When did we become jaded?

Orac writes about an anti-vaxxer, Austin Bennett, who walked up to a California senator on the street and shoved him because he was insufficiently appreciative of his conspiracy-theory ravings. That that movement is working itself up towards more violence is troubling (they’re following the trajectory of the anti-choice movement, right down to screaming that they’re killing to protect the children), but what also bothers me is that the rhetoric is so unhinged. He has a collection of Austin Bennett videos at the link, and I listened to bits and pieces of a few of them, and my god, he’s nuts. In the one in which Bennett shoves Senator Pan — he’s so shameless, Bennett recorded it and posted it on YouTube — and Orac summarizes it neatly.

Bennett encounters Sen. Pan around the 9 minute mark, and he shoves him around the 9:50 mark. The rest of the video reveals a profoundly scary guy ranting about chemtrails, toxins, and taking action right into the camera. I have to give Sen. Pan a lot of credit. I’m not sure I could have remained as calm as he did if someone like Austin Bennet came up alongside me and started ranting about aluminum, toxins, and chemistry. Before Bennett encountered Sen. Pan, he spent nearly a solid nine minutes ranting about chemtrails, the wickedness of the world, and a variety of other disturbing religious things.

A disordered kook can ramble on for years with increasingly disturbing, weird, unhinged from reality ideas, and we let it go on and on, gathering momentum, acquiring followers, and we do nothing until after it crosses the line into violence. I am not saying contrarian ideas should be suppressed somehow, but I’m just thinking that if this guy cares so much about chemistry and toxins and immunology, maybe he should put his effort where his mouth is and actually get educated on those subject…and maybe if he’s unwilling to invest in learning that ought to be at the forefront of our conversation about him. It’s the same with the creationist I encounter — their understanding is an inch deep, they’ve grabbed onto a few sciencey-sounding buzzwords and a tiny number of rhetorical points, and they repeat them tediously. It’s enough to persuade people who are even more ignorant.

Fortunately, creationists haven’t resorted to much violence. The anti-vaxxers are working themselves up to it.


  1. Akira MacKenzie says

    I am not saying contrarian ideas should be suppressed somehow.but I’m just thinking that if this guy cares so much about chemistry and toxins and immunology, maybe he should put his effort where his mouth is and actually get educated on those subject…and maybe if he’s unwilling to invest in learning that ought to be at the forefront of our conversation about him.

    But that’s the problem now, isn’t it? He won’t. He won’t because for whatever reason he’s absolutely certain that he has “the truth” and what science textbooks and mainstream academics have to say about chemistry and toxins and immunology are lies concocted by THEM. And in the meantime, he is doing damage to public health by scaring other paranoid and uneducated people away from vaccinations, ultimately leading to more death and disease because we won’t suppress his “contrarian ideas.” The problem isn’t just with anti-vaxxers or creationists, it’s the same with white supremacists, climate change denialists, hetero-sexists, Randites, and other deplorables who corrode society with their lies while hiding behind “free speech” while civil libertarians hope and pray that “rational people” won’t pay attention to them.

    But the problem is that people, for the most part, are not rational, and freedom shouldn’t be a suicide pact.

    Freedom of speech, press and assembly, was a meant for the govern to speak truth to power, but over the past two decades we’ve seen it warped as a means to scream falsehood to truth. Whatever our founder’s noble, Enlightenment intentions, it’s clear that “marketplace of ideas” only works in some far-away fantasy land were people are entirely rational and not swayed by superstition, bigotry, or paranoia. If civilization is going to survive, we need to re-negotiate the limits of speech to include the line between established, demonstrable fact and utter falsehood. i.e. If you can’t prove it, you shouldn’t be allowed to say it.

  2. says

    When I walk my dogs in the morning and they go into the bushes, I think about the fact that they have an anti lyme disease vaccine and they have been vaccinated, but that although one exists for humans I can’t be vaccinated. Why? Because the large corporation which owns the patent thinks that it doesn’t sell enough to make enough money to produce the vaccine anymore. Why don’t they sell enough any more, they did at one time? Because of anti-vaxxers and their constant insane propaganda.

  3. blf says

    If you can’t prove it, you shouldn’t be allowed to say it.

    Pre-c.1995, that would mean people couldn’t discuss Fermat’s Last Theorem (it hadn’t been proven).
    Arguably, it means nothing which doesn’t have a mathematical proof could be discussed (using the point only mathematics has real proofs).

