Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Bigotry and Bad Memes

Let's start off with a picture of this man:

Martin Luther King famously said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character."

That speech, delivered on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC on the 28th of August, 1963, contains much more worth hearing, and nothing worth discarding. I urge you to listen or read the transcript yourself. [Transcript] [Audio]


I wanted that up front because I want the words of Dr. King to be fresh in your mind when you consider this meme that is being passed around:

People should be judged on their own merits and failings, that's for sure. And the guy pictured, Timothy McVeigh, was unquestionably guilty of a heinous act.

That said, this particular line of reasoning is faulty and is unlikely to convince anyone. Here's why. Suppose someone told you,
"This pipe bomb is really dangerous. It kills a lot of people. It doesn't have a trigger. It doesn't have a sight. It doesn't have any bullets. It's a COMMON WATER PIPE. Think on that before spreading anti-gun BULL on social media."
You don't get to the end of the quote before realizing that the two examples aren't in any way connected. The fact that one thing is dangerous doesn't mean that the other thing isn't. It doesn't mean that all pipes are as dangerous as all guns. You know from experience that there's nothing "common" about that pipe. It doesn't even convince you that anti-gun statements are bull. The intended point... that guns are safe... doesn't follow from the argument. All this argument says is that the guy who wrote it should have followed his own advice and thought on it. If he had, he'd have avoided this kind of logical fallacy.

Again, people should be judged on their own merits and failings. But just as all members of a group cannot be automatically judged guilty for the misdeeds of a few, all members of a group cannot be automatically judged innocent even when they're not. Both extremes are bigoted.

Judge not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. 

If you intend to calm those people who fear violence perpetrated by Islamic extremists, there are effective ways to make the intended point. This isn't one of them. While doing that, you must address the fact that those fears are not without foundation, but that's a discussion for another day.

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