In the Sunday Times letters page today (not available online, sorry), Cilla Webster takes issue with Ben Trovato’s open letter to Errol Naidoo regarding E-Tv’s screening the Naked News. That’s fine – she can have her view, as can Naidoo, regardless of how stupid those views might be. But Webster’s letter does allow for a quick and easy demonstration of the ‘false cause’, or ‘correlation, not cause’ fallacy. Webster writes:
A few years ago a 12-year-old boy in a township nearby me was sitting in his grandfather’s chair, watching the e.tv late porn movie. There was a hit out on the grandfather and the child was killed instead because he was watching porn. It was a tragedy for the parents.
I’m sure it was a tragedy for the parents, and the boy was no doubt somewhat alarmed when the gunmen (or whatever) came in for the hit. But the story – or at least this account of it – is a tragedy for reason also, in that it picks an arbitrary detail of the story as being the ’cause’ of the boys death. He was killed because:
He was at home.
He was sitting in his grandfather’s chair.
The killers were mistaken as to where the grandfather was.
The chair was in a particular position, which perhaps didn’t allow the killers to spot that the grandfather looked mysteriously small, and young, before pulling the trigger.
The child was watching TV.
To say that porn caused the boy’s death is laughable, and trivialises a sad story. His death was correlated with watching porn, but there is no causal connection. For there to be one, it would have to be the case that it is impossible for the child to not have been in that chair, at that time, under any other circumstance. Watching the news, for example. Or even, watching some gospel programming.
These are the sorts of reasons why we can’t take people like Naidoo seriously – not because their conclusions are obviously nonsense (porn could be bad for gender relations, or contribute to some harms), but because their arguments, and their evidence, show few signs of having ever given the matter a moment’s thought.
I’ve previously argued that people deserve respect, rather than the ideas that they might hold. Intuitively, this seems relatively uncontroversial, in that there seems no reason to respect the point of view that the Earth is 600 years old, or that the folk wisdom of superstitious folk from centuries ago should guide our lives in the 21st-Century. But note that to say people rather than ideas deserve respect doesn’t necessarily mean that all people deserve respect. It’s entirely possible that the totality of what you know about a person indicates that their confusions or malice run so deep that it’s difficult to find anything good to say about them.
This still wouldn’t preclude certain forms of respect for that person. You would still want to hear what they had to say, and attempt to judge it objectively – not only do people change, but they could also surprise you by revealing things you didn’t know, or hadn’t thought important. As much as efficiency demands that we apply a discount to the expected value of what certain people say, to blindly assume that they are always wrong, and not worth paying attention to, is an arrogance that might lead us into complacency and error.
However, this does not stop certain people from (generally) making little sense. How do we describe these people? In the case of Errol Naidoo, I described him as a ‘fool’ when Tweeting a link to a Sunday Times interview with him regarding his call to boycott e-TV for their screenings of Naked News. Regular readers of Synapses would be aware of Naidoo’s homophobia, his knee-jerk moral hysteria founded on (very) selective evidence, his contribution to the threats directed at students involved in the 2009 Sax Appeal controversy, and so forth. Read the Sunday Times interview for yourself: does he appear to be someone who is weighing evidence objectively, and looking for the root causes of social ills? Or does he appear to be a myopic moral reactionary, guided by missionary zeal to always allow his values to determine what the rest of the country is allowed to watch, and do?
I’m happy to call him a fool, because that’s a useful summary of a person who generally holds foolish views. Yes, according to me – and of course I might be wrong. And a commitment to treating people with respect would mean that I should be open to contrary evidence, whereby he might indicate that he is someone worth listening to on some subjects. I have not seen any such evidence to date, and this is why I’m comfortable calling him a fool.
Other self-identified skeptics disagree, though, apparently of the view that everyone merits respect, even those “whose actions and beliefs disgust me”. What would “respect” mean in a statement like that, beyond what I’ve conceded (being open to contrary evidence)? Not calling them names like “fool”? Tolerance has its bounds, and some of those bounds are perfectly legitimate. Consider Mengistu – should we simply critique his arguments, or are we allowed to call him a callous thug, or a madman? There are plenty of examples of characters like him, where some sort of summary term – which could well be abusive – fits their characters and motivations perfectly. Does “respect” entail never using these terms?
