A version of this essay first appeared on Stonekettle Station several years ago. In response to recent events, a number of readers asked for it to be reposted. Here you go, I’ve made some edits and updates. //Jim
A while back, I made a smart Alec comment on Facebook.
This is not unusual, I make a lot of smart Alec comments on Facebook.
But in this case I was commenting about the Texas School Board’s decision to remove discussion of any religion other than Christianity from US history books and to actively foist their warped, verifiably wrong, and willfully incomplete view of history on America’s school children. Specifically, I said, “I’d like to personally thank Texas for rolling the US educational system back to the 14th Century.” Way to go, douchebags and so on. With a link to Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy Blog at the Discover Magazine and a discussion of the same topic from the view of an actual no-foolin scientist who spends an admirable amount of time slapping around stupid people.
It didn’t take long for a creationist to show up, and not just a creationist but a global climate change denying, Big Bang denying anti-evolutionist who doesn’t understand the difference between the origin of life and the origin of a species. Here’s his comment:
Evolution has about the same evidence as global warming. No transitional forms and no missing link. Look it up. Even the Big Bang doesn't make sense without a creator or cause. Darwin’s book Origin of the species never addresses the Origin of the Species.
People seemed think I was going to debate this chucklehead.
Heh heh, no.
See, while I found their comments amusing, there was no way I was going to do anything other than point and engage in ridicule.
It’s not that he wouldn’t have been easy to rip apart, and in fact I count over a dozen things in his ridiculous comment that are verifiably wrong, provably so, definitively so, obviously so, beginning with the fact that my post had nothing whatsoever to do with either global climate change or evolution. My original comment was about the Texas state school board’s decision to edit out an enormous historical contribution to human history, science, culture, and language because they don’t like Muslims and don’t want them portrayed in a favorable light in any way whatsoever. Period.
This pisses me off. It pisses me off because when Texas does something dumb with their school books, it affects the rest of the country.
I don’t give a flying fig what kind of ignorance they wish to indulge in down there in the land of pointy-toed boots, giant hats, and horny toads, but when their nonsense impacts my child’s education and makes my country the laughing stock of the of civilized world, then they are making it my business.
I would feel the same way about it if they’d decided to edit Jesus out of the history books – if Jesus had actually invented optics, developed algebra, preserved large chunks of human knowledge throughout the Dark Ages when Europe had fallen into illiterate feudal savagery while the Christian church was busy spreading the Black Death and burning people at the stake for heresy instead of doing something useful, if he had carried science and civilization to a third of the known world in his caravans, or explored more of the planet than the fifty miles of desert surrounding the place where he was supposedly born.
It is true that I and most of you could have easily debunked that creationist nonsense – the difference being that I would probably have used more four-letter words than you. Hell, I could have done it when I was ten. Scientists like Plait and Michael Shermer of the Skeptical Inquirer make a career out of refuting this kind of bullshit, and I admire them for it.
But it doesn’t make any difference.
Not to the crazies anyway.
You cannot reason with unreasonable people.
And it is my policy not to engage in debate with willfully unreasonable people.
There’s a difference between stupid and deliberately stupid.
In such cases, mostly I just point and laugh.
Now look, I’m not saying that debunking the cranks isn’t an honorable and worthwhile endeavor and a crappy job that has to be done. But people like the commenter mentioned above simply don’t operate within a fact based, reality oriented framework. Through design or defect, they are functionally incapable of processing input in a rational manner. Instead they see the world through some kind of warped goggles the way a mental patient views his world and no amount of debunking will ever change their delusional outlook. Period.
In other words, it doesn’t matter how debugged the program is if defective processor circuitry adds two and two and gets the square root of negative one, and in fact always returns (i) no matter what numbers you put in. You can keep plugging in the proper values, checking and refining your input, but the machine relentlessly spits out (i) and only (i). That’s exactly what it’s like to debate a creationist, or scientologist, or a moon landing denier, or an anti-vaxxer.
And it is neither my job nor my duty to debunk the idiots or pamper the mental patients.
In America, the Constitution may give these people the right to speak their bilge in public, but it doesn’t require that I have to respect it.
And I do not.
I cannot, and will not, suffer fools gladly. And I really can’t understand people who do.
Arguing with these people, attempting to reason with them, is a lost cause – because they are not reasonable people.
You cannot reason with unreasonable people. You can not.
The only proper response to this nonsense is this: Shut Up.
Let me give you an example.
Remember Marshall Applewhite?
Marshall was a fun guy. He got fired from his job for “emotional issues” (HR speak for “basket case”).
In fact, Marty had a whole host of mental issues, which included hearing voices in his head and the belief that he was storing the preserved mind of Christ in his noggin. I don’t suppose it will come as a surprise to you that he was a big believer in UFOs and alien visitors.
Marshall, who preferred to be addressed by his secret space alien name “Do,” also went to Mexico and had himself surgically castrated, because, and dig this, the Jesus voice told him to cut his testicles off.
