Bad Argument of the Week XLIII

by endlesspsych

By Keir Liddle

It’s been quite some time since I have been called on to write a Bad Argument of the Week — possibly down to the fact that out of all the regular 21st Floor bloggers, I am the least keen on spotting logical fallacies and the like. However, sometimes an argument comes along that defies classification is such terms; one that takes such a scatter gun approach to argumentation that it simply cannot be pinned down into just one discrete category of wrongness.

Unfortunately, the hopeless Delingtwat has already been mentioned this week. Instead, our winner is the seemingly self-appointed queen of the irrational rant, Julie Burchill, who deemed fit to froth at the mouth about the ‘Endarkenment’ this week. Would this Endarkenment involve the denial of climate change which pervades the (currently) most powerful nation on Earth? Would it be that alternative medicines with no proven efficacy are still available on the NHS with the support of the heir to the throne? Would it be any of  a number of seemingly countless other things that skeptics and scientists around the globe have been working to combat?


It would seem that we have the goat-sucking chupacabra to thank for our descent into irrationality, and the abandonment of the philosophical principles and scientific discoveries that the foundations for the modern world exist upon. Burchill’s evidence for this? Why, after the first “sighting” of the beast by Madelyne Tolentino, even that bastion of rational skepticism the Fortean Times declared the account a hoax! Burchill infers from this that everyone else must’ve been duped by the claim, and that it was up to the of the Fortean Times to knock down this widely held pro-chupacabra orthodoxy!

It’s worth noting Burchill’s irritating insistence on shortening Madelyne’s name, for what seems to be a cheap and childish quick gag, to Mad-Tol. Let’s consider for a minute that Burchill seemingly wishes to imply Madelyne Tolentino is somehow mentally deficient or prone to hallucinations as a means of discrediting her. When the point of her article is the revelation that the whole affair was a hoax, unless Burchill holds that to pull off such a hoax implies a degree of insanity, then this seems an ill thought out bit of wordplay (if one can stretch to call it that).

What secures Burchill’s resounding triumph in the Bad Argument bonanza, however, is the following paragraph:

You’d think the Fortean Times would get behind this type of super-luxe lunacy. But the account in the current issue shows such clear-eyed wisdom that it actually shows up the allegedly sensible – the Israel-hating, Muslim-sucking, organic-food-munching, global-warming-fearing Horrifieds of Hampstead – for the superstitious clowns they are.

Burchill can only be indulging in some blatant attention-seeking contrarianism here, as anyone with even the slightest knowledge of The Fortean Times ought to find claims that they are proponents of the Enlightenment dubious at least. The key to the entire Fortean movement is continuing the work of Charles Fort, author and gatherer of anomalies and oddities who believed that the universe was an organism and that strange lights in the sky might well be alien spacecraft.  As the FT summarise:

He was sceptical of scientific explanations, observing how scientists argued according to their own beliefs rather than the rules of evidence and that inconvenient data was ignored, suppressed, discredited or explained away. He criticised modern science for its reductionism, its attempts to define, divide and separate. Fort’s dictum “One measures a circle beginning anywhere” expresses instead his philosophy of Continuity in which everything is in an intermediate and transient state between extremes.

Far aside from this, Burchill uses the chupacabra and the label of Endarkenment as some sort of bizarre stick with which to beat a rather odd stereotype of people she seemingly disagrees with. She equates criticism of the Israeli regime and of its (in my opinion) disproportionate treatment of the Palestinians, and those who would call for reasoned discourse and understanding of Islam and Muslims, with believing in a cryptozoological beast. Burchill’s universe would appear to be inhabited solely by badly drawn caricatures.

In a supreme fit of irony, she also includes in this scatter-gun attack  those who fear global warming. While it isn’t made clear whether Burchill denies global warming is occurring, the equating of being worried about global warming with believing in a Puerto Rican goat sucking beast seems to suggest a certain lack of taking the issue as seriously as one possibly should. The irony, of course, being that this would put her closer to wingnut denialists like the aforementioned Delingpole than it would those fighting against the Endarkenment.

Thus, Burchill’s prize, should she wish to claim it, is a helpful book all about The Scottish Enlightenment, so that she can better understand why she may well be part of the Endarkenment, rather than among those rallying against it.