Of course, one can misuse terms of abuse. That is a separate argument, which would require my being corrected regarding the evidence that I think merits describing Naidoo as a fool. The possibility of mis-applying such terms does not mean it’s impermissible to ever use them, though. The appeal for such restraint is motivated by tolerance and openness to correction, and these are often good things. But they are also often the sorts of motivations underlying claims to refrain from judgement. But we need to make judgements, so as to be able to say that racism, sexism, genocide, female genital mutilation and so forth are wrong.
The real question is whether our judgements are sound or not. Determining whether they are requires us to subject them to scrutiny – not to avoid making them. A version of “tolerance” or “respect” that forbids us from saying that illiberal and homophobic men – camouflaged by the piety of religion – are fools is one that puts us on a slippery slope to not being able to make any judgements at all – and this is a version of respect that we should have no part of.
Those of you on Facebook can enjoy a few minutes of entertainment at the expense of some frothing at the mouth fundumbentalists, who are incensed at Woolworths’ decision to pull some Christian magazines from their shelves. The very Christian homophobe Errol Naidoo was quick out of the starting blocks, sending out a newsletter headlined “Christianity Not Welcomed At Woolies!” while the story was breaking on News24 and TimesLive.
Naidoo is apparently suffering from some memory loss to accompany his dementia.
Mr. Naidoo is on a recruitment drive, it seems. He particularly wants to recruit you into a “financial partnership”. It’s a simple deal – you give him money, and he carries on being a reactionary homophobe and underminer of civil liberties. His second newsletter this week again demonstrates a fair amount of “not quite getting the point”. Some choice examples:
God has recently opened some significant doors for Family Policy Institute. The evidence of my success is manifested in the daily demonization of the work of FPI by the liberal media.
Or, the evidence of how little sense you make, and how odious many (even some Christians) find your points of view to be, is manifested in the regular refutations and expressions of incomprehension that someone can be so pig-headed, morally blinkered, and opposed to all that makes a constitutional democracy worth living in.
My efforts to advance Biblical Christian values in Parliament, the media and general society have elicited the wrath of liberal secular humanists, who regard me as a grave threat to democracy.
Biblical Christian values are themselves a threat to democracy, dear Errol. So if you want to see them made law, so are you. How grave that threat is depends on which side of the fence you are. But your values, if applied literally and consistently, allow people very little choice in terms of things like who they can marry, what rights they have over their own bodies – even in terms of their attitudes towards gender equality. If you don’t believe that those things are worthwhile, that’s fine – you can try to make that case. But undermining those freedoms is unarguably a threat to democracy.
Significantly, what all of this does, is prove that Family Policy Institute is making inroads into areas the liberal elite consider their exclusive domain. Freedom of expression & other constitutional freedoms are defined by secular humanists and they alone decide what is acceptable or not!
Nope. They were defined by a consultative process which included many of your ilk. You’re free to spout your crap, and we’re free to tell you that you are a curious throwback to a primitive age, who wants us all to subjugate ourselves to (your interpretation of) the will of a creature from your favourite fairytale.
I believe our human rights and freedoms are a gift from God, and everything we do must reflect God’s sovereign rule in our personal lives and His supreme authority over our nation. That is why I battle daily on the frontlines of the culture war for your and my values. The Biblical Christian Worldview provides the only rational basis for a just, free and prosperous society.
Rational basis? Do you know what the word “rational” means? You may be right about the existence of ceiling cat, and I may be wrong – but the possibility of that is not premised on rational reflection. It’s about faith, and you don’t need faith when things can be known via rationality. Your own holy book can tell you these things, if you took your head out of your self-promoting pompous ass for long enough to think these matters through.
Following my submission on Gambling Law Reform to Parliament in January this year & later in May to the Dept of Trade & Industry in Pretoria, government’s policy on gambling seem to be moving in the right direction.
Damn, you’re so powerful. You remind me of a god, except perhaps with a little more ego.
Free speech is not the only value that democratic societies subscribe to. Nor does, or should, our commitment to free speech always have to trump competing values such as national security or personal dignity. But the principle of free speech nevertheless stands in need of exceptional, and exceptionally strong, counterarguments in cases where we are told that it is not permissible to broadcast or publish any particular point of view.
This commitment to an open marketplace of ideas rests on the belief that each person should have access to the points of view in circulation, so that he or she is able to exercise their right to moral independence by considering the ideas themselves. As Mill reminds us, compromising free speech costs us both the opportunity to hear things that are true, which can help to correct errors; and also to hear things that are false, where the truth is strengthened by “its collision with error”.
