When Wolf Blitzer, who always asks my favourite hypothetical-comatose-patient questions, asked the candidates who should pay for the care of an uninsured coma victim, and responded to Ron Paul's response with "Are you saying that society should just let him die?" a number of audience members I would very much like to meet and date cheered and someone yelled "yeah!"
Michele Bachmann spoke piercingly about "little girls" (11 and 12 year-olds; still young, sure, but not the pig-tailed, thumb-sucking cuties she piercingly evoked) being given "government injections" (HPV vaccinations) and yesterday managed to up the ante on her own stupidness and lyingness by indicating that the vaccine might cause mental retardation (which it doesn't). When various people, among them quite an unsurprising number of doctors, told her she was wrong, she said, "I am not a doctor. I am not a scientist. I am not a physician. All I was doing was reporting what a woman told me last night at the debate." She's referring to a random member of the public who came up to after the debate and told her the vaccine had harmed her daughter.
So one is apparently allowed to report ignorant, unfounded claims about something as long as one has oneself no knowledge or expertise related to the subject.
Except when that's not the case. There's an astonishingly discouraging story out of York University this week, for once not related to a faculty strike. Cameron Johnston, a York prof, was teaching a Social Science class ("Self, Culture and Society" - a staggeringly descriptive title) and stated that not everyone was entitled to have and express an opinion. "All Jews should be sterilized", he said, was the kind of opinion that was egregious and inexcusable. At that point, a student stormed out. I assumed it was some kind of free-speech defender, rushing out to fetch Noam Chomsky (who waits out in the car for just such an eventuality), but, no - it was a student convinced that Johnston had just asserted that Jews should be sterilized. Sarah Grunfeld immediately contacted a campus Israel advocacy group, and it immediately sent out news releases calling for his prompt dismissal.
The best part of this whole story isn't that some poor man who'd really rather be thinking about your Self and its Culture and Society was plunged into controversy by way of a complete misunderstanding, but Grunfeld's response to being told that it was a complete misunderstanding: "The words, ‘Jews should be sterilized’ still came out of his mouth, so regardless of the context I still think that’s pretty serious.”
Actually, Bachmann and Grunfeld have at least one thing in common: both failed to consider the larger context surrounding the words they heard (i.e. some stranger at a public event with an unsubstantiated story not supported by science in the first case, and quotation marks and total condemnation in the second). What's so wonderful and inspiring is that it's the listener who decides whether something should be believed in with no cause or denounced for no reason. I'm so inspired, I might just ambush Hudak after a debate and tell him cuts to social services cause Muskoka cottages to spontaneously burn down. After all, there's a good chance he's no smarter than a potential presidential candidate or York university undergraduate.
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