Ad Hominem, ad populum, atheism, Critical Thinking, Dialogue, Majoritarianism, Memes, Poisoning the Well, prejudice, reddit
I enjoy a good meme as much as the next guy, but sometimes it’s a guilty pleasure. Other times, it’s just damned irritating to see what passes for smartitude in various corners of the net. Case in point?
This little bit of net-douchery. It certainly does sell a seductive message. What thinking person couldn’t identify with that sense of standing alone against a crowd of idiots, all bent on some tragically wrong-headed notion with all the certainty of gravity. And who among us who has gone that far hasn’t indulged in the thought that all those in the crowd weren’t just a bunch of gullible morons, no more and no less?
Could it be that simple?
Well, it appears that whoever put this meme together thinks it is, or at least he wants the rest of us to think so. But it’s all just a little too self-indulgent for my tastes.
I have no problem with the first sentence… Wait a minute? Yes, I do.
Oh, I certainly agree that the notion that majority rule does not make the majority right. But does this point really need to be made? Why say it? I’m not entirely too sure how many people really believe that majority consensus constitutes objective truth, though it’s a common enough claim in the heat of an argument. This is an interesting problem itself, mapping the relationship between specific claims onto something like a belief, …pardon me, Belief. It isn’t at all clear that there are a lot of people out there who think that majoritarian principles constitute a procedure for getting at the truth. At the very least, I think it is safe to say that the number of people using ad populum arguments far exceeds the number of people prepared to vouch for the existence of some epistemological principle that justifies them. So, the first statement strikes me as a bit of grandstanding.
If only it were limited to that.
That first sentence serves also to engage in a little bit of cognitive priming. Having suggested what majority rules do NOT mean, the meme proceeds blissfully onward to tell us what majority rules DO mean. Apparently, it means that the majority are gullible.
And if you bang your head against a table enough times, perhaps that inference will seem plausible. Alternatively, you could visit the atheist reddit and keep reading bullshit like this one until it starts to pass for normal.
Bashing your skull against a solid object / reading the atheist reddit
Tomaeto / Tomahto!
It would seem that the author of this bit hoped we would be so happy to reject the epistemological certitude of majority rule that we wouldn’t notice he had slipped en entry of his own into the competition for supreme foolishness on this subject. Even if we assume that the majority in this fantasy scenario is in fact gullible, it is by no means clear that the one leads to the other in any substantive manner.
But of course the meme gets a lot of mileage out of the expectations of its intended audience. Many of the atheists encountering this meme will be only to happy to think of believers as gullible, all the more so when they are depicted as a formless mass of people menacing the lone nay-sayer in the image. Poor guy! Who wouldn’t be happy to think ill of the collective bunch of bullies in that caricature? So, it’s easy to give the inference a pass, to accept the logic because we are easily tempted to agree with its conclusion.
It should also be said that many of us unbelievers will identify with the feeling of being alone against a tide of believers, though I suspect quite a few believers could point to similar experiences. But of course underdog elitism is far less effective when you let too many people in the kennel of kicked puppies. Far more satisfying to pretend the experience is unique to one’s own kind.
And herein lies the real danger of preaching to the choir, as this meme does. It suggests that the real difference between the believer and the non-believer is an innate quality, something we don’t really have to work at. Whether that quality is intelligence or moral courage, or both, the meme presents a just-so explanation of the difference between believers and non-believers. They are gullible and we are not. Yippee! We are in the good camp
…and also very convenient.
But here is where the medium does not fit the message. If there is something of moral courage, intelligence, and honesty in the position of the non-believer, it is not present in the smug assertion of some monopoly over these qualities. These qualities are not present in the asinine assertion that all of these qualities are miraculously absent in the multitude of believers. These qualities are present in the slow, patient process of sorting claims against evidence and logical support, of constructive dialogue and small careful adjustments to one’s views on this and myriad other subjects. They are present in anyone who is willing and prepared to engage in that sort of process, regardless of what side of the line they fall on for this particular question. And they are present in messages that open up such dialogue and invite others to come and play in the sandbox of reason, so to speak.
These qualities are not present in self-congratulatory sound bites that invite us to point and laugh at the other guys.