Ophelia, Daniel, I Respectfully Disagree

Ophelia Benson has put up several posts recently on the use of insulting terms in blog conversations. She is opposed. Ophelia recently linked to another Freethought blog called Camels with Hammers written by Daniel Fincke. Here's Ophelia's post: A camel with a hammer offers a tap upside the head. And here's Daniel's post: Making My Comments Rules Explicit: “Don’t Bully People With Insulting Names” and “Make Personal Charges Against Others Only In Egregious Cases”. Here's the one rule that I want to discuss; it's from Daniel Fincke's post but Ophelia quotes it approvingly.
No insulting people. This means not calling them abusive names or making insulting insinuations about them which according to my judgment unnecessarily demean them as a person or which I take to be intended to demean them as a person. You may charge that people’s ideas are false, harmful, irrationally derived, etc. You may substantiate charges that someone’s personal behavior deserves moral disrepute where that’s relevant. You may critique an individual’s standards of evidence or question their commitment to reason over faith. But when you do things like this, stick to substantiatable charges. Use words which clearly specify what specific thing makes a person or institution’s ideas, beliefs, behaviors, attitudes, etc. worthy of criticism. Abusive names (like “stupid”, “moron”, “asshole”, “jerk”, “douchebag”, “idiot”, “motherfucker”, “dick”, “cunt”, “nigger”, “Feminazi”, “shitbag”, “mental midget”, “twat”, “fuckwad”, “retard”, “homo”, “fag”, “tranny”, “bitch”, “nutcase”, “crazy”, etc.) are emotional expressions meant solely to hurt other people. They are social equivalents of physical assaults.
I know where they're coming from. They're talking mostly about racist and sexist comments since that's their main concern on Freethought Blogs, for now.

For the record, I do not condone those kind of insults. Nor do I condone accusing someone of racism or sexism without very good evidence.

On the other hand, I frequently use insulting words to describe stupid people. The most obvious example is my use of "IDiot" as a shorthand for Intelligent Design Creationist. A commenter on Daniel Fincke's blog suggested that words like "stupid" were okay since they aren't homophobic, sexist, or racist. Here's how Fincke responded ...
“Stupid” is just not a word that smart people have ruining their self-esteem from the time they’re little kids.

And even yet, it is a false and belittling word that is counterproductive to constructive discourse. Calling someone stupid tempts them to either slink away in shame or to fight back with equal emotional abuse.

There are perfectly good words for telling someone that a specific idea is no good. False, empirically refuted, fallacious, absurd, illogical, unsupported by evidence, irrational, rationally indefensible, superstitious, biased. All these might work and many more. There’s no need to then personalize it by calling the person stupid or the idea stupid, which has the implication of bashing the person for thinking it.
When I use the word "IDiot" I fully intend to bash the IDiots for their stupid ideas. Why? Because their ideas are stupid and they really are idiots.

Here's where Daniel gets it wrong. I don't expect to convince the IDiots of the error of their ways any more than they intend to convince scientists by using insulting terms like "Darwinist," "materialist," and "stupid." There's no such thing as "constructive discourse" with creationists.

My audience is not the creationists I'm debating, it's the readers who might not have made up their minds about Intelligent Design Creationism. They will read the viscous attacks of these creationists on scientists (Darwinists) and wonder whether there's some truth behind them. I could reply with polite phrases like "rationally indefensible" "unsupported by evidence" and "empirically refuted" but that would be like bringing a flyswatter to a gunfight.

The general public needs to hear what passionate scientists really think of these IDiots. The best way to do that is to fight fire with fire. The idea is to plant in the public's mind the notion that these creationists are crazies and kooks, not respectable scientists with a different, but scientifically valid, opinion. We tried treating them politely for several decades and what did it get us? It got us leaders and politicians in many countries who think it's perfectly respectable to believe that evolution is false.

We were up against people like Jerry Falwell, Rush Limbaugh, and Michele Bauchmann but we were fighting with one hand tied behind our back. That's no way to win a fight like this.

The good news for the more polite proponents of rationalism, like Ophelia Benson and Daniel Fincke, is that they can be the "good cops."

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