Thursday, February 08, 2007

Beyond Reason: Serious or Satire #2

I hadn't actually planned to turn the previous post by this name into a series, but I got hit with such an onslaught of appropriate events for it, that I figured "Why not?" This time, I bring you three separate events, with varying lengths and degrees of resolution.

1. Surani's $2 Million Challenge

Over on a recent thread at Skeptico, a poster under the name of "Surani" left the following comment:

Skeptico knows all about censoring people. I have asked him time and time again to come to NY City, bring Dr. Steven Barrett, James D. Watson, and anyone else, and debate myself, Gary Null and Oliver Sacks… but Skeptico never took on the challenge.

Right away, this seemed ridiculous to me, and it struck me as a likely attempt at satire. Skeptico didn't seem to think so, but his reply actually furthered the evidence for it being satire:


In what way have I censored you?

I don’t remember any previous conversations with you, and certainly no invites to visit NYC to debate. Not that I would bother to come to NYC anyway - you can debate me here or here anytime – and unlike an oral debate, you wouldn’t be able to get away with making unsubstantiated claims. But so what? In what way have I censored you?

Surani continued:

Skeptico, I can not believe what a charlatan you really are. Stop pretending that I have never asked you to come to NY and take on my 2 million dollar challenge.

Also, i can count 58 times where i have been censored here....

And Skeptico left the following comment, which has so far been the last in this exchange:

According to my logs this is the first time anyone has posted here as “Surani”. Nice try.

It seems obvious to me that this was an attempt at satire, but there are a few other possibilities. The first is that Surani is simply some ridiculous liar. Another, somewhat more likely possibility is that Surani has Skeptico confused with someone else. We can't be completely sure in this case, so it remains unresolved if and until Surani explains him/herself.

2. Scott Adams' Big Intelligent Bang

About a week ago, Scott Adams (of Dilbert fame) made a bizarre post claiming that the Big Bang must be intelligent. He justifies this by saying that we can only define intelligence as something that produces something we recognize as a result of intelligent life (writes a book, paints a mural, etc.). Therefore, since the Big Bang ultimately produced all intelligent works of humans (albeit indirectly), it must also have been intelligent.

He was assaulted with rebuttals to this, including:
  • That only works under your definition of intelligence. There are plenty of other definitions you conveniently ignored, such as requiring something intelligent to have self-awareness.
  • There's a huge difference between an organism and an event.
  • It's an established tenet of evolution that non-intelligent processes can result in intelligent life. Kind of like how you, despite being incredibly stupid, managed to create a very intelligent critique of modern business practices in Dilbert.

It was at this point (notably after his position was revealed to be ridiculous), that Adams came out saying that he's just a cartoonist, and the piece was intended to be satirical. The problem with this is that if it is satire, it's extremely poor satire. The only people who seemed to "get it" either only got it after he'd said it was satire, or were rabid fans of his who assumed anything stupid he said by definition had to be satire.

He's since maintained that it was intended to be humorous, even appearing (possibly, could have been an imposter) on The Bronze Blog to say as much. We can't say for sure whether it was indeed intended to simply be humorous, but personally I doubt it. The chain of events makes it seem much more likely to my mind that he simply made an extremely bad argument and then tried to save face by claiming it was satirical.

3. Brendan Pinto's Assault on Religion

How could I ever do a post in this series without mentioning good old Brendan? If you'll remember, he was the subject of my original post in this series, and has been brought up multiple times since then. To sum it up, he's an admitted satirical columnist in my university's student newspaper. He's quite often been "rebutted" by various students, alumni, and faculty members who have failed to get it (and once by yours truly when I happened to disagree with his actual point).

A couple weeks ago, he made an article which, in his satirical persona, condemned the effects of religion on society (see my post on it here). In actuality, he believes that religion has done much good for society, even though he's an atheist himself. I'll note that that's a fair stance to take; it's indeed possible for something false to do good in the right circumstances. I didn't actually agree with this assessment, however, and sent in a letter to this effect.

That letter appeared in the paper the week following Brendan's article on this subject, and I was surprised to find that there were no other letters in there which had misinterpreted his intent (though he did relate the story of one engineering student who had stormed into the office looking to boot some head). The week after that, however, a letter to this effect did indeed show up. If I may, allow me to ridicule it piece-by-piece.

I was reading Imprint this week and was appalled at an article written by Brendan Pinto. Mr. Pinto presented his opinions in a way that was discriminatory and hateful toward the followers of all religions but especially to Christians. I’m not sure I have ever heard someone in an academic setting call followers of religion "a bunch of A-holes" before. In the university environment, we expect and encourage logical and informed debate.

Doggerel links speak for themselves. Also note the irony that after spewing out two big logical fallacies, she says that she expects "logical" debate.