    I fully realise the above strict interpretations were not the intent. Nonetheless, continuing with this not-intended over-interpretation (partial list in no particular order):

    ● There would be no works of fiction; e.g., none of Terry Pratchett’s novels.
    ● Recursion: One would have to be able to “proof” another claimed something without proof, but if one couldn’t do that… this could easily degenerate into a “they say they said” circle of non-illumination.
    ● Satire and snarking would be awkward, if not impossible; e.g., no A Modest Proposal.
    ● What happens if the source(s) used to verify / check the claims / “proofs” are flawed?
    ● Scientific understanding changes. E.g., Pluto is now not considered a planet, and the Vulcan hypothesis is wrong. (Vulcan was a hypothetical planet to explain the oddities in Mercury’s orbit, later explained by Einstein.)
    ● The proof might not be known to the author… not knowing the proof (or not being capable of proving or citing a proof / evidence) does not make one wrong, or even necessarily ill-intentioned.
    ● A con-person’s dream! Hide the evidence, so accuser cannot prove, all the con-person has to do is “prove” the accuser cannot prove, and hey, presto, bingo, the accuser is guilty of stating a truthhood.

    And on and on and on. Plus one of the elephants in the room — I’m lying, there is no elephant in my room (or probably in other’s rooms?), so that expression would not be allowed — a presumably vast, and certainly error-possible, mechanism for detecting, removing (suppressing), etc., statements that are not proven.

  4. PaulBC says

    pgarayt@1 You could probably find sporadic instances of, say, Quakers or Jains acting violently and even doing so in the name of their faith. However, it would be a stretch to say their pacifist faith led them to violence. So, no, I mean your sweeping claim is just not accurate.

  5. thirdmill301 says

    I think there is a good case to be made that not vaccinating one’s children is child neglect and the law should treat anti-vaxxers the same way it treats anyone else who neglects a child. That said, though, the practical consequence of interfering in other people’s parenting decisions often is violent. This is not a situation in which there is a simple policy disagreement; this is a situation in which the state is actively interfering with parenting choices, so expect pushback. If you were a parent, and the state required you to raise your children in a way that was repulsive to your conscience, how exactly would you react?

    It’s conceptually the same issue, only on steroids, as with Christian bakers who don’t want to make cakes for gay couples. At that point, our side is not engaging in live and let live; rather, we are telling them to live by our principles. So expect pushback.

    Because of the public health risk, vaccinations are not the best issue on which to argue live and let live. But maybe we could be a bit more selective in general as to which issues we’re going to force a confrontation on.

  6. ffakr says

    This won’t add to the conversation in any constructive way, but am I the only one who wishes that Sen. Pan responded to that shove with a quick take-down followed by an arm bar until the police arrived?

    As someone who dabbled in Akido years back,.. IF I WERE IN THAT POSITION I could have EASILY done so if I had squared off with him AFTER the initial push.. then asked him lunge at me slowly while grabbing my wrist. After only a few practice runs to work out the mechanics again, the take-down would have been EPIC! #reallifemartialarts #heroinyourownmind ;-P plippttlp

  7. Snarki, child of Loki says

    The AGW “skeptics” are similar.

    Complaining all the time how the data is “biased”, but can’t be bothered to run a backyard weather station.

  8. Akira MacKenzie says

    blf @ 6

    I don’t what to do about this crap anymore. I know that messing around with the limits of free speech is treacherous, but these people are doing real damage and they’re are no consequences for their lying to society. Why should their freedom trump our lives?

  9. jimb says

    Ahh, yes. Referring in part to current California SB 276 which would close loopholes whereby doctors were writing exemptions to vaccinations for questionable reasons. Plus adds some review and oversight.

    I had a run-in with an acquaintance about this. The discussion seemed to start reasonably enough, talking about medical exemptions but then the person went full on “Big Pharma” conspiracy. And turned out their spouse was lobbying against the bill. Feh.

    BTW, text of SB 276 is here:

  10. says

    I fully realise the above strict interpretations were not the intent.

    Pardon me, but doesn’t that make your comment rather irrelevant? Let’s rephrase it to “If you can’t prove it, you can’t make a definite statement about it.” Not perfect, but certainly closer to what we all agree PZ actually meant. Argue against that, if you will.

    I will offer the critique that it still allows people to JAQ off. Disallowing any discussion of a subject will lead right to the problems blf mentioned, so we can’t outlaw asking questions. How do we deal with the fact that you can make a statement by asking a question, in a fashion that can’t be objectively distinguished from just asking a question?

    What we need is a law against lying. I just don’t see how that would practically work. Perhaps it’s good enough to curb the worst of it and that’ll be enough to bootstrap us into a place where people are sensible enough to make this strategy non-viable?

    I’m honestly a bit skeptical. I’ve come around to the opinion that our general culture just produces a certain percentage of unreasonable people. To the degree that we allow them to fuck us over, to that degree we will be fucked over. You can’t predict who they are, necessarily, but they’re there and they’ll take their shot, the moment you give them one.

