Consistency is King
This past week I attended a meeting of godless heathens, the main topic being the trouble with sparkleponies. Specifically, we discussed the pros and cons of a not-so-new book by former NFL punter Chris Kluwe entitled Beautifully Unique Sparkleponies: On Myths, Morons, Free Speech, Football, and Assorted Absurdities. In the midst of our discussions (mostly negative) and off-hand reviews of the book (thumbs down), the idea for this article occurred to me. This is not a book review. Instead, I’m going to use this book as an example of what NOT to do when trying to present a skeptical, rational or critical point of view.
I’m not a professional editor. I’m just a guy with a blog. I do know enough about logic, though, to recognize a well-reasoned argument versus someone spewing silly diatribe and trying to sound smart. I think there is a lesson to be learned from such people. If we in the “skeptical movement” are going to be successful at our mission, we have to recognize what works and what doesn’t. We have to know how to communicate effectively. We are only going to get so many chances at holding someone’s attention. So when we have it, we have to do it right.
Kluwe’s book reads like an almost randomly selected series of blog articles, and maybe that is what it is. Its title certainly indicates it is not the penultimate epitome of critical thinking. However, some of what he writes about is important: gay rights, the proper interpretation of the Second Amendment, the intrinsic elements of a rational and free society. Each of these deserves attention and there are cogent points to be made on each. Unfortunately, Kluwe isn’t making them very well.
Consistency in opinion and logic is very important if you want to change the hearts and minds of those to whom you are speaking. Inconsistency itself is a logical fallacy, and it runs through entire course of Kluwe’s book. It’s not just that his chapters are disparate thoughts, not tied together by any common thread. It is that he actually contradicts himself over and over again, breaking his own rules and coming across as a bit of an ad hominem hypocrite. I think this sort of thing should be avoided when you are trying to convince people that your way of thinking is the right way to go.
He starts off talking about Reason and Truth. He says “truth boils down to two things: a willingness to see the world as it really is, and the desire to change your beliefs when they conflict with your vision.” Kluwe then takes pains to point out that the world is complex and we shouldn’t be judging people with labels or categories. He writes a whole letter to Jesus extorting that people should be following in His footsteps, not promoting hate or fear, loving their neighbors, giving charity, etc. All of these are good points.
But then, two chapters later, he leads with “I have no tolerance for bigots. I have no tolerance for sexists”and proceeds to loudly extort the virtues of verbally abusing people who have an opposing point of view, especially when it comes to gay rights legislation.I guess if you want to meet intolerance with more intolerance, you can. It’s not going to get you anywhere, but you can do it.
Another couple chapters and he’s down on “Second Amendment Gun Nuts”, straight up calling them self-righteous assholes before he’s gone even five lines into the chapter. This is an interesting choice of words from someone who is so clearly in love with his own views that he is entirely intolerant of anyone else’s. He then proceeds to bash two of the most fallacious arguments used for gun control as though this is rational discourse that intelligent people engage in, all the while complaining that it is the Gun Nuts who prevent rational discourse. And all this with no shortage of name calling and ‘colorful metaphors’ to describe what those Gun Nuts can do with their high-powered armament.
I don’t have a problem with someone expressing their opinion. I really don’t. What I would like to see is consistency.
If you are going to argue that empathy is one of the three cornerstones of a stable society (as Kluwe does) and that “any attempt to marginalize or discriminate against minority groups will lead to conflict farther down the road as they agitate for equality wrongfully denied them” then it would only make sense to not proceed to verbally abuse and degrade a minority opposition because they have desires or views that are different from yours.
I believe that if someone wants to be taken seriously, they should actually hold themselves to an ideal and work hard to follow it. It’s easy to lash out at others, to attempt to belittle and degrade them for their “stupidity.” We have to take the harder road.
Skepticism, critical thinking and rationality can only proceed from a foundation of tolerance and respect. As has been said before in the skeptical movement, don’t be a dick. And more importantly, be logically consistent in your arguments. You’ll find people will agree with you a lot faster and for a lot longer if you do.