In my opinion, Mr. Pinto’s arguments were neither logical, intelligent nor informed. It is obvious that Mr. Pinto has not studied Christianity or the Bible. I have. If he had, he would know that in no part of the Bible did Jesus ask his followers to kill any "non-Christians for the glory of his name" or for any other reason. Jesus condemned killing.

Did you come across Luke 19:27 in your studies, by any chance? It reads: "But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me." (Spoken by Jesus) Maybe not specifically for the glory of his name, but he's demanding non-believers to be killed alright. In addition to demanding murder, Jesus was also notable a vandal, overturning the tables of money-changers in a temple because he didn't like business happening on religious grounds (even though it was approved by the government and served a key function for the religious).

Hmm, put that together. What do you think the Bush administration would call someone who demanded people to kill non-believers, committed acts of vandalism, and was a political dissident? Jesus Christ would probably be called a terrorist if he lived today. But I digress.

There are two more points I would like to address. First, as a Roman Catholic Chaplain at St. Jerome’s I took offence at the comments about Catholic priests. He stated that "If it weren’t for the Catholic Church, we wouldn’t have molestations." It is true that there were priests that ruined people’s lives through sexual abuse and many good priests, including the Chaplain I work with, have to live in the shadow caused by their sin.

While we expect more of religious leaders, it is wrong and hurtful to say that all priests and the whole Catholic Church are responsible for the presence of sexual molestation in society.

The biggest cover-up of sexual abuse occurs throughout the world in all cultures ­— in families. Families have covered up the presence of incest as long as there have been families.

Generations of children have grown up keeping the abuse they suffered at the hands of family members a secret. Even today victims feel such shame that it is often too painful to talk about. Instead they keep quiet and hope that they were the only victim. They want to believe their perpetrator would not go on and abuse others, even though this is rarely the case.

In the Church, brave victims were able to help ensure that Church leaders would not be able to turn a blind eye any longer. When will we do the same so that family members, neighbours, doctors, caregivers and others will not get away with molestations that are happening today across the world?

Neglecting for a moment that this was exactly the point Brendan was trying to make (it's the fault of the individuals, not the organization), this doesn't make the organization blameless. They were so obsessed with upholding their pure image that they - as you well admit - turned a blind eye to it. If it weren't for this, I might have let them go. But they instead allowed it to continue unabated until the dam broke, and for this, the organization must take blame.

The last point I wish to respond to is Mr. Pinto’s comment about Communism. Under Stalin’s rule it was not Utopia. He was responsible for the deaths of anywhere from three to sixty million people.

At this point, I just had to shake my head in astonishment. This comment was the one in his article which made it the most blatant that he was being satirical, and she just didn't get it.

Oh, and need I count the number of people who have been killed directly or indirectly because of religion? Depending on how direct you have to be, the number could easily climb into the billions.

Once again, if Mr. Pinto’s arguments were intelligent, I could see him being given a place to voice his concerns. Unfortunately Mr. Pinto’s ignorance and arrogance were given a forum in Imprint and I ask the editor to be more prudent in the future.

— Melinda Szilva
RC Chaplain at St. Jerome’s/UW and Chair of the UW Chaplain’s Association

Regardless of how ignorant, arrogant, and hateful he may be, there's still such a thing as free speech. Even if he seriously believed everything he was writing, that's no reason he shouldn't be allowed to speak. If someone were out there honestly making hilariously bad arguments for a lot of positions I'm opposed to, shutting them up would be the last thing I'd want to do.

* * * * *

And this concludes another post of Beyond Reason, though I doubt it will be the last. Your satire detectors should hopefully now be fully-tuned up, so I better not see any of you appearing in here next time!


Akusai said...

I remember a satirical letter that showed up in my school paper a couple of years back detailing how gays should be sent to "Degayification camps" so they could be "Degayified" from their terrible habits. They were accused in the letter of murdering children and other terrible offenses. The letter even kept metioning how her "Degayification propsal" was "so modest."

Our paper only publishes 15 letters on a single topic before cutting them off for a while. The cap was met in days as the ignorance poured in. I found the letter itself and the aftermath both hilarious as hell.

Infophile said...

The problem I see with a modest proposal like that is that there are actually fundies doing exactly that (Oh yeah, looks like Ted Haggart is back in the closet. How long do you think this will last?). That little tidbit might have made her proposal seem a bit more likely.

In fact, if I'd heard precisely that from certain people, it wouldn't surprise me at all.

Akusai said...

I know what you mean. For a few seconds I, too, was quite pissed, until I noticed the liberal use of the words "modest" and "proposal." It seems to me that there were also numerous other silly things in the letter that made its intent clear, but it was a few years ago.

As for Ted Haggard, I, a far better psychic than Sylvia Browne, predict that the "in the closet" will not last more than a couple of years at most, but that we will never again hear about his transgressions because his church is now clued into his "problem" and will pull a Vatican.

Rockstar Ryan said...

That "Surani" joker just threatened to shoot Skep in the head.

What a dick.

(Word verification cunntl <---teh funny!!11!1)