    As long as we keep producing such individuals, we’ll have trouble. We need to figure out why they occur and how to prevent it. Until then, no reform is ever going to be more than damage control.

  11. embraceyourinnercrone says

    @jimb – Yeah California SB276 a bill that should have been proposed a long time ago, but at least they are trying to get it passed now. The same one Jessica Biel and Robert F. Kennedy jr showed up this June at the California state house to talk to representatives about/against. The same one Gov. Gavin Newsom said “went to far” and “interfered with the doctor / patient relationship…except Newsom is forgetting the parent is NOT the patient, the child is…

  12. jimb says

    embraceyourinnercrone @ 16:

    The same one Gov. Gavin Newsom said “went to far”

    Fuck, really? Arrgggh.

  13. unclefrogy says

    well I started to write something about how creationists have not resorted to violence “YET” but then I saw the qualifier much so I wont.
    if you take creationism as christian religion which it springs from and it must be taken as true in total then the history is replete with copious violence especially when you consider its variability. I do not see why these other faith based deniers of reality should be exempt from expectation that they might use force to comply agreement with their faith as well. History is full of such assholes and their bull shit.
    uncle frogy

  14. blf says

    LykeX@14, Poopyhead didn’t make the comment I quoted and was responding to. It was Akira MacKenziea@3/@4, see @11 — all comments before the rant at @14/@15, which I am uncertain why I should excuse.

    Akira MacKenzie@11, Yeah, I’ve no particularly concrete suggestions on how to deal with the situation either. Recently (apologies for not digging up the link) I read an idea which claimed the current, inconsistent and inexpertly applied, tactic of prohibition is both difficult to apply (as per my @6), and very likely to fail; the alternative suggested was (broadly speaking) face-to-face discussions between nutters and those who the nutters see as nutters. The idea was loosely based on a strategy (whose name escapes me at the moment (sorry!)) for defusing tensions and misunderstandings, which apparently has a fairly good track record (abeit it sounds labour-intensive and “slow”…).

  15. blf says

    Just a side-comment on California (all from memory), the recent California SB277 (2015), which outlawed non-medical exemptions, “had” to allow weakly-supported “medical” exemptions to ensure it passed. Orac (sorry for the absence of any citations / links) said this was understandable if unfortunate, but did work at first; it’s only fairly recently the anti-vax quacks’s issuing of dubious “medical” exemptions has had a (noticeable) impact. Hence the current SB276…

  16. Akira MacKenzie says

    blf @ 19

    I confess, I’m a mentally ill dumb-dumb without much skill in common argument or formal debate. So, I’ve given up on either. Say I’Ve got some “superhero complex, ” but I’m just sick of feeling so powerless. I want to rage. I want to hurt the people I disagree with. I want to fix our civilization before it’s too late for everyone.

  17. wzrd1 says

    @14, no such law would survive in court. The SCOTUS decided that the first amendment protects the right to lie. That was in 2014, United States v. Alvarez.

    The chucklehead then continued getting in the weeds, going on about chemtrails and some other inane rants.
    I usually counter such folks with, “Well, the chemtrails are now gone, as only the X-51 uses JP-7 now and it rarely flies”. Then, wax long on the fluorocarbons and cesium additives that lowered the thermal and radar signature of the aircraft exhaust…
    But then, all contrails are chemical, water is indeed a chemical, so is carbon dioxide and carbon monoxide.

    Excuse me, I want to pour a nice tall glass of hydroxic acid.

  18. embraceyourinnercrone says

    @jimb – Yes really. Newsom would only sign the bill after it had been amended:


    “The bill originally allowed for the health department to review and potentially reject any child’s medical exemption approved by a doctor. As now modified, SB 276 would allow for such reviews only at schools with immunization rates of less than 95% or for doctors who grant five or more medical exemptions in a year.”

  19. blf says

    Akira MacKenzie@23, Please don’t be so hard on yourself !
    My comments at @19 were deliberately over-interpreting a suggestion. The suggestion itself (outlaw laying) is understandable, very understandable, I myself am very very annoyed at deliberate lying. I once resigned a job because my manager both lied to me, and about me.

    I was deliberately over-interpreting to try and illustrate how a legally-enforced blanket ban on lying would be difficult to phrase, to interpret, and to enforce. And all that’s before First Amendment issues (which I didn’t even mention), which seem likely to make any such blanket ban unconstitutional (rightly so).

    Carefully-targeted legally-enforced bans are constitutional and do work (truth in advertising, drug claims, &tc — Yes, there are failures and loopholes…).

    My own suggestion for dealing with lying (in general) is to mock the lies. Not the liar, the lies.

    And when that doesn’t work, I know a certain mildly deranged penguin…