Applewhite founded an outfit named Heaven’s Gate. Maybe you’ve heard of it – the whole bunch of them committed mass suicide back in 1997 so they could go meet an alien spacecraft hiding in the glowing tail of comet Hale-Bopp.
Marshall was obviously nuts, right? (or rather no-nuts, if you want to get technical about it).
Here’s the thing, he didn’t get that way overnight. He didn’t just wake up one day and decide to cut his balls off. He got there a piece at a time, little by little, over years and years, because people indulged his crazy religious bullshit rather than telling him point blank that he was an idiot. People kept talking to him like his gibberish was reasonable. It’s not, it wasn’t. He was a loon who spoke loony crap and should have been told to shut the fuck up as often as it took.
I know, I know, I see you over there waving your arms. You going all 1st Amendment in the face and shit. Hang on.
Hear me out.
You’re sitting on a bench, reading a book, enjoying the sun, whatever it is that you do in the half hour when you’re not pestering me here.
This creepy old dude with a funny walk and bleached hair comes mooching up. He asks if he can sit down. He seems harmless enough, so you nod to the empty half of the bench, and raise your eyebrow so he knows not to start anything. He sits down in sort of a weird space alien sort of way, and after a minute he says: “Say listen, after work a bunch of us are going down to Mexico for margaritas and to have our funberries hacked off by a drug lord’s plastic surgeon, then we’re going to dress up in purple capes and white sneakers and drink the strychnine Kool-Aid and put plastic bags over our faces. We’re doing this because Zombie-Jesus-who-lives-in-my-head says the Earth is about to be destroyed by aliens but we’re going to abandon our bodies and go live on the comet with the comet people.”
You nod as if this is a reasonable statement. Oh, yes, how fascinating.
Then Marty asks, “We’ve got an extra seat, you interested?”
To which you reply, (a) “Whoa Doggies, count me in!” or (b) “Piss off you creepy little eunuch or I will snatch you up by the top of your pointy bald grape and jam my Thick Tip Sharpie into your eye so deep that I’ll be able to write Fuck You on the inside of your skull in four inch high indelible ink.”
The correct answer seems obvious doesn’t it? (it also explains why I always carry a Sharpie, just in case you were wondering. You might want to give that some thought before you sit down next to me. Just saying)
But, see, here’s the thing: thirty nine people chose option (a).
It wasn’t a secret. They told people. They put out movies. They had a website – they still have a website. And nobody said to them, listen here, you stupid silly bastards…
Everybody just sort of said, well, you know, they’re a little odd.
They weren’t odd, well, OK, they were – but it’s not that they were odd, Marshal Applewhite and Heaven's Gate were bugshit crazy, and everything they said was crazy, and everything they believed was crazy. They were crazy. Nuts. Stark staring bonkers. The whole lot of them. And it was obvious that they were crazy.
And it happens all of the time. Jonestown. The Branch Davidians. That bunch in France what burned themselves up along with their kids. Those obnoxious goofs who like to wave their bibles in your face while you’re waiting for the light to change. Creationists. Tom Cruise. The subject of yesterday’s essay, William J. Murray. These people are nuts.
And people shake their heads and say, how could this happen?
How could it happen?
It happens because nobody told these deluded idiots to shut up and stop acting like idiots.
It happens because in America, it’s okay to be crazy – so long as you invoke Jesus.
If you tell people you hear voices in your head commanding you to kill the President because Jodie Foster will dig it and want to have your babies, we lock your silly ass up and make fun of you on TV.
But if you tell people you hear a voice in your head and he’s telling you the President of the United States is Muslim Kenyan Socialist Hitler-clone bent to the destruction of America because he’s really a space alien reptile in a rubber human suit, you can get yourself elected to Congress – as long as you say the voice in your head sounds like Jesus.
Look, I’m not talking about restricting the freedom of speech or freedom to worship – what I’m talking about is intervention.
I’m saying it’s about time we cranked the public bullshit filter up to 11.
If somebody tells you that that the magical power of Jesus gives them the ability to fly, are you denying them their 1st Amendment rights when you prevent them from stepping off the roof?
Is it our duty to keep these people from killing themselves?
Perhaps not – but what about the people on the sidewalk below? Don’t we have a moral obligation to keep those poor bastards from getting crushed by falling idiots?
Yes. Damn it.
But you can’t do that by debate.
Debating the loons only rewards their bad behavior and reinforces their delusion.
You cannot reason with unreasonable people.
Debating them only encourages them more. Having a real scientist engage them in live debate automatically elevates their nonsense to legitimacy. Again, don’t get me wrong here, those scientists are professionals and I have nothing but respect for people like Michael Shermer and Phil Plait – but they should come with the same warning as those Mythbuster Guys, i.e. don’t try this at home. Ever.
And it wouldn’t be necessary if more people would tell these idiots to fuck off.
The proper response to crazy is: Shut. Up. Just shut the fuck up. I’m not going to debate you, because I simply don’t respect your stupid bullshit enough to bother. Nobody does. Fuck off or I’m getting out my Magic Marker.
You cannot reason with unreasonable people.
So don’t try.
Oh, and pick yourselves up a couple of Sharpies.