29 January 2011

Critical thinkers, beware Poe’s Law!

Apparently this has been an internet meme since 2005, but I’ve only just discovered Poe’s Law:

Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won't mistake for the real thing.

It makes sense; some of the wacky things that come out of the mouths and keyboards of religious and political fundies almost parody themselves. Satirists poking fun at the kooks need to post disclaimers or include some overt sign that they’re taking the piss if they’re not to be confused for the real deal. Especially by overeager folks who let their outrage overtake their caution in checking out the veracity of some unbelievably dumb/crass/ignorant/bigoted fundie-speak.

Poe’s Law recently snared two exemplars of critical thinking, skepticism and reason. P Z Myers got caught by a satirical article on the Burnt Orange Report website that claims Texas governor Rick Perry encouraged Republicans to take their kids out of public schools and put them into private Christian ones. Crispian Jago in turn fell for a post on spoof ‘Christian’ website Christwire.org, which assures God-loving types that it’s ok for a Christian husband to ‘gently beat his wife’.

To be fair to both men though, their respective bugbears give them plausible reasons to have believed the spoof claims made by the satirists. In Myers’ case, Governor Perry is a conservative Christian who is anti-abortion, anti-gay equality, supports creationism being taught in schools, and rejects the scientific evidence for anthropogenic global warming. The words put in his mouth by Burnt Orange Report writer Libby Shaw aren’t too far-fetched given the Texas governor’s religious, economic and political views.

As for Jago, his blog post was aimed at the ‘head fruitcake at the UK's very own fundamentalist conservative Christian pressure group’, Stephen Green, who allegedly physically and sexually abused his wife in private while preaching Christian morality in public. It was in an addendum to this post where Jago quoted from the spoof website Christwire.org, not realising that it actually satirises Christianity.

To their credit, Myers and Jago acknowledged their gaffes. Given that the genuine treasures of criticism they’ve dug up for their readers’ education far outweigh the occasional fool’s gold, I think they deserve a pardon.

Moral of the story: Sure, go forth and righteously (and metaphorically) smite the enemies of reason. But beware Poe’s Law, and always double check your sources lest you quote made-up stupid instead of real stupid.


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