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The power of ridicule

Now is a good time to try again to make my point about using ridicule to shut down right-wing craziness. I think that some people think that I’m only just being mean-spirited when I argue that liars must be told that they are liars, that people who talk crazy must be told that they are crazy, and that we must do everything possible to make them objects of ridicule.

More thoughtful people might object that if you stoop to such tactics, you risk becoming just like them. Others seem to think that to be shrill is worse than to be a liar. But I would argue that shrillness in defense of truth is not a vice, and that it is virtuous to spray ridicule in the faces of ridiculous, dangerous people. Ridicule in their faces is more effective than pepper spray.

There is historical support for this. Strident condemnation (during Senate hearings) helped bring down Joseph McCarthy. It has often been written that it was largely the work of H.L. Mencken, heaping ridicule on William Jennings Bryan in Mencken’s coverage of the Scopes monkey trial in 1925, that shamed fundamentalists out of the public square for decades until they re-emerged rebranded as evangelicals. They are back, calling themselves Christians even as they despise and blame the poor, cheer for war, worship the rich, and torch the planet. Religion like that does not deserve the slightest scrap of respect or deference. It deserves our contempt.

We could use a few Menckens right now. Though today’s gelded mainstream media would not print a Mencken, now we have the Internet.

I’ve been reading some Mencken lately. I don’t particularly like his voice (just as I don’t like the sound of my own voice when I am talking about fools), and I doubt that he was the nicest person in the world. But he did the country a huge service simply by telling the truth, by writing in such a way that the ridiculousness of deluded and dangerous people is self-evident.

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