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Entry 643, on 2007-11-19 at 18:56:51 (Rating 3, Skepticism)
This weekend I was away driving for several hours and needed some podcasts to listen to. Unfortunately I had forgotten to update my iPod and didn't want to stop to sync it with my Mac laptop, so I just listened to some old podcasts still in my library. Specifically I listened to some Quackcast podcasts.
Quackcast is a podcast which examines "supplementary, complementary and alternative medicine" (notice that the acronym is SCAM) from a skeptical and sarcastic perspective. Each podcast is preceded with a warning that ridicule and scorn will be used as weapons against the crazy beliefs of alternative medicine practitioners and this certainly turns out to be the case. I love these podcasts because they are very critical of SCAM, which I believe is about 99% bullshit, but they are also backed up with real facts, the results of scientific studies and reasoned analysis. in fact they follow the same path I try to use when debating similar subjects.
One of the quotes used on this podcast is from Thomas Jefferson (admittedly on a different topic) who said: "Ridicule is the only weapon that can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them". I think there is a lot of truth in this and I have been the victim of trying to debate people with beliefs that are so vague and changeable that it is impossible to disprove them, and in that case I often do use ridicule, sarcasm, and bitter criticism.
Which brings me to a visit this weekend by a Jehovah's Witness (or as I prefer to call them "Jehovah's Witless" not to be confused with a Moron (Mormon) but I digress. Generally these people turn up smartly dressed in pairs and they aren't backward in making their beliefs be known. On this occasion there was one old lady with a Dutch accent who made a big fuss of our two little dogs. Normally I totally destroy anyone who tries to inflict their beliefs on me but on this occasion I just couldn't. How could I be nasty to a nice old lady? Anyway I just grabbed the material which purported to demonstrate how a meaningful life is possible (how can a life based on dogma and mythology be meaningful) and chatted briefly before letting her leave. So even the arch-skeptic can be nice sometimes!
But is ridicule an appropriate response in situations where I wouldn't feel guilty about making the person feel bad? I think so, as long as it is accompanied by a reasonable amount of logical analysis and facts. I have several aims when debating Witnesses. First, to instill a small amount of doubt in their minds so that it might one day lead them to freedom from the prison they have made for themselves. Second, to enjoy myself at their expense by laughing at and ridiculing their silly ideas. And third, to test my debating skills and my knowledge to see if it stands up to counter-debate from people who are actually quite skilled at pushing their cause.
In the past the Witnesses have been quite pleased to get away from me when I start on them and maybe the fact that we have so few visits is because they have a mark on their map. Something like "caution: rabid atheist lives here". But maybe being nice to the old lady will change that label and the smartly dressed guys will turn up again. Wow, will they have made a big mistake or what!
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