Monday, August 30, 2010

Penn & Teller - Not "dicks"?

Earlier today, Phil posted a link to a clip from a new episode Penn & Teller's show Bullshit on vaccinations and praised it. He called it "really effective" and "a brilliant move".

I don't have cable, and I don't watch the show too often, but I've seen a few episodes and one of the things that I seemed to remember is that Penn isn't exactly nice. In fact, I remembered him being pretty direct in calling a spade a spade, hence the title of the show.

So I dug up a few episodes of their show to see just how direct Penn & Teller were in their name calling. In their episode on Creationism, they call Creationists (not their ideas, but Creationists as a group): "Pesky", "desperate, deluded", "assholes", "scary", "stinking", and "foolish".

In the episode on the Vatican, he describes the Vatican (the core of Catholic faith), a "festering swamp of intolerance, greed, paranoia, hypocrisy," full of "callous disregard for human suffering".

In the episode on the Bible, they're pretty tame, only referring to "evangelical assholes" and calling people that supported the 10 commandments in the Alabama courthouse "uneducated".

Is this wrong? I think the core of that question goes back to what I tried to discuss in my last post on this topic: What defines a "dick"?

My argument was that things like the above aren't being dickish. They're perfectly reasonable given that some people need that societal pressure of being made fun of to reevaluate their position. This is echoed by Les at SEB.

But even if it is what people need to hear, isn't it still being a dick? I think the key here is moderation. It's the difference between what makes an ad hominem fallacy, and what makes a strongly worded argument. In the former, there is no logical basis or evidence. It's simply character assassination. In the latter, it's spice to the mix. You want a little to get people to sit up and pay attention, but it shouldn't be overwhelming.

My biggest problem with Phil's speech and his subsequent follow up, is that he's repeatedly failed to draw this line. He's left it worthlessly vague, giving no concrete examples by which to distinguish leaving people to infer what he's meant. Does it include people like myself, Les Jenkins, Jerry Coyne, PZ Myers, Richard Dawkins, and Penn & Teller, who will all outright call Creationists and other woo-woo peddlers "fools", or is the line further out leaving only people whose "logic in those situations is left by the wayside"?

One of Phil's major points was that, before you say something, you should stop to consider if it's really helping. Well, how has chiding people for doing something that hasn't been defined helping?

1 comment:

Wayne said...

I would say that Penn frequently crosses over into "dick" territory, but he can get away with it because that's just his shtick. Also, I don't think Phil should define what it is, leaving it up to the individual where to draw the line is a good thing, the idea is just so you think about it before you speak out.
For the record, I think you and Phil both do a pretty good job of not being a dick, which is why I keep coming back here even though I'm not an atheist. PZ Myers is frequently a dick, which is why I hardly ever go to his blog.