Thursday, March 24, 2005

The boor factor

A worthwhile e-mail comment from a reader today: Kudos for some of the other topics, he said, but perhaps I've gone a bit overboard on some of my posts that deal with religious people.

My first reaction, of course, was to apologize. For all my flaws, I hate offending the innocent, and I'm well-aware of my natural tendencies toward bombast and hyperbole.

But on reflection, I want to use that comment to make a finer point.

This blog has no complaint with those who, having examined contrary positions, choose to reject the so-called "rational" status quo in favor of the course put forth by their spiritual faith. Reason isn't the only solution to every problem, and to go looking for God by rational means alone is something akin to looking for darkness with a flashlight.

However, this blog quarrels openly with those who, having examined nothing but their own righteously insecure biases, seek to claim the moral and intellectual high ground. No amount of reason sways them, no amount of light reaches them. These people are the boors among us, and I have little remaining patience for them.

By the way, not every boor is religious. Madalyn Murray O'Hair was an atheist boor. Think up your own examples.

That said, the dominant boor species today is the fundamentalist boor, and they are easy to distinguish from their fellow congregants (be clear on the point: not all fundamentalists or evangelicals are boors). They demand that all their points be considered with delicate precision, yet they make not even a meaningful pretense of honestly considering anyone else's arguments. Each boor is convinced that the other side in any debate is somehow an agent of evil or, at best, a subhuman dupe.

Boors find evidence for mortal sins in the most commonplace actions of their opponents, yet are absolutely unaware of the mote in their own eye. They project their personalities on the world at large and find it a corrupt, vicious place. They believe their opponents to be dishonest and consequently feel no moral imperitive to honesty themselves. They misrepresent facts, slander their opponents and act as if they feel not the slightest twinge of conscience.

Confronted with facts and mature reflection, boors become abusive, typically engaging in a series of riotous fallacies and concluding with brutish ad hominem attacks. They can be tough opponents in discourse, as they love to latch on to a seemingly inconvenient fact and refuse to relinquish it, no matter how much evidence is stacked against them. They believe that their fervor is a virtue that will be rewarded.

Somewhere in the tortured psyche of the boor lies a sense of profound insecurity, which to me suggests something of their affinity for fundamentalism. Fundamentalism says that knowledge and achievement are nothing next to faithfulness and orthodoxy. Consequently, a Nobel-prize winning scientist may have earned his standing in the elite via his achievement, but the fundamentalist can feel superior to him thanks to his fervent True Belief, be it in Jesus or in Muhammed or Rush. This makes fundamentalism particularly attractive to people who are not "winning" any of our American cultural competitions.

Boors believe in revealed truth and celebrate systems in which any counterattack on their claims can be rejected by appeal to the suppositions of that revelation. Consequently: If I say Jesus would have punished homosexuals and you cite Bible verses to suggest otherwise, I know that you are wrong because Satan is a deceiver. If I say that the mainstream media is liberal and a reporter points out that the Gannon/Guckert story got practically zero traction in the press, while the Clinton "Travelgate" was a story for weeks, I just say that you're so liberal you can't even see when you're being liberal.

Media does a poor job of identifying and dealing with boors. Either we exclude all dissenting voices (which only gives boors more legitimacy) or we allow boors to dominate discussions. In fact, media is becoming the province of boors, with Sean Hannity and Bill O'Reilly the most obvious examples.

Our media needs reform, but for that reform to occur, we must figure out who is a legitimate participant and who is a boor -- or, as they're known online, a troll. They will claim a seat at the head of the table, but they haven't earned entrance to the room.

Everyone has a right to their own opinion, but not to their own facts. And that's where I want to start drawing lines.