On Thunderf00t, Park51 and the elusive point

This poor old blog; it just hasn’t seen much action lately. I myself have several unfinished posts in the edit bin which need attention. Hopefully the problem will atrophy as the blogging team expands before the year is out.

In the mean time, I have been blessed with a topic that’s perfect for a blog post; too big for a rant on Facebook, and too opinionated and irrelevant for a YouTube video. That topic is of course Thunderf00t’s videos about Park51. I will also be focussing on my role as a subscriber and commenter, as I have apparently become central to a debate about miscommunication.

Before getting started, I should note that I see Park51 as a complete non-issue blown up out of all proportion for the sake of sensationalism. Many of my favourite commentators on religious and rights issues have left me disappointed with the use of “they have the right but…” arguments, where what follows the “but” has been universally superfluous or just plain incorrect. False attribution, red herrings and appeals to emotion are popping up all over the place and making a mockery of the actual debate.

But of course, we all think in chorus, this is the Internet!

Naturally most of us are not surprised by this sort of controversy; we’re used to it. What really troubles me, however, is a surge in two particularly ugly types of blemishes peppering (what I hope you’ll excuse me for calling) the “home side”. They are sloppy communication and knee-jerk reactions. I’ll start with the former.

On August 29th, Thunderf00t posted his first video on the subject, ‘Tolerance’ and the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’. Shortly after it was posted I found it in my subscriptions feed, and clicked through. The video is under four minutes long and during my first play I was only half listening as I sometimes do. When it was finished I felt somewhat confused as to what point my friend was trying to make. I assumed I’d missed something due to being distracted, and as it’s only a short video, I watched it through again with my full attention. My confusion remained. What was this video saying?

It had the characteristics of another “they have the right but…” argument. But what?, I wondered. What I interpreted was something of a mixed message. It can best be stated as:

The organisers of Park51 have the right to build it but they are hypocrites and shouldn’t go through with it because [insert false analogy]

I don’t want to dwell on the analogy here. Suffice to say that besides planes being flown into things, Thunderf00t’s hypothetical really isn’t a good parallel to the events of 2001 and Park51. In fact, almost every analogy I’ve heard on all sides of this issue has been a lousy one. Can’t we just skip the analogies and discuss the real scenario?

In my state of confusion I felt compelled to comment. I had to know what Thunderf00t’s video was advocating. I assumed it was advocating one thing or another (perhaps foolishly) else I saw no point in him making it. I was not willing to believe that Thunderf00t would really suggest limiting anyone’s rights, or that the promoters of Park51 should be guilted out of their rights by association with Saudi Arabia. With ignorance and incredulity, I posted the most succinct, yes-or-no question I could think of:

Are you advocating sinking to the level of the Saudi government?

In my professional development, I’ve had the truly fulfilling experience of educating children. They really do ask the best questions (Could we use Pluto to plug a black hole? Has a penguin ever been hit by a meteorite? Could aliens already be living on Earth, but be too small to see?) but every now and then some poor youth will be unwilling to pose a question because they’re worried it’s “stupid”.

“There’s no such thing as a stupid question,” I tell them, “only a stupid answer.”

This has become one of my mottos in life. Even as a cold, cynical adult, fully aware of the sort of dishonest, loaded tripe and trickery that comes from people like ShockofGod, I still believe that no honest question should be dismissed as stupid. The whole reason for asking an honest question is to overcome a state of ignorance, so questions are very noble things indeed. It was with honesty that I approached Thunderf00t with my question, confident that I would receive a clear response of the form: “No. What I advocate is…”

I was afforded no such response, though my comment would achieve great infamy thanks to Thunderf00t taking the liberty to feature it under a somewhat baffling sentence. I’ll get to that in time, but I’d like to make a note about knee-jerk reactions first.

