Exhuming McCarthy

Exhuming McCarthy June 22, 2007

For all of the faults of Wikipedia, it's a marvelous demonstration of the power of the hive-mind of the Internet. It really is an impressive achievement. One way to step back and appreciate that is to compare it to its latest imitator, the Schlafly-spawn's "Conservapedia."

Conservapedia is old news in the blogosphere, but it's back in the headlines thanks to this week's Los Angeles Times article.

It's kind of fun to alternate between the two sites, comparing entries. For example, here's a link to Wikipedia's exhaustive entry on The X-Files. And here, reprinted in its entirety, is the Conservapedia entry:

The X-Files was a television program on Fox about two FBI detectives who investigated the occult. One of them was named Fox Mulder, the other was named Dana Scully. The former was played by David Duchovny, the latter by Gillian Anderson.

That entry is listed under Conservapedia's category "Broadcasting," which contains 24 other articles on TV shows and TV networks and one on Katie Couric. (This arbitrary list has to be seen to be believed, but it does perhaps provide a window into the peculiar tastes of the right-wing homeschoolers who sketch out much of the site's content.)

If the X-Files comparison seems too low-brow, try something else:

• Shakespeare: Conservapedia; Wikipedia

• String theory: Con; Wiki

• Frederick Douglass: Con; Wiki

• Henri Matisse: Con; Wiki

Let's be charitable and try a few that ought to be easier territory for the Conservapediaphiles:

• Ronald Reagan: Con; Wiki

• Phyllis Schlafly: Con; Wiki

• Homeschooling: Con; Wiki

Even on their home turf, the Conservapedia entries are short and shoddy imitations of the Wikipedia entries.

Meanwhile, the monkey wrench gangs have been hard at work, and an entertaining "watch" site — RationalWiki — has arisen, with a delightful "Best of … collection.

The stupid on display here is a source of endless amusement. But while smarter monkeys might have made for a less laughably embarrassing site, I've come to believe that the whole enterprise was conceptually doomed. C-pedia's "About page suggests it is intended as a conservative alternative to Google and Wikipedia. That's just not possible.

The cooperative, democratic, open-source ethos of Google and Wiki is antithetical to the supposedly conservative values espoused by the C-pedia's contributors. The original is based on the idea that all of us, together, know more than any of us individually does. The "alternative" is based on the idea that some ideas are forbidden and must be censored. The model for the Conservapedia's form of collaboration isn't so much Wikipedia as it is one of those totalitarian youth clubs in which children are commissioned to report subversive comments by parents or teachers.

Thomas Cahill's pop-history How the Irish Saved Civilization recounts the role that medieval monks and scribes played in preserving the West's knowledge of history, science, art and literature throughout the Dark Ages until, one day, the time was ripe to bring it forth again to help usher in the Renaissance. The sense one gets from C-pedia is that of a group of scribes working to do the opposite — to reduce and eliminate much of what we've learned so that, one day, the Dark Ages can be reborn.


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  • Jesurgislac

    Hell is defined as a lake of fire in the afterlife where people suffer for eternity. It is that definition that is important, not whether people believe that hell exists. When a person believes that you’re going to hell, that means the person endorses your suffering or believes that you deserve to suffer.
    To be precise, it means that person believes I deserve to suffer in an imaginary situation. It is the illwill/hatred which is scary, not the invoking of a torture chamber which does not exist.
    To paraphrase George Carlin, doesn’t Christianity teach that “wanna” is a sin all by itself? At the very least, isn’t the desire to see a person suffer equate to actually causing the suffering?
    No.

  • Tonio

    “It is the ill will/hatred which is scary, not the invoking of a torture chamber which does not exist.”
    That was the point I was trying to make. Hypothetically, when someone wants to see me suffer, what stops the person from eliminating the middleman and actually causing the suffering?

  • Rosina

    Hypothetically, when someone wants to see me suffer, what stops the person from eliminating the middleman and actually causing the suffering?
    Joining this idea with earlier discussions on torture, the idea of an eternity suffering in hell is what ‘justified’ the torturers of the Inquisition. Even once they realized that torture didn’t actually give them reliable information, the one hope they had was that they would be able to persuade their victim to recant heresy, or their heathen faith, and accept God and avoid Hell. They did not “want” the victim to suffer the torments of Hell, they “wanted” to save him from that eternal pain by the application of a lot of pain now.
    From our vantage point, we can see the flaw in this argument, and I’m sure that there were Inquisitors who enjoyed the actual torturing then as now. But the pain was a means to an end, and decent reasonable people who believed in Hell thought that they were saving someone’s soul by forcing them to confess and then having them burnt alive before they could recant again.

