PZ has an excellent post up, which I hope you’ve seen already, regarding the hatred of the Catholic bishops. I want to call out a small piece of that larger statement here:
Children especially are harmed when they are told that they can “change” their sex or, further, given hormones that will affect their development and possibly render them infertile as adults.
If you read this as the bishops obviously intend you to read it, this portion of their statement says:
You can’t actually change your sex, so telling this to children is bad. Also, it’s even worse when you change the sex of another human being, particularly a child.
Obviously if you can convince yourself that a book is true because it says that it’s true (I have to include a line about “this book is really true, really!” in my next short story), you can convince yourself of some absurd things. Also, too, human beings can and do believe (simultaneously!) the truth of contradictory ideas. So it’s not some supernatural rarity that the bishops manage to assume (and imply) that a change in sex is impossible and then say in the same sentence that changing sex is the inevitable result of human intervention. Even if the point is that humans’ sex-changing interventions are bad, they still seem to fall all over themselves in their haste to concede that humans can intervene to cause changes in sex in order to say that such interventions are bad.
This leads to a question that is, to me, more interesting. Why is it that more television interviewers, more serious writers, don’t point and laugh at the obvious bullshit?
No one can change sex, but when you changed that kid’s sex the other day, that was horrible!
is the kind of thing that professional journalists and well-paid commentators allow to pass for an informed and useful comment to public dialog. And they don’t let it pass on rare occasions only to be called out themselves for their impoverished professional skills: letting such statements pass without challenge or critical comment is entirely routine.
It should not be. The Catholic Bishops should hear, loudly and repeatedly, derisive laughter at the contemptibly lazy and illogical thinking embodied in this and similar statements. This isn’t unique to the Catholic bishops, of course. If I contradict myself within the space of a single sentence, my sentence should be the subject of laughter every bit as quickly as any sentence of the bishops. It might be that we don’t laugh as derisively at the random blog post or tweet of an FtB blogger, but likewise we shouldn’t laugh as derisively at the random blog post of an individual bishop. Sure, laugh, but when multiple people gather in one room in order to craft an official statement that then goes through multiple drafts and (presumably) careful editing, the nonsense that survives is indicative of a deeper flaw than nonsense that happens to spill out in a largely-unedited blog post.
Likewise when the bishops (or any large, well-funded organization that can pick from a pool of well-qualified spokespersons) choose someone to represent them on national television, any public, on-air nonsense-statements should be mocked quickly and loudly.
But here’s the kicker: when you don’t mock bad ideas, ideas that are terribly, obviously bad whether you agree with the speaker’s policy conclusions or not, you contribute to the illusion that such ideas are in fact at least marginally valuable. Tribalism allows such nonsense to appear reasonable to those of us taking the attacking side in an Us v Them struggle. Our perspectives on tribalism allow to dismiss the statements of criticism directed at those attacks by those of us that are attacked.
Thus it is absolutely critical that those of us who are not perceived as epistemologically tainted in a particular exchange speak up against the absurdities that currently poison rational discourse. Although this is particularly important when it involves hatred or an assault on the vulnerable, I think it’s valuable to call out all such nonsense, and even to call out the interviewers and journalists who permit such indefensible crap onto the airwaves and pages they control.
Just because the gatekeeping functions of the media have been poorly used and too-frequently abused in the past doesn’t mean that such functions are ever going away: determining what is going to be on a program or in an article is an inherent responsibility of such jobs. The best for which we can hope, then, is that persistent efforts to identify idiocy in the public sphere will both help the media to identify idiocy and create enough shame for those who tolerate it that more competent and decent members of the media begin to shut it out.