Do you contribute something worthwhile to the marketplace of ideas, or are you just a noisy asshat? Here's one way to tell: how do you act when you are proven wrong about something? Do you learn from the experience and admit you were wrong — or do you double down?
These days there's an extremely irritating trend towards doubling down. Faced with the fact that they rushed to judgment, or were hoaxed, noisy asshats increasingly respond a jaw-dropping premise: "the fact that I was taken in just shows you that my point was premised on truth."
Case in point: Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh was hoaxed — or at least pretended to be hoaxed — by a satirical report about the contents of Obama's college thesis, which purportedly called for redistribution of wealth. When the hoax was revealed, did Limbaugh own his mistake? He did not. He doubled down:
"So I shout from the mountaintops: 'It was satire!'" Limbaugh said on the program. "But we know he (Obama) thinks it. Good comedy, to be comedy, must contain an element of truth, and we know how he feels about distribution of wealth.
This is by no means the sole province of the right. We see that today at Pandagon, a lefty blog offering occasional islands of insight in an ocean of orthodoxy. Pandagon was faced with the news that the death of part-time census worker Bill Sparkman — found hanged with "fed" written on his chest — may have been an suicide disguised as a murder. This conflicted with Pandagon's received wisdom — common on lefty blogs — that Sparkman's death represented the clear and present danger of right-wing rhetoric. Did Amanda Marcotte of Pandagon point this out as a lesson on the dangers of rushing to judgment? She did not. Just like Rush Limbaugh, she doubled down.
But as much as the hate-mongerers will surely conclude they get 100% off the hook for this, they do not. Sparkman concluded that this was an effective disguise for his suicide because he’d been subjected to so many concerns about his safety working the Census. How realistic those concerns are is somewhat beside the point, since terrorism is about creating the perception of danger. Loud-mouthed threats aimed at government workers, right wing gun nut paranoia about “big government”, shirts with “jokes” about shooting liberals—all these add up to an atmosphere of fear that made Sparkman believe that this murder scenario was realistic. His fraud and suicide are evidence that creating a threatening, violent atmosphere is effective, and so no, the hate-mongerers are not off the hook.
Limbaugh and Marcotte both illustrate how any reversal in today's news cycle can be spun as a victory. It also illustrates the dangers of being utterly captured by partisan rhetoric. Limbaugh and Marcotte could have turned these stories into object lessons about critical thinking, reservation of judgment, and the perilous allure of believing what we want to believe. But Limbaugh and Marcotte are, to a large extend, peddlers of opinion-porn, so they don't play that. Instead, they decided to be noisy asshats.
Don't be a noisy asshat. We're all wrong sometimes. Use it productively.
Last 5 posts by Ken White
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