  • Jesurgislac

    Tonio: Hypothetically, when someone wants to see me suffer, what stops the person from eliminating the middleman and actually causing the suffering?
    The recognition that there is a moral difference between actual torture or murder, and merely wishing someone would suffer, thinking they ought to, assuming they surely will – especially when the imagined, wished, hoped-for suffering occurs only in a place that does not actually exist, at a time when a person is, in fact, actually dead and unable to suffer.
    (Mutilating a corpse as an act of revenge may be ugly for the people who cared for that person when they were alive, but it doesn’t compare to mutilating someone who’s alive in the same way.)

  • McJulie

    I don’t see any difference at all between evangelizing and panhandling, and would object strongly to any laws that permitted one and not the other.
    In both cases, somebody standing on a street corner doing their little schtick and holding out the collection plate is an appropriate and sometimes amusing expression of the first amendment.
    However, somebody who won’t let me ignore their sales pitch — somebody who harasses me or gets in my way or something like that — is always inappropriate.

  • Tonio

    “The recognition that there is a moral difference between actual torture or murder, and merely wishing someone would suffer, thinking they ought to, assuming they surely will…”
    Valid point. My concern relates to the notion of “God’s will.” If one believes that the highest priority for one’s behavior is pleasing God instead of the effect of the behavior on others, does that prevent the person from recognizing the difference you mentioned?
    Also, even someone else’s wish that I suffer feels like a personal assault to me. That wish means that I am worthless if I don’t meet the person’s expectations.

  • Jesurgislac

    Tonio: Also, even someone else’s wish that I suffer feels like a personal assault to me.
    Having experienced both, I can safely say that I can tell the difference without difficulty.
    My concern relates to the notion of “God’s will.” If one believes that the highest priority for one’s behavior is pleasing God instead of the effect of the behavior on others, does that prevent the person from recognizing the difference you mentioned?
    If someone believes God is pleased by torture and murder, then they’re dangerous indeed, yes. But how many Christians who say they believe in hell would be willing to torture someone to death? We can look at the behavior of the pro-lifers, many of whom claim to believe that “abortion is murder” – but only a few actually commit terrorist acts against abortion providers.

  • Tonio

    “Having experienced both, I can safely say that I can tell the difference without difficulty.”
    I wasn’t saying I was confusing the two. I was saying that I experience feelings of worthlessness when someone wants me to suffer.
    “But how many Christians who say they believe in hell would be willing to torture someone to death?”
    Not many. Here’s what I don’t understand – the extremists and the moderates in the theistic religions believe that their gods tell humans to do certain things. The disagreement seems to be on exactly what those orders are. How do people who believe in gods know what those gods want? What leads one person to conclude that his god wants him to love others and another person to conclude that his god wants him to kill unbelievers?

  • Geds

    Tonio:
    I think you’re missing a key piece of information here: specifically the way the concept is used in Christianity.
    Hell is, in many ways, a rhetorical flourish. At times it is like the fairy tale monster that comes to punish small children who don’t behave. At other times it is a way of destroying ones enemies by proxy (Dante’s Inferno and The World’s Worst Books being examples). Sometimes, too, it is a way of keeping the faithful in line (Jonathan Edwards’ (in)famous “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God”).
    Mostly, Hell is used alongside the Hypothetical Bus to convince good little Christians that they need to go out and win converts for Jesus. It works thusly.
    1. Ask the congregation to think about all the non-Christians/non-RTCs they know (this is probably the result of Christianity withdrawing from the world. I.E., Bob is a Baptist and most of his friends/family are Baptists, so he don’t actually know a lot of “sinners.” But there is that girl with the nose ring who he sees every once in a while working the cash register at the supermarket and he happens to know that Jim in Accounting is a Methodist, so they probably don’t know the Baptist Jesus).
    2. Remind the congregants that the only way for said non-Christians to get to know Christ is if somebody tells them. If they’re not Christians it’s because nobody’s told them/told them the right way. If nobody’s told them that means that you haven’t told them.
    3. If they got hit by a bus right now, they’d be headed straight to Hell.
    4. Hell is a bad place.
    5. Since you didn’t tell them about Jesus, it’s your fault they’re in Hell.
    6. Get out there and win some converts, otherwise you’ll be guilty/Baby Jesus will cry, etc.
    Ironically enough, though, the people who buy in to that mentality also tend to buy in to a mentality that says we’ll forget/won’t have time to think about our friends and family who are burning in Hell for Eternity once we get to Heaven. Of course if the sum of the non-Christians you know are that girl at the supermarket and Jim from Accounting, you’ll probably forget about them long before you get to Eternity, so I guess it’s not an issue, anyway. (That’s another bizarre story. I worked with InterVarsity in college. There were something like 12,000 students and maybe 500-1000 who fit the fundamentalist/evangelical profile on my campus. I knew the fifty or so in InterVarsity and a lot of the people in the various other groups. Of those, most seemed to genuinely think they were going to change the campus “for the Lord,” yet none of them seemed to have non-Christian friends so I could never figure out exactly how they were planning on doing that. After a while, I stopped talking to most of them. They quickly forgot about me…)

