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Oct 21 2012

Bad argument #2: No more Poes

(This is part of a list of bad arguments I heard at the Texas Freethought Convention.)

There were a couple of fundagelical fanatics picketing the event. I got a few pictures taken posing with this one guy, and he was standard-issue boring creationist: he kept telling me “Darwin was a big dummy” and otherwise sneering at evolution. I just politely asked him what he’d read by Darwin, and for specific points Darwin made that he rejected, and he shut up hard. He was reduced to muttering “I’ll pray for you, brother” — trying to pin them down to specifics is usually a good tactic for exposing the vacuity of their position.

But the creationist is too obvious a source of bad arguments. I want to complain about a few of the atheists.

I heard several announce “He’s a poe” or “he must be a poe”. Dear god, but I’m sick of that stupid word. It’s become a standard response to batty stupidity — lately, it doesn’t matter how ordinary a comment is or who said it or how well verified it is — there’s always someone in the crowd who has to show off how insightful or cynical they are by declaring that it must be a pretense.

Look, people, we live in a country with Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck and Joseph Farah as prominent media sources; where Akin and Broun and Jindal get elected to high office; where every newspaper is full of common folk writing in to complain about those gays or those socialist commies or those egghead liberals. There is nothing unlikely or unbelievable about a down-home ministry that announces you’ll go to hell for believing in science. Bat-buggering bullshit is routine.

Declaring something to be a “poe” is a minimizing tactic; it’s a way to pretend that a real problem doesn’t exist. Are you really going to try to delude yourself and others into thinking that the Tea Party, Fox News, and the whole goddamned Repuclican party are an act put on by snarky liberals?

I’m hereby declaring the term “poe” to be anathema here. Don’t use it anymore. We don’t need denial, we need a confrontation with an ugly reality. I’ll probably start leaving rude remarks when I spot people throwing the term around in the comments from now on.

Oh, and for anyone who tries to mimic creationists, Republicans, or Christians as a clever mockery of their beliefs, if it isn’t clear what you’re doing, don’t try to dignify it as a “Poe” — all it is is bad fucking satire. Satire is a good and historically authentic method of speaking against power and foolishness, but if your schtick can’t be distinguished from the real thing, it’s contributing to the crapfest of idiocy we’re already drowning in, rather than opposing it.

So just stop it.

46 comments

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  1. 1
    Rutee Katreya

    Oh Madogoddess above thank you, I have grown ever tired of that word.

  2. 2
    Argle Bargle

    I’m hereby declaring the term “poe” to be anathema here. Don’t use it anymore.

    Thank you. May the FSM eat you first or whatever’s appropriate.

  3. 3
    Rey Fox

    he kept telling me “Darwin was a big dummy”

    Redd Foxx?

    In addition to not calling “poe”, I would like to also ban all the premature speculation that comes up every time that a new troll rears its ugly head that “oh, it must be So-And-So From The Dungeon sock-puppeting”. No. The idiots are not just a few dozen persistent cases, they live among us everywhere.

  4. 4
    carlie

    I think that’s one of the big reasons creationism got such a hold here in the first place – scientists kept dismissing reports of it as being too silly for anyone to actually believe, and didn’t take it seriously enough to kill it fast and dead before it grew.

  5. 5
    Josh, Official SpokesGay

    Thank fuck, PZ.

    Not only that, but it’s universally misused. “That must be a Poe!??!!!” is used to mean, “that must be satire.”

    NO. The point of Poe’s Law is that you cannot tell if a thing is actually satire because the line between the real and satire has grown so thin. It is not a synonym for “parody.”

  6. 6
    tommccann

    Well said! I have thought the same for quite some time now. People have to stand by their statements and be judged on them.

  7. 7
    iknklast

    ” Dear god, but I’m sick of that stupid word.”

