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#60379 03/10/02 02:22 PM
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Our very own wwh exposed a gap in our vocabulary when he explained that a writer ridiculing a "debunker of the Holocaust" was paying the psychopath an unintended compliment. A debunker is someone who exposes a patent falsehood, such as a miraculous drug. Someone who circulates "bunk" is not a "debunker" but a perpetrator of bunk. Such a person might be called a bunkerist or a Holocaust bunkerator, but we should not dignify their bunk with the laudatory term "debunker". Of course, wwh's insight exposes a larger weakness in our vocabulary. We have a word to describe words which contradict one another, namely, "oxymoron". And "irony" describes ideas or images which jar with one another, provoking critical thought. But how about a phrase like "debunker of the Holocaust"? How do we describe such a phrase? It is not, strictly speaking, an oxymoron. It is not an explicit contradiction in terms like "humble politician" or "noble greed". It actually postulates an alternative reality as though one is proclaiming that politicians and greed don't exist at all. And it is more unequivocal than "irony". For instance, "irony" can point to a deeper truth, one which is counter-indicated on the surface. A phrase like "debunker of the Holocaust" is the very opposite of this. It appears to be true on the surface but it is utterly false underneath. Do we have a word which describes a phrase like this? Prevarication?

#60380 03/10/02 03:17 PM
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Dear plutarch: When we are small, we need to be able to feel that our parents are very powerful, and able to protect us. As we get into adolescence, and begin to feel less dependent on our parents and other power figures, many of us go too far and overestimate our capabilities, and reject any and all authority, reject all the values of the older generation. We may become NeoNazis to emphasize the width of the gulf between our position and that of the conventional authorities. We can become anarchists to emphasize our refusal to accept any higher authority.
Fortunately most adolescents don't go this far. Mark Twain said that when he was fifteen, his old man was so stupid he hardly stand to be in the same house with him. But when he was twenty, he was amazed to see how much the old guy had learned in five years.


#60381 03/10/02 03:58 PM
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Fortunately, most adolescents don't go this far.
If only neo-Nazism were an aberration of adolescence, wwh. Unfortunately, for some, it's a life-long career. I think you got closer to the truth when you explained that the profile of a typical neo-Nazi includes "extreme survivalist" because of the paranoia which distorts the neo-Nazi's perception of reality. The flip side of "white supremist" delusions of grandeur is the persecution complex, the fear that everyone else is 'out to get us'. These symptoms are all of a piece, don't you think, wwh? Taken together, they define both the neo-Nazi personality and the disease which afflicts this personality. That's why the writer's adumbration of the characteristics of a neo-Nazi is so revealing (at least pour moi).


#60382 03/13/02 10:57 AM
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This discussion of 'debunk' reminded me of the confusion between 'refute' and 'rebut'. These are both semi-technical terms, so there is some authority for saying there are right and wrong meanings of them.

If someone accuses you of purloining the pewter charger, you can deny, rebut, or refute the accusation, but these three are different. Merely to say 'I deny that' does thereby deny it. 'Deny' is wholly performative.

You can't rebut it by saying 'I rebut that', since rebuttal is the presentation of evidence: but evidence, not proof. If you present some evidence to support your denial, you have thereby rebutted it, even if the evidence is unconvincing or untrue.

Finally, refutation is successful denial. A rebuttal, or other attempt at refutation, fails to refute something unless the evidence is true (and, I think, convincing).

If you assert that A refutes B, you are asserting (inter alia) that B is false, not just that A makes that claim. (And A may be a person or their text.)

Debunking is like this: to assert that A debunks B is to assert (inter alia) that B is bunk.

What led me to this was noticing that some adverbs are ruled out by virtue of this secondary assertion. Or rather, the person A who asserts 'B' can use them, but the person C who reports this assertion can't. If A thinks the Moon Landings are bunk and fills a book with evidence they find convincing, they can say 'In my book I debunk the Moon Landings', but I can't echo them: I have to add a qualifier like 'claims to' or 'attempts to'.

But A's usage is a correct and reasonable use of the word 'debunk', in their own mind. They genuinely and sincerely think they have debunked it.

I can report this using 'genuinely' and 'sincerely', but I can't use 'reasonably' or 'correctly'. I recognize that their usage of the word is reasonable or correct, but I can't phrase it as 'A correctly said they debunked the Moon Landings', even if all I want to do is endorse their language as correct, not their facts. The adverb is ambiguous in what it applies to: whereas 'sincerely' would unambiguously refer to A's beliefs.

I was minded to extend our usual grammar along the lines of the technical terms 'rule-utilitarianism' and 'act-utilitarianism'. We could take about usage-correctness and fact-correctness. Then I can with a clear conscience assert that A usage-correctly said they debunked the Moon Landings.

#60383 03/13/02 11:51 AM
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usage correctness and fact correctness
U have sorted this out very nicely, Nicholas W, by distinguishing between usage correctness and fact correctness.

But, can one "debunk" something which, on the weight of all credible evidence, is self-evidently true, namely, the fact of the Holocaust? I think not. The fact that one is sincere in arguing a case which is patently false does not make the truth "bunk".

Where there is no "bunk", there can be no "debunker".

On the other hand, where the proposition which is challenged is less than patently false, one can claim to "debunk" it by marshalling credible evidence in support of that challenge. In this situation, an etymologist cannot say that the word "debunked" has been misused even if he/she is not persuaded by the challenger's evidence.

Perhaps "debunking the Moon Landing" falls into this category. I really don't know. I haven't taken the time to examine the so-called evidence and I have never questioned the historical record. One would have to go deep into the woodwork to make a case either way. And the witnesses are few, and the scene of their deeds beyond reach ... quite unlike the situation with the Holocaust.


#60384 03/13/02 01:09 PM
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Sorry, you're missing my point entirely. I can only ask you to read it again. None of the following is a modification of what I said above.



I chose the Moon Landings as something in epistemologically the same situation as the Holocaust, but without the emotional charge, i.e. it is impossible to reasonably doubt them.

But someone certainly can claim that they are bunk. There is no semantic problem with this at all. The person so claiming is factually wrong, and unreasonable, but if they think it's bunk, then the expression 'That is bunk' is a (usage-)correct and reasonable expression of their views when they utter it.

And if I say 'Irving thinks that is bunk' then I am also describing the facts correctly and reasonably.

(Mental verbs like 'think' or 'believe' don't preserve truth across them. If Alice believes Oslo is in Denmark, and Bob says/thinks that Alice believes that, it doesn't entail that Bob says/thinks Oslo is in Denmark.)

Someone can claim to have debunked anything whatever. They have not actually debunked it unless they convincingly establish that it's bunk. But even if they don't establish it, they can make an attempt and claim to have succeeded. This claim might or might not be reasonable, but being reasonable is not inherent in the notion of claiming. I can (and frequently do) claim to be the King of Patagonia.

You can claim to debunk something no matter what your evidence is. You do not succeed in debunking it unless the evidence is compelling.


#60385 03/13/02 01:59 PM
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you have missed the point entirely
We may have to agree to disagree, Nicholas W. I think I understand your point perfectly, and it is very ably put. But I must stand by my own logic. Where there is no "bunk", there can be no "debunker".

The problem here is that the two words are inextricably connected. One cannot "debunk" something unless it is "bunk". Intention has nothing at all to do with