  • Angelika

    Jesurgislac To paraphrase George Carlin, doesn’t Christianity teach that “wanna” is a sin all by itself? At the very least, isn’t the desire to see a person suffer equate to actually causing the suffering?
    No.
    Actually, the Sermon of the Mount suggest that the desire to sin – or rather the degradation of the other human in one’s mind – qualifies as sin.
    Matthew 5.22 reads:
    But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
    Tonio: How do people who believe in gods know what those gods want? What leads one person to conclude that his god wants him to love others and another person to conclude that his god wants him to kill unbelievers?
    Mostly people will sit down with their holy scriptures or otherwise received revelations and ponder them either alone or their religious peers to figure out how to translate them into action. During that interpretation process is usually lots of room for all sorts of personal ideas and biases to creep in. Sometimes, the biases don’t only creep in, but also take over.
    Geds put it very nicely in another thread:
    People are violent.
    Religion reflects that.
    A peaceful person can justify their peacefulness in any religion while a violent person can justify their violence.
    Only a charlatan would say otherwise.

  • hapax

    Tonio: “If one believes that the highest priority for one’s behavior is pleasing God instead of the effect of the behavior on others, does that prevent the person from recognizing the difference you mentioned?”
    Well, no. Not if one’s God explicitly told one that the behavior most pleasing to God is making the welfare of other people one’s highest priority.
    Which is a central principle in most of the world’s major religions, however ignored and abused in practice.

  • Tonio

    Angelika, I have an issue with the concept of “holy scriptures or otherwise received revelations.” People who say they’ve had revelations say that these experiences represent universal truth instead of a personal belief system. They don’t say, “God wants me to do this with my life,” but “God wants YOU to do this with YOUR life.” I am deeply suspicious of the latter claim – it’s possible that the person has his own agenda for me and is simply invoking God’s name to try to convince me to submit. Or, to be more charitable, the person honestly wants to help me but is mistaken about what help I want or need, and doesn’t understand that I need to make my own decisions.
    “Not if one’s God explicitly told one that the behavior most pleasing to God is making the welfare of other people one’s highest priority.”
    That still sounds to me like the concept “Because God said so.” I’m suggesting that the concept treats the nature of the behavior as irrelevant or secondary.

  • hapax

    Tonio, am I going to ruin your life if I point out very very gently and lovingly that you are NEVER going to meet anyone in your entire life who puts as high a priority on what you want and need as you do?
    People are selfish, self-absorbed, and self-centred. If we treat each others decently and with respect, it’s all because of our own personal priorities: whether that’s staying out of jail, living in a civil society, trying to get in someone’s pants, following an abstract ethical standard, hoping that others will treat us decently in reciprocation, or obeying the (perceived) Word of God, everybody is following his or her own agenda, not yours.
    Whatever that agenda is, no matter how benign, hurtful, neglectful, or apathetic it is in intent, people are going to make mistakes in following it; hurting you when they mean to help, benefitting you when they mean to hinder, bothering you when they mean to leave you in peace, etc. That’s because people also aren’t nearly as smart as we think we are.
    Sorry to be the bearer of bad news.