    This. So much this. Every time I see an argument from a creationist/fundamentalist, and someone says it must be a poe, I want to ask why? Having spent hours on end listening to people – family, friends, students – who honestly believe all the things being put out there, I’m not sure it matters even if it IS a fake. All of these arguments are things I’ve heard with the utmost earnestness and sincerity from honest-to-FSM creationists or just Bible-believin’ Christians. If you don’t think these things can be real, please come out of your ivy league school, your big cosmopolitan northwestern city, and come to the Midwest. These people have no sense of humor; they’re telling it as they see it. And it’s scary as hell.

  8. 8
    chigau (違う)

    I, for four, welcome our new Poeless corner of the Webs.

  9. 9
    Rev. BigDumbChimp

    Lets add troll to the list too. So fucking misused.

  10. 10
    Kausik Datta

    Oh, and for anyone who tries to mimic creationists, Republicans, or Christians as a clever mockery of their beliefs, if it isn’t clear what you’re doing, don’t try to dignify it as a “Poe” — all it is is bad fucking satire. Satire is a good and historically authentic method of speaking against power and foolishness, but if your schtick can’t be distinguished from the real thing, it’s contributing to the crapfest of idiocy we’re already drowning in, rather than opposing it.

    Thank goodness, finally someone comes out and says it. There are just too many bad ideas floating around, and instead of trying to minimize them by calling them a ‘Poe’, we must counter them, and counter them hard – with evidence and questions – every single time. This is the only way the bad ideas can be stopped from spreading. I agree completely with what Carlie said above.

  11. 11
    lightning

    For those trying to be clever, remember Scalzi’s Law: The failure mode of “clever” is “asshole”.

  12. 12
    Goodbye Enemy Janine

    News flash! Some people are that dumb. It is hard to say if it is because the individual really is that unintelligent of if the individual chooses to be that stupid.

    Remember the old Subgenious, you will pay to pull the wool over your own eyes. It was a joke. But it was also true. These people that some of us want to hand wave away as “Poes” have too much invested in their stunted worldview to try to use their intelligence. Or they really are that dumb.

  13. 13
    nms

    I’m hereby declaring the term “poe” to be anathema here. Don’t use it anymore.

    What, even if we put it in capital letters like it’s some kind of acronym?

  14. 14
    Sastra

    I’m sick of the term as well — mostly, though, because different people both mean and understand the word in different ways. Sometimes it’s used to indicate a satire or parody; sometimes it’s used to indicate a sincere argument which sounds (or ought to sound) like a parody; sometimes it’s simply used to indicate that it’s such a stupid thing that “you just can’t parody this stuff.” And then it’s all confusion as people misunderstand and contradict each other without realizing it, or argue without figuring out they’re on the same side.

    I’ll use the word then one last time: “a “Poe” is an example of a deepity.

  15. 15
    Sastra

    nms #13 wrote:

    What, even if we put it in capital letters like it’s some kind of acronym?

    Yes, good point. How will we People Of Earth be able to form groups and distinguish ourselves from the Alien Invaders?

  16. 16
    nms

    Wait, I get it. Painfully Overused Expression.

  17. 17
    Sastra

    nms #16 wrote:

    Wait, I get it. Painfully Overused Expression.

    That’s very good. It means a Poe’s a POE. So PZ can oppose a Poe and instead pose it as a POE.

    Ok, maybe not.

  18. 18
    kantalope

    That was POEtic.

  19. 19
    gardengnome

    “Bat-buggering bullshit…”

    I like it!

  20. 20
    Menyambal

    “crapfest of idiocy”

    I like!

  21. 21
    stanton

    Oh, and for anyone who tries to mimic creationists, Republicans, or Christians as a clever mockery of their beliefs, if it isn’t clear what you’re doing, don’t try to dignify it as a “Poe” — all it is is bad fucking satire. Satire is a good and historically authentic method of speaking against power and foolishness, but if your schtick can’t be distinguished from the real thing, it’s contributing to the crapfest of idiocy we’re already drowning in, rather than opposing it.

