Friday, 6 May 2011

Poe's Law

“Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of fundamentalism that someone won't mistake for the real thing.”

This is something that's interested me since I discovered it. I have sometimes wondered how those who live their lives based on fundamentalist ideas manage to do so, in light of the ease of access to actual, verifiable information. There are a number of theories, of course, including thoughts on Why We Don't Believe Science, and the interesting notion that, since different words mean different things to different people, it's possible that rationalists and fundamentalists are almost speaking different languages completely.

I'm going to explore that last one more in depth, I think. Maybe I'll write about it some day.

But Poe's law strikes me as being an almost absurdly potent argument against fundamentalists. The thought that occurs to me is that if I saw a person, who I knew for a fact was virulently opposed to my position, write a parody of the things I was saying, and I (or the audience) was unable to distinguish between his writings and my own... I'd have to take a moment to stop and think about it all.

That's a heck of a sentence up there, and I don't feel like I'm explaining myself all that well. Let's see if I can do better. If my detractors were using the exact same arguments that I was making to make fun of what I was saying, that would give me occasion for pause.

I've never seen it happen the other way around. This may just be that I haven't been exposed to it, personally, but I somehow don't think that this is the case. The idea that someone would take a phrase such as, for example, 'I do not think there is a god', and be able to use that exact same phrase to make light of what I was saying, seems unlikely to me.

I feel as though the intent behind a 'Poe' article is to point out to those who write such things in earnest how ridiculous they look. I feel as though someone, attempting to write a 'Poe' in my style to ridicule me, would simply wind up writing an article that would be deemed to be a rational look at the issue at hand, rather than an example of a ridiculous extremist ideology. Hubris on my part?

Am I mistaken? Can Poe's law be used in reverse? Could it be used against me? I'd be interested to hear from anyone who thinks that this is the case. Like I said, I've never seen it applied in the reverse. Anyone?

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