  • Geds

    it’s possible that the person has his own agenda for me and is simply invoking God’s name to try to convince me to submit. Or, to be more charitable, the person honestly wants to help me but is mistaken about what help I want or need, and doesn’t understand that I need to make my own decisions.
    Another one I’ve run in to is people who assume that because you’re good at X, that must be what God wants you to do.
    I have a friend who knows computers back and forth and likes messing around but has never had any urge to get a CS degree or worked with computers by choice. He once told me that he had a pastor tell him that his wife (who, apparently, had something of a “gift of prophecy,” which I’ve never believed) saw him working with media and computer-related ministry.
    My friend wasn’t exactly excited to hear that.
    Meh, maybe that’s not really a third option, but fits somewhere in the category of your theory of people not actually knowing what you want or need and trying to make your decisions for you without actually knowing you.
    I think that’s part of the reason the church is falling apart, at least in my experience. People assume that they have a nice, strong community just because they call God the same name, so a lot of well-meaning people tell other people what they should do based on a false assumption and a shallow judgment of someone’s worth.
    But I don’t necessarily want to make a career out of something just because I’m good at it. Telling me that God wants me to do that is only going to make me dislike God, and probably the person who tells me what God’s will is.

  • Tonio

    Hapax, I understand and agree with you in principle. My point is that through much of my life, people have told me explicitly and implicitly that what I want and need should have NO priority, from me or from anything else. They have shown me that what I want and need somehow interferes or hinders what others want and need, in ways that I have never understood. They have shown me that I must value others’ wants and needs ahead of my own if I expect others to love me or approve of me. They have shown me that they will make me suffer if I stand up for what I want and need.

  • Bugmaster

    @opo:
    I dislike organized Christianity about as much as you do, but I think you’re very wrong on this topic. Essentially, you want the government to allow some forms of advertisement (political, commercial, artistic), and prohibit others (Christian), based solely on content. This means that you want the government to discriminate against religion, thus, in effect, violating the Establishment clause. That, in itself, is already wrong — because the Establishment clause protects you directly from government-enforced Christianity, Islam, or atheism — but it is even worse when you consider the free speech implications.
    Essentially, you’re saying, “please ban evangelists because they’re annoying”. Well, guess what — for every kind of speech, especially public speech, there’s a sizable group of people who find it annoying. Christians find pagan festivals annoying. Pagans find “WWJD” bracelets annoying. Fundamentalists find gay pride parades annoying. Gays find fundamentalist pride parades annoying (or whatever you want to call them). Republicans and Democrats find each other annoying in the extreme. I don’t mind mimes, but lots of people hate them.
    If we were to ban any speech that annoys someone, we’d end up in a place where no one can say anything in public, and people just walk around, quietly hissing to themselves (unless that gets banned, as well). Annoyance is not good enough reason to ban speech.

  • Drak Pope

    That would be cool. The hissing, I mean, not the banning.
    GUY 1: Hissss! hisss! Hissssss! (There is a gas leak in the building. Everyone evacuate.)
    GUY 2: Hisssssssssssssssssssss! (What? I do not understand?)
    GUY 3: Hisss! Hisssssssssssssss!!! (Nobody move! I have a gun!)
    GUY 4: Hiss! (Oh, around 2:30.)

  • Jeff

    That would be cool. The hissing, I mean, not the banning.
    Sounds like a VERY deranged game of Telephone! I love it!

  • Jesurgislac

    Hissssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss! (None of us could ever argue over anything ever again!)

  • Bugmaster

    Hssss.

  • hapax

    Hssss. Blessssssss your heart….

  • Jeff

    hapax: Hssss. Blessssssss your heart….
    Hissssssss. Hisssssssssssss hisssss hiss hisssssss hissssssssss. Hisssssssssssss.

  • Rosina

    The mimes will do well though.

  • Jesurgislac

    Rosina: The mimes will do well though.
    Hisss. Hiiisss. Hisssss ssss hisss hiiiiisssssssss.

  • Rosina

    *Oh No. I beg you – not the snake pit!*

  • ScottBot: The Unofficial Edition

    Hissing is fascist censorship Bushevic hogwash.

  • Jesurgislac

    You know, it’s bad enough having an actual ScottBot, without having a fake one showing up.

  • Jeff

    Hissing is fascist censorship Bushevic hogwash.
    Only if there’s a nozzle at the end of the hose. Otherwise, splashing is the Official Noise of the International Hogwash Association.

  • none

    What does raca mean? All I can find is “an expression of contempt”. Why is calling somebody a fool a hellfire sin and saying raca not?