    What’s even worse are those really annoying idiots who not only take great pains to remain in character, but also take the time to insult, mock and ridicule their audience, either for being so stupid so as to not be able to tell the difference between an atheist asshole out for shits and giggles from a rabid holier-than thou creationist asshole, or for having seen through the charade in the first place, but not being able to make said asshole disappear fast enough.

  22. 22
    razzlefrog

    Uhhhhhhh…not to be dense, but…what on EARTH is a “poe”? Some now internet tweenspeak acronym? I looked and the dictionary said “point of embarkation” and “port of entry”, but I’m still confused.

  23. 23
    Goodbye Enemy Janine

    Razzlefrog, this is from the Urban Dictionary.

    Poe’s Law

    Similar to Murphy’s Law, Poe’s Law concerns internet debates, particularly regarding religion or politics.

    “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.”

    In other words, No matter how bizzare, outrageous, or just plain idiotic a parody of a Fundamentalist may seem, there will always be someone who cannot tell that it is a parody, having seen similar REAL ideas from real religious/political Fundamentalists.

  24. 24
    vaiyt

    Poe’s Law is a warning – the line between “pretending to be a fundie ironically” and “sounding indistinguishable from a real fundie” is just too difficult to cross these days. There’s nothing too crazy that real fundies won’t believe.

    Except maybe Time Cube. Maybe. If Gene Ray were to sprinkle some Bible verses in his screeds, I suspect he’d have his own church by now.

  25. 25
    Merrily Dancing Ape

    You fools. PZ’s post was clearly a parody of a post decrying the overuse of the term Poe. He is trying to make the following point:

    It is utterly impossible to parody a person decrying the overuse of Poe in such a way that someone won’t mistake it for the genuine article.

    I’m pretty sure he wants us to start using the term Poe more.

  26. 26
    scooterskutre

    ‘If you meet a Buddha in the road, kill him’. A famous quote from a major religious figure. Obviously a Poe. Buddhism and especially Zen Buddhists are noted for their humor, as opposed the Abrahamic gits whom are notorious for their lack of a sense of humor.

    Can you create a claim so outrageous that some idiot won’t take it seriously? has a Zen character to it. It’s a challenge, a mental exercise, a puzzle.

    Bob Dobbs co-opted the Buddha Poe, and was murdered.

    That’s what you get for stealing other prophets’ lines.

    Think about it.

  27. 27
    =8)-DX

    I thought pointing out irony and satire to unwitting Americans was a *good* thing?

  28. 28
    luka

    I think this piece is based on a mostly wrong assumption, namely that people identify parodies of religion based on the outrageousness of the claims made in the parody. I don’t think this is usually the case. People don’t yell “Poe!” because the claims made are particularly insane (we all realize that there is no limit to the crazy stuff religious people believe in), but because they are particularly clever.

    To wit, the letter ostensibly sent to a newspaper by a young girl didn’t make any particularly unusual claims in terms of what people actually believe, but it undermined its own claims in a clever way, combining different things that religious people believe in a way that allowed it to culminate in a reductio ad absurdum where the author noted that people who accept evolution and don’t hate gays should be afraid of being eaten by ducks. This, and not any of the individual claims made in the letter, made me suspect that it was far too clever to be real.

  29. 29
    noahsimoneaux

    Does this mean we will no longer be able to mention that master of horror, Edgar Allan ***? Nevermore?

  30. 30
    John Morales

    Prescriptivism vs. descriptivism.

    (Fantastic! Incredible! Stunning!)

  31. 31
    davidhart

    Skooterskutre@26: “Can you create a claim so outrageous that some idiot won’t take it seriously? ”

    I have long felt that we ought to have as a ready maxim, with a handy tag, the proposition that ‘there is no idea so daft that someone somewhere won’t believe it’. But I don’t know if it has a formal name.

  32. 32
    feralboy12

    I promise from now on that if I make any reference to Poe here, I will be referring to Edgar Allen. The context will probably be a desire to wall somebody up.

