context of their community of adherents.  Yes it might be painful for someone within a belief system (not the same as a value system) to see such actions, but they’re symbolic.  Usually, they are performed in the context of a response to non-symbolic actions, like violence or oppression.

The meaning is almost always argued outside of its context, but it is context that gives meaning.

One thing I have learned is that what is normal to one person may be horribly offensive to another.  And I’ve also picked up on the fact that not everyone has the same goal.  Plait again:

Others took issue with my initial question, asking how many people were “converted” to skepticism by having a skeptic yelling at them and insulting them. In fact, at least one person said that method does work and worked on them. That’s good for them, but given what we know about the way people argue and change their views on issues, the vast majority of people will become further entrenched when confronted in that way.

Phil could be asking the wrong question here, or addressing the wrong audience.  Maybe the yelling, insulting person isn’t trying to convert the Kirk Camerons of the world; maybe they recognize that is impossible.  It could be that their goal is to show them as the laughable idiots they really are – to make space for others to escape the cultural trap of “respecting” that which deserves no respect. 

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. August 28, 2010 at 04:19 | #1

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who’s a little confused about this argument. Stephanie Zvan wrote an article about this when it first cropped up, and then I reacted to it. From the discussion in Plait’s followup article, I’m not sure whether either Stephanie’s article or mine is supportive, or in opposition to what Plait is saying.

    I know that both Stephanie and I were saying that sometimes it really is OK to insult really stupid ideas. I think that’s particularly true when those ideas are put forth in an arrogant or condescending manner. Not every argument is settled with tightly reasoned logic. In fact, in my experience, sadly few are.

    What I’m not sure is how Phil feels about that.

    Somehow, I doubt that watching this video is going to make things any clearer.

  2. August 30, 2010 at 08:34 | #2

    “The meaning is almost always argued outside of its context, but it is context that gives meaning.”

    So there’s the (a) rub.  Everyone believes that there is such a thing as objective reality, and they cling to it as “THE TRUTH”.

    In reality (ha!) there is no objective reality, since the the thinker/viewer/experiencer thinks/views/experiences through their own particular thoughts/views/experiences of themselves … A self which is not fixed and static and thus does not exist as they think/view/experience it.

    So whence comes the passion and emotional context when discussions and arguments are punctuated by sarcasm, insults, etc.?  In great measure it is the threat that is perceived against one’s “self”. 

    Yesterday my wife and I had a discussion about health care with my father-in-law and his wife.  Dad’s wife held a position that their increasing cost for deductibles and pharma are ultimately caused by the coverage “given” to those who are too lazy to work. I challenged her to give me the data, the facts that would show that, to go do the research.

    She got quite agitated and defensive, and attempted to shut down the conversation.  When I pressed her, she said that discussions with passion made her “feel bad”.

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