I decided to take a night’s sleep before writing this post. One of my rational heroes, Sam Harris, has often demonstrated the value of collecting one’s thoughts for some time before making any kind of response. Actually, I disagree with Harris quite strongly on the subject at hand here, but I applaud his patience. The trouble with knee-jerk reactions is that they often result in misunderstandings. Consider this comment left on my channel:

The irony of this rash criticism is that I have been misinterpreted as having misinterpreted another. Since what could be called my interpretation of the video was a contradiction, I posed a question for clarification, expecting the answer to remove any doubt:-

  • “Yes” – Thunderf00t advocates that American Muslims receive a taste of the medicine dished out by Saudi Muslims against non-Muslim ideologies.
  • “No” – Thunderf00t advocates entirely fair treatment of American Muslims as citizens of the US, but American Muslims are hypocrites for pleading tolerance with the creation of Park51, because Saudi Muslims are intolerant to non-Muslim ideologies.

I fully expected the answer to be no, but I had to be sure, at which point I would have moved on to my major grievance with the hypocrisy allegation. At no point did I accuse Thunderf00t of anything, or put words in his mouth with my question, and I resent the allegation that I did. Some of the more obscene PMs sent to my inbox are nudging me to amend my motto, “…but if you ask a question on a Thunderf00t comment wall, you are guaranteed to be misinterpreted and probably insulted”. I’ll have to think of something punchier. Since Thunderf00t did not respond in the comments, I never did express my disagreement with him.

Enter DLandonCole. By happenstance, I stumbled upon his video response, Tolerance and the Ground Zero Mosque: a reply to Thunderf00t. As I was still scratching my head over the original video, I hoped another user might clear it up for me. I clicked through, and after a couple of minutes I found myself watching a very well thought-out and mature response by a stranger, raising several objections that hadn’t even entered my mind. Immediately I commented and subscribed, and shortly afterwards I linked Thunderf00t privately to the video, suggesting he take a look at it and make a response. In my opinion, criticisms such as these are the ones which really deserve responses and drive the discussion in a productive direction.

If someone criticised me in this manner, I would be inspired to question my own arguments, especially since maturity and research are uncommon among my typical opponents. Geocentrists such as Malcolm Bowden have completely missed the point, accused me of lying and continued their anti-scientific rant against me. William Lane Craig fanboys have attempted to refute me with, you guessed it, more clips of Craig. On the other side, the atheist user ShredderIsAlive has combined immaturity, lack of research and quote-mining with an unhealthy refusal to retract factually incorrect statements and called it a response. If DLandonCole took issue with one of my videos or opinions the same way he approached Thunderfoot, I’d see it as a breath of fresh air and well worth addressing.

Perhaps then the reader will understand my puzzlement when ‘Tolerance’ and the “Ground Zero Mosque’ -Part 2 surfaced, devoid of any mention of DLandonCole’s challenging video. Instead, Thunderf00t focussed on a few clips of other users apparently misrepresenting him, comparing their words with quotes from his original video. I get the impression I have been lumped in under the same accusation, but I’m not too concerned. Those who do their homework and follow my online ramblings will arrive at this post and learn of the intentions behind my comment; the opinions of those who don’t do their research are of no interest to me. I also don’t have much to say regarding the use of the specific clips for the sake of making a specific point. FSAthe1st has mirrored my feelings on that topic in his video, On the subject of Thunderf00t and Park51.

In his follow-up video, Thunderf00t admitted that poor communication on his part was responsible for the confusion. I agree and I respect that confession. However using my comment and name as a qualifier only confuses me — personally — further. What is so special about “folk like AndromedasWake” that prompts a clarification? What about the thousands of other users who felt short-changed on any coherent point? Would the second video have been made if I hadn’t been confused by- or just hadn’t seen the first? I don’t deserve any special treatment.

I’m left with a new question; one which I won’t be so foolish as to expect a direct answer to. If I had asked a similar question on one of Thunderf00t’s poorly worded Draw Muhammad Day videos, would he have produced a clarification in my honour? If the recent event is a concrete example, then I think being portrayed as an idiot to 100,000 subscribers is a small price to pay for making sure that those same subscribers get a message free of what could potentially be seen as bigotry or contradictory ideals.

For those on YouTube who are unaware of the users mentioned in this post, I highly recommend subscribing to DLandonCole, FSAthe1st and of course, Thunderf00t.

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