What’s up with NPR’s comments?

A friend sent me this NPR article about the origins of Valentine’s Day. Despite my usual love of history it didn’t strike me as especially interesting, I like my historical info much more in-depth. Preferably with citations. But then I looked at the comments.

Great Scott the comments are insane! People claiming the article slanders catholics, people bragging that NPR will soon be defunct, people howling that history wasn’t like that and in one memorably bizarre instance, someone claiming that the dark ages were the time before religion “stopped the heathen practices of their uncivilized, ancestors”. Exactly what that’s supposed to mean is unclear to me, but it sure was a strange thing to read.

One of the things that I like about history is the mystery of it, trying to piece together clues to figure out what happened. The other side of this, of course, is that we can’t ever be really certain. There’s always going to be the possibility that we’re misreading the signs, or falling for ancient propaganda, or simply don’t have enough information to draw accurate conclusions. So any bit of history has to be taken with a grain of salt, so to speak.

But to claim that connecting a modern commercial holiday through a catholic saint’s day to a Roman holiday is on the order of holocaust denial is just…. I don’t even know what that is. “Delusional” comes to mind. I don’t even understand why anyone would take offense to it, most holidays are built on older holidays. Is it now insulting to Christians to speak of Ostara, too? And goodness, in that case the very existence of Jews must be a terrible slander!

One phrase that I’ve heard many times, that is probably worth remembering, is “you are entitled to your own opinions, but not your own facts.” If you want to argue or disagree with historians, that’s fine. Crazed drunken screaming matches are a fine scholarly tradition, and much of our knowledge owes its existence to bitter people figuring out a way to show them, show them all. It’s absolutely imperative that we keep testing ideas and probing what we know for weaknesses.

What’s not okay is to say that it’s not true because you find it insulting. Or because you don’t like the implications, or because it’s completely at odds with the world as you understand it. This is not because those reasons are petty and self-centered, although they are, but because the consequences of a discovery or action or theory have no bearing on whether or not the thing itself is true.

As an example, try to convince yourself that I can’t possibly push a glass off the table because if I do it will break. Then invite me over and point me to the glass on the table. Have a dustpan ready.

It’s always interesting to me to start writing without any idea where I’m going. I rather like how this one turned out, even though I didn’t expect to wander that path.

About Leo Tarvi

Mostly fictional.

Posted on February 14, 2012, in Daily Post and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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