A Thought On Ridicule

You know that position you hold? Yeah – the one that’s very important to you? It’s really stupid. How can you be so foolish? It’s obvious that you’re wrong. It’s even more obvious that your position isn’t just wrong, but dangerous; it causes a lot of harm to people. Why are you so cruel? Stop being such an asshole!


Are you convinced to change your mind? Probably not. I wouldn’t be either. It’s always important for people to believe things that are true, and not believe things that are false. But if the above paragraph is true about a belief that many, many people hold, it’s even more important. If a belief is not just popular, and not just false, but damaging to society, then it’s of the utmost importance to try our very hardest to persuade people out of that belief.

Ridicule doesn’t do that; it merely offends people. Whether their offense is justified or not, they’re still offended. And when they’re offended, they’re far less likely to change their minds. So, if you think that religious belief harms people, by all means do not ridicule it – that’s not helping the problem at all. Quite the opposite.


4 Responses to “A Thought On Ridicule”

  1. vjack November 2, 2013 at 8:11 am #

    Have you held any opinions in the past that you learned not to publicly express because you have been ridiculed for doing so? If not, you must be a far better person than I am. Ridicule and mockery are part of how we learn what sorts of things are appropriate to say aloud. They have certainly led me to rethink many positions. I’m not saying the other person has to be mean about it, but having an idea laughed at can be helpful in leading one to question its merit.

  2. shadowofadoubt November 3, 2013 at 4:04 pm #

    I would agree with Vjack here to a certain degree. Mockery may not be the best way to convince the person whom you are mocking, but it can be a very useful tool for showing others how ridiculous something is. Without descending into just being mean and spitefulness, I doubt anyone who cannot take a little ribbing about their belief is unlikely to be converted anyhow.

  3. Neil November 4, 2013 at 9:25 pm #

    I am a naturally sarcastic and humorous person…. so much so that I often have to try not to say the “wrong” things when sensitive subjects are brought up. There is certainly a value in not being mean just for the hell of it or making enemies unnecessary, just to have fun or boost one’s own ego. Hostility can close minds, but those minds would have to be open to begin with. For me, the distinction lies in the effects of the belief and the actions and attitudes of the believer. The above pleasantness only applies with a person who is being honest, who is not seeking an advantage with their beliefs, and who is willing to give the same respect to me. Often, that mutual respect is not in play.

    If a believer is, say, publicly expounding beliefs that in practice end up being an attack on other people or the rights of others, or if they are seeking to place their beliefs in some position of authority, I’m going to mock the shit out of them, on principle. In fact, I think it is very important that people with strong beliefs have it made clear to them that those beliefs do not have to mean jack shit to the rest of humanity. I think that an obvious lack of respect, an obvious lack of concern, even mocking and ridicule, is a great way to get this across unambiguously, if logical or moral arguments fail to reach the “righteous” believer. It works to deflate an oversized ego, it works to demonstrate to others that we should not allow ourselves to be bullied if we disagree, and it keeps the ability to speak out alive and well.

    I have found some ridicule to be quite useful when dealing with preachers in search of a flock, extreme right-wingers who want to end all welfare, abortion, and close off the borders(for example), and certain brands of feminists and communists and social justice crusaders as well…basically, anybody who is so convinced of their own righteousness that they put their beliefs and ideology and emotions ahead of facts, logic, or especially the rights of others. Their minds are not open, so they can’t be shut by mocking. Anyone not on board is already an enemy, so why play-act as a friend?

  4. BattonPR December 20, 2013 at 6:44 pm #

    I have to side with NOT ridiculing, namely based on two things: a variant of Occam’s Razor (do not add any more than necessary) and the potential for backlash.

    Ridicule is not necessary to point out a person’s error – religious matters or mere social matters. If the person is not openminded enough to your point of view, then the person is very unlikely to respond to your ridicule in the ways you favor; much more likely quite the opposite, in fact. He or she is just going to close their minds further to what you have to say.

    Ridicule is a huge part of what fuels hateful political debates. When liberals were ridiculing conservatives, that fueled Rush Limbaugh’s rise, which lead to the very right-wing talk radio you see today. Demonize a controversial but popular candidate for office and you pave the way for that candidate’s victory. Now each party has its own “sin” in this regard, but wise people recognize that ridicule is much more likely to be counterproductive (or even merely unproductive) than patiently seeking out people who are merely lukewarm supporters of certain political positions, then convincing them the opposite of what they believe was correct. That is certainly how I started my abandonment of right-wing ideology 20 years ago.

    Also, ridicule merely belittles and hurts feelings, which ultimately fuels the cycle described above. Yes, feelings are important, and if you doubt that I ask you how else you explain skeptics’ offense at religious peoples’ remarks that “atheists cannot be good people”. The point is not to hurt or belittle others — the point is to convince the other side you are right and others are wrong.

    Hence, if ridicule can ever be justified, it is ONLY in retaliation for ridicule directed at yourself. Even then, the retaliatory/punitive ridicule you dish out must be only be proportionate to what you received beforehand.

    Also, ridicule and other belittlement of the other side is the main reason there’s so much gridlock in Washington right now. No willingness to compromise. No willingness to even consider the prospect the other side may have a few good points. If it’s true for political debates, it’s true for religious ones (and every other subject for that matter).

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