A number of the self-appointed guardians of South Africa’s moral fabric have recently weighed in on DStv’s news that it is considering introducing a pay-per-view pornography channel. As previously reported by Kevin Bloom in The Daily Maverick, Taryn Hodgson of the Christian Action Network claims that the channel will fuel the “fires of sexual abuse and exploitation”, and that those who believe otherwise have “imbibed the lies of the porn industry”. Errol Naidoo of the Family Policy Institute cites sympathetic studies (including one from a right-wing Christian organisation, and another from a high-ranking Freemason’s address during the 1989 ‘Religious Alliance against Pornography’ conference) which purport to demonstrate a connection between pornography and sexual violence. The trade union Solidarity claims that “children’s rights will be violated” by this channel, based on their own research indicating that “77% of molesters of boys and 87% of molesters of girls used pornography”.
As reported in a previous post, Uganda is currently considering a bill that would impose the death penalty or life sentences on homosexuals. Furthermore, the proposed bill criminalises those who do not report a suspected gay person within 24 hours, and will most likely also have the effect of dissuading health care professionals in Uganda from assisting anyone who is gay – as well as dissuading gay people from seeking treatment, seeing as outing yourself as gay could land you in jail. It’s worth reading this story on NPR to see the extent to which American Evangelical Christians are prepared to foment hatred and prejudice in order to buttress their support bases in the 3rd World – after all, surely all those folk in Africa will one day be able to afford to buy their sermons on DVD?
Apologies to anyone who may have suffered through a few minutes of Idols in the expectation of the Sax Appeal story being featured on Carte Blanche. Plus, of course, the suffering involved in watching the (mostly) silly stories they did feature. I spoke with the director of the show on Friday, and everything seemed on track and ready for broadcast. I’ll call him tomorrow, and provide any updates in comments to this post.
So what happened? They could simply have thought that the story wasn’t interesting enough for a national audience, which would be unfortunate – and probably wrong – but at least not sinister. The possibilities that worry one, of course, are producers pulling the show for fear of offending some part of the market, and even worse, pressure being applied by an interested party (UCT, for example) in order to not fan the flames any further.
Either way, it’s a pity that this story may need to be kept alive, rather than staying alive simply because a broader range of people care to discuss it.
In today’s Cape Times, Errol Naidoo uses the Sax Appeal story to have a thinly-disguised rant about homosexuals, who he clearly has some sort of “thing” about. Anyway: let’s take him at his word. He suggests that the “liberal media elite” (where “liberal” is clearly meant to be some kind of swear-word, although Naidoo’s grasp of argumentation is too weak for him to realise that many of us might see the media being “Liberal” as a positive) would not be nearly as tolerant if homosexuality, rather than his faith, were the object of the sorts of offences he imagines were perpetrated against his faith in the recent edition of Sax Appeal. He says:
The sanctimonious drivel published in our nation’s newspapers over the past two weeks ostensibly in defence of civil liberties is nothing but a sad reflection of the liberal media’s hypocrisy and double standards when it comes to Christianity.
What he doesn’t seem to get is that nobody sane has any incentive to mock or ridicule homosexuals. Homosexuality is neither a belief system nor an ideology – in fact, the only thing that homosexuals have in common is a sexual preference, which is hardly mock-worthy. Nor, in my experience, are “homosexuals” particularly funny as a group of people – in fact, they’re just like Mr. Naidoo (well, perhaps slightly less funny). In fact, the only ridicule directed at homosexuals that I can recall reading usually emerges from organisations such as his.
It’s indeed a problem if one set of people who make no sense get singled out for ridicule, and others get a free pass. This is perhaps why the “liberal media” sometimes publish articles criticising astrology, homeopathy, crystal-rubbing, etc. They don’t do this enough, to be sure – but they let Mr. Naidoo off most of the time, contrary to his paranoid suggestions.
On a side-note, I’ve noticed that he always ends his missives with:
Standing Errol Naidoo
Does he think that “standing” is some kind of an accomplishment? Is he perhaps making some subtle comment about evolution?
Tuesday’s edition of Varsity, the UCT student newspaper, carried some responses to the saga outlined in previous posts here. One of them is from Taryn Hodgson, and is reproduced below:
There is nothing remotely persuasive about her response, yet she (sadly) seems to take what she says very seriously. Early on, Taryn says that she “has evidence that demands a verdict”. Nice strong claim, which should surely be backed up by something? Let’s see: