[OT] Benefit and belief

Ben Finney ben+python at benfinney.id.au
Thu Sep 29 18:01:32 EDT 2011

On 29-Sep-2011, Devin Jeanpierre wrote:
> >> This was a technical discussion, and calling the bible a joke was not
> >> necessary at all. It creates a hostile atmosphere.
> >
> > I disagree. It was not an attack on any person nor group of people. If
> > we are to be required to avoid jokes not directed at people, then *that*
> > is an atmosphere hostile to open friendly discussion.
> Well. It wasn't directly an attack on people exactly. It did mention
> believers directly.

It did not. It mentioned only a pair of texts: the bible, and the Zen of
Python. Texts are not people, and we should not go out of our way to
protect them from jokes or criticism.

> It could certainly be _interpreted_ as an attack (and was interpreted
> that way), and that's really all that's necessary for a hostile
> environment.

Nonsense. *Any* joke could be interpreted as an attack; the issue is
whether it's reasonable to do so. Anyone who is so confused as to take a
joke about a book as an attack on people is being quite unreasonable, and
we should not restrain our jokes for the sake of that.

> I'm not saying we should censor ourselves exactly. I've always been
> opposed to harsh _rules_ about what's appropriate and what
> isn't. But I do think it's important to consider others' feelings.

Agreed. But only to the extent that attacks *on those people* are
concerned. Peoples feelings about ideas are not a consideration when
discussing ideas, and certainly not when joking about ideas.

> Just because it isn't an attack, doesn't mean it can't hurt peoples'
> feelings, and I think hurting peoples' feelings is something worth
> going out of your way to avoid.

There we disagree. The hurt feelings of someone who attaches their identity
to a text should not restrain our discourse.

> Anyway, if it was a joke before, it isn't when somebody starts calling
> some "group of people" "organised conspiracies to support and protect
> child molesters".

The group of people to whom that refers, the administrative hierarchy of
the Catholic Church, have been doing exactly what the quotation says.

I agree that's not a joke; it's a matter of fact, and relevant in the
context where it was mentioned.

> Is it OK to make fun of arbitrary ideas as "jokes"? I don't think so.

Yes, a thousand times yes. Ideas are not people, have no rights, and get no
exemption from criticism or dismissal or attack or ridicule.

> It seems, again, hurtful. Especially when the idea is totally unrelated.

That would eliminate just about every joke: a huge range of jokes *depend*
for their humour on connecting seemingly-unrelated ideas. So by your logic,
we don't get to make those jokes here.

> It's like we're having a discussion about dynamic typing and somebody
> blurts out "Hahaha, static typing is almost as dumb as Cartesian
> Dualism". The best case outcome is that nobody cares. The worse case
> outcomes go down to hurt feelings and flame wars from dualists.

And the joke would still be okay, and it would be silly for anyone to take
it as hurtful.

You can call such a joke off-topic, and I'd agree. You can say it's not
very funny, and I'd agree. You can say it's undeserving of a flame war, and
I'd agree wholeheartedly.

But whoever takes that joke and says it's deliberately hurtful is being
presumptuous and censorious and unreasonable. If they then castigate the
joker for supposedly hurting someone's feelings, it's at that point the
atmosphere turns hostile to discussion.

 \         “The most dangerous man to any government is the man who is |
  `\       able to think things out for himself, without regard to the |
_o__)          prevailing superstitions and taboos.” —Henry L. Mencken |
Ben Finney <ben at benfinney.id.au>
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