  33. 33
    thecalmone

    Is this a Poe?

  34. 34
    Snoof

    @davidhart

    I have long felt that we ought to have as a ready maxim, with a handy tag, the proposition that ‘there is no idea so daft that someone somewhere won’t believe it’. But I don’t know if it has a formal name.

    There’s always Skarka’s Law.

  35. 35
    slowdjinn

    @davidhart

    How about Barnum’s Recursion?
    There’s a sucker born again every minute.

  36. 36
    Leo Buzalsky

    What bothers me the most about calling out Poe is that the whole point of Poe’s Law is that you can’t tell the difference. Yet, calling someone a Poe implies that you can tell the difference, going against the entire concept.

  37. 37
    vaiyt

    @28:

    You’re relying on an unproven assumption: that every schmuck on the internet sees Poe’s Law like you do.

  38. 38
    Russell Glasser

    Calling people Poes drives me crazy. In the first place, it is a stupid word to use. “Poe’s Law” precisely says that fundamentalists are so crazy that you can tell the difference between a satire and a real thing. Anyone who CALLS somebody a Poe is declaring that they have determined that the person is being satirical, which would in fact negate Poe’s Law.

    And second, every single theist caller who makes a bad argument when they call into The Atheist Experience is guaranteed to be accused of being a fake by somebody. Seriously, the country is 85% Christian. It’s as if the entire audience thinks that no Christians ever watch or call, but the phones are full of atheists who have absolutely nothing better to do than bad impersonations of ordinarily excellent theist arguments.

  39. 39
    Russell Glasser

    …And three people before me made the SAME comment about Poe’s Law. Which proves that I didn’t read the preceding comments, but also indisputably proves that we’re right. ;)

  40. 40
    sonofrojblake

    Personally my favourite Poe is Cameron, Nick Cage’s character from the ludicrous check-your-brain-at-the-door movie “Con Air”, and specifically the line “On any other day that may appear strange.”

  41. 41
    crocswsocks

    Another reason to abandon the term is that whenever I hear it, I instantly think of the ghosts from the Legend of Zelda, and it takes my brain half a second and a few dozen neural connections to remember what it means in context.

  42. 42
    escuerd

    Thank you for this, PZ. This is one of my pet peeves.

    I think it’s one of the dangers of people segregating themselves into social groups filled only with like-minded people. They tend to underestimate the actual diversity views (including, or especially, the batshit crazy ones).

    The tendency to do this contributes to an annoying denialism among atheists (no one could really believe that, could they?), and also plays into the hands of some of the more infuriatingly sanctimonious forms of sophisticated theology. E.g. “Oh, no one really believes in that god that atheists are always arguing against. A conscious, or otherwise anthropomorphic god is, at best, symbolic for the profound feeling of transcendence and awe we all feel at contemplating the Universe. Atheists are just picking an easy target that virtually no one takes seriously.”

    Of course, plenty of people (the vast majority in many communities) really do sincerely believe in such things as Biblical inerrancy, and take it very seriously. We do ourselves no favors by dismissing them all as fake or as a minor fringe.

  43. 43
    F [i'm not here, i'm gone]

    What, even if we put it in capital letters like it’s some kind of acronym?

    Purity Of Essence? Peace on Earth? Yes, that’s right, a little water on the back of the neck and the code please, Jack.

  44. 44
    Akira MacKenzie

    noahsimoneaux @ 29

    “Does this mean we will no longer be able to mention that master of horror, Edgar Allan ***? ”

    You bet your sweet bippy you can’t! ! You’re in Lovecraft country now! Ia! Cthulhu Fhatagn!

  45. 45
    StarStorm

    Atrele’s corollary to Poe’s Law: If, under observation, one cannot determine if the stated beliefs are a parody or earnestly held, one must treat the stated beliefs as earnestly held.

  46. 46
    normolsen

    Great, and while we’re at it, let’s dump “troll”, “straw man”, and “ad hominem”. Used way too much and inappropriately.

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