Thursday, March 27, 2008

Being Mean and Cruel vs. Being Honest

Continuing a theme from the last couple of days, today I want to argue for the importance of using moral language.

A fun thing happened yesterday. NewsLi took the press release sent out by those promoting the movie “Expelled” about the PZ Myers incident and made a story out of it. By the time I found it, three other people familiar with the facts of the case had remarked on some of the errors in the story. One had provided links.

I added my two cents worth from the point of view of an ethicist, pointing out that the author had abdicated his professional responsibility and taken a piece of fiction that he found in his email and, without putting the least amount of effort into verifying the claims being made, reported the story as news. I pointed out how easy it would have been to have checked the basic facts of the story. I concluded that saying that this breech in professional ethics would not only require a correction, but a level of shame and embarrassment that would require an apology and a promise to do better in the future.

A short time after I had posted that comment, the link to the page with the original story came back “Not Found, Error 404”. A link to the story could still be found on Google News, but it went to a site that says, “The page you are looking for no longer exists.”

Note: It appears that the press release had absolutely no traction. So, according to Friendly Atheist, the people behind the movie are now organizing a teleconference press conference. I can only assume that it is for the same purpose - for trying promote their fiction - a way of talking to the press without people like us around to correct their 'mistakes'. I wonder if any informed reporters will show up to ask the embarrassing questions that should be asked.

Today, PZ Myers pointed to an AlterNet article in which the author advocated that Democrats need to get mean when they deal with Republicans. The article actually comes across as pro-violence, glorifying the killing that has been done (in the Revolutionary War and Civil War) in the defense of liberal principles. I am no advocate of violence – and wars, where they must occur, are a necessary evil, not a positive good.

I am also not so keen on the partisan element in the original article. I happen to think that some Democrats are as divorced from reality as some Republicans, and some Republican ideas have serious merit. In fact, I see both parties as consisting of a loose alliance between sane individuals struggling to attract just enough nut jobs to make a 51% majority.

Within these caveats, I hold that we do, indeed, need to promote the use of moral language – the language of praise and condemnation – in the defense of liberal causes. There is far too much of a tendency to speak only of the non-moral facts in criticizing the actions of others, ignoring the moral facts.

For example, in the press release that I mentioned above, the authors spoke of PZ Myers’ displeasure over having been expelled from the movie “Expelled.” This was a lie. This makes the authors of the press release (and any person or organization who endorses the press release) liars.

Liars are parasites. Liars are people who wish to hijack a person’s will – the time and energy that a person would spend fulfilling his or her own desires – and divert them into fulfilling the desires of the parasite/liar instead. He does so by filling the head of the agent with false beliefs. Those false beliefs divert the agent from doing what the agent would have been doing if he knew the facts, and cause him to do something he would consider unworthy of his time if not for the fictions he has been fed.

When applying the label ‘Liars for Jesus’ to some individual or group, I would suggest taking the time to point out the fact that this means that they are parasites who see nothing wrong with “using deception to get you to do things that you might well not have done if they had told you the truth . They are people who rob you of your right to make your own informed decisions.”

The people who are backing the move “Expelled” have proven themselves to be liars and manipulators from the start. From getting Myers, Richard Dawkins, and others to agree to interviews under false pretenses, to the lies written directly into the movie, to the lies put into the press release about the PZ Myers incident, the people behind this movie have proved that they have absolutely no qualms about using lies to manipulate others.

Somehow, these agents reached mature adulthood without the slightest moral qualm – the slightest emotional recognition – that lying, deception, and similar forms of manipulation are things that no good person would do – things that all good people have reason to condemn.

The appropriate response is not only to point out the logical and factual errors in their statements. The appropriate response should include a willingness to back those reports of the factual errors with the call for society to condemn people such as this.

“They are not making your life any better. In fact, to the degree that they are allowed to succeed in these activities, to that degree we are teaching people in society generally that it is permissible to manipulate others through lies and deception. To the degree that these people are allowed to succeed, to that degree we are telling our neighbors that they, too, should feel free to employ lies and deception in the pursuit of their ends.”

The best way to fight the prevalence of lies and deception in our society is by condemning those who are caught practicing them, and to make sure that they do not succeed.

To do this, moral condemnation should not just be limited to the guilty party. Moral condemnation should be extended to those who protect and defend the guilty party – those who contribute to the success of the guilty party.

Given that the people backing this movie have proved themselves to be eager to manipulate others through lies and deception, there is absolutely no reason for any good person to pay to see this movie. It is not as if one has any hope of learning something. The behavior of the people backing the movie have given intellectually responsible people reason enough to question the claims within the movie. Even to the degree that the movie might contain some truths, it will take an independent understanding of the issues to sort the truth from the fiction. In this case, the outside understanding of the issue should be good enough, and there would be no need to go to the movie.

There is one excellent reason for a person who cares about truth and honesty not to go to the movie – because buying a ticket contributes to the success of a pack of liars. It would be better to spend that money promoting truth by purchasing something produced by an individual with intellectual integrity. Let us contribute to the success of the people who care about the quality and the truth of the statements that they make, rather than contribute to the success of deceiving manipulators.

The society that we live in is the society that we build. Every dollar we spend sends a message to the community that, “I want the community I live in to have more of this.” When those dollars are spent in the support of those who seek to manipulate others through lies and deception, then one is sending a message through the community that says, “I vote in favor of a community that contains more of this practice of manipulating others through lies and deception.”

Is that really something that good people would think to be worthy of a contribution?

For these reasons, the language of moral condemnation applies not only to the people who made this movie, but to those who would contribute to the success of this movie. They are, in fact, even more morally responsible for the fact that we must live in a society where we are surrounded by manipulated deceivers. They are the ones who are feeding and caring for these pets. They are the ones who are nurturing this culture of manipulative deception.

These are moral claims. These are claims that go beyond statements of what the facts of the matter are, to statements about what good people should do when confronted with those facts. These are claims that go beyond merely telling the facts to the author of an article written from a piece of fiction in the form of a press release and condemns the author as somebody who did something that no morally responsible person would have done.

It is time to reclaim the use of moral language, and to get rid of this absurdity where the least moral among us are those who most eagerly identify themselves as ‘moral’.

The idea is not to be mean or cruel. The idea is to tell the truth. The truth that is to be told sometimes is the fact that the person one is talking about (or to) is a liar, hypocrite, hate-mongering bigot, manipulative, deceitful, intellectually reckless, abusive, ignorant, or just plain evil.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I could not for the life of me figure out why that Alternet article rubbed me the wrong way. Thanks yet again Alonzo for helping!