I have been gratified that this blog seems to attract a sophisticated and knowledgeable commentariat, people who add greatly to the information and quality of the discourse. I have learned a lot from them. Hence it is surprising and a little jarring to once in a way find comments that seem to display a level of argument that is well below the norm. I usually treat them as momentary aberrations and ignore them but there has been one recurring theme that perhaps needs to be addressed.
I often approvingly quote the words of other people. On occasion people who do not like the sentiments expressed will take the trouble to unearth something else that the quoted person allegedly said about another topic and ask whether I approve of that too. The absurdity of such a question is so transparent that I don’t even bother to respond because I feel a little embarrassed doing so. The premise on which it is based is so silly that to even take the trouble to refute it seems patronizing and condescending, like explaining why 2 plus 2 is not equal to 22. It shouldn’t really be necessary. But perhaps once in a while I need to engage in this exercise, although other commenters have also done so.
As a counter-example, I recently approvingly quoted archbishop Desmond Tutu’s ringing denunciation of homophobia. Tutu is, of course, a Christian. Does my quoting his views on homosexuality mean that I must believe in everything else he says, including his belief in a Christian god? To ask the question is to answer it. Similarly, if I defend the right of someone to write and speak about what they believe, am I also endorsing everything they say? Again, to ask the question is to answer it. (But for the benefit of the logic-impaired, the answer to both questions is ‘no’.)
Or in another context, I often sign petitions for one cause or another. I do so based on what the petition says. I almost never bother to check who else has signed because it is immaterial, not to mention impossible if the number of signatories runs into the thousands. But suppose it was brought to my attention that someone who was a notorious racist-homophobic-pedophilic-rapist had also signed the same petition. What would I do? Would I withdraw my signature? Of course not. To do so would give that person a veto power over my choices and actions. To make one’s decisions conditional on what other people are saying or doing is to be buffeted by the vagaries of other people’s actions.
As I said before, I feel almost embarrassed explaining what seems to me, and I know to many others who visit here, to be so obvious. But perhaps awareness of elementary logic is not as widespread as I would like to think it is and this may serve some useful purpose. At least when someone else comes along raising the same issue we can point them to this post.