Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

An exercise in futility

I'm going to ask a question, not because I'm trying to lead my readers toward a particular answer, but because I honestly don't know the answer myself.

To what extent are we ethically obligated to confront strangers on social media who post immoral or offensive claims?

I ask this because this morning I saw a post by a friend of a distant relative on Facebook stating that "the origin of homosexuality is in pedophilia."  First of all, this is factually wrong; there probably are some homosexuals who are pedophiles, but they're no more common among the LGBTQ population than they are among the cis-heterosexuals.  But worse, this is vile homophobia, implying that there is an equivalence between a loving, committed relationship between two adults of the same sex, and a person of either sex harming or abusing a child.

So I wrote, "this is bullshit."

The response came back almost immediately: "Typical libtard excuses for the immorality that is destroying America."

I answered, "You want research showing that there's no connection between homosexuality and pedophilia?  I can provide it."

The response: "Why would I be convinced by pro-gay atheistic scientists?  They are hand-in-glove with the queers anyhow."

At that point, I gave up.

This is troubling from a plethora of angles.  Not only does this person espouse ugly bigotry, she has decided that anything contrary to her views must be a "libtard" opinion motivated by a desire to destroy America's moral fiber.  She's successfully insulated herself from ever discovering she's wrong.  About anything.  Further, this enables her to write off anyone who disagrees with her as a dupe at best and actively evil at worst.

So the argument I got into was an exercise in futility, which I knew it would be from the outset.  Someone who would post what she did isn't going to have their views changed by a nasty exchange with a total stranger.  All it did was raise both of our blood pressures and leave us more firmly entrenched in what we already believed.

But does that mean we shouldn't try?

[Image licensed under the Creative Commons David Shankbone creator QS:P170,Q12899557, Anger during a protest by David Shankbone, CC BY-SA 3.0]

That doesn't set well with me, either.  If you don't challenge evil when you see it, what good are your moral convictions?  It also bears consideration that my antagonist is not the only person who saw the back-and-forth.  Presumably a lot of people read what we wrote -- and interestingly, not a single person, including my (very conservative and religious) cousin, decided to weigh in.  It may be that one of them was on the fence, and seeing his or her unexamined views expressed in such a blatantly vicious fashion caused some level of reconsideration.

But I don't know.  I detest conflict, and am the last person who would seek out a battle just for the hell of it.  Also, I can say that when I've engaged in this kind of thing with a stranger, it has resulted in an exactly zero percent success rate of moving the person who posted the initial comment.  So was it worth the unpleasantness?

I honestly don't know.  It felt a great deal like tilting at windmills to me.  But like I said, with some things staying silent really isn't an option.

If anyone has any better perspective on this, I'd love to hear it, either privately or in the comments section.  Because right now, I'm feeling pretty despondent about ever convincing anyone of anything -- even when their views are immoral, unfair, bigoted, or demonstrably false.


This week's Skeptophilia book recommendation is for any of my readers who, like me, grew up on Star Trek in any of its iterations -- The Physics of Star Trek by Lawrence Krauss.  In this delightful book, Krauss, a physicist at Arizona State University, looks into the feasibility of the canonical Star Trek technology, from the possible (the holodeck, phasers, cloaking devices) to the much less feasible (photon torpedoes, tricorders) to the probably impossible (transporters, replicators, and -- sadly -- warp drive).

Along the way you'll learn some physics, and have a lot of fun revisiting some of your favorite tropes from one of the most successful science fiction franchises ever invented, one that went far beyond the dreams of its creator, Gene Roddenberry -- one that truly went places where no one had gone before.


  1. I'm glad you said something. It's important for all of the reasons you stated and - most of these people know they are wrong & even those that did not weigh in got to see another human stand against hate. Every little bit helps.

  2. I'm all for you, Gordon. Just one thought. you might have begun that exchange with something a little kinder that "this is bullshit."

  3. Are you serious? That’s the pot calling the kettle black. What he said was bigoted, but no different than some of the things I’ve read from you. The other day you retweeted something to the effect of not being able to tell the difference between republicans and white supremacists. That and the countless times you’ve put down Christianity. You and this other bigot are cut from the same cloth, just holding opposing viewpoints. Hate to call a spade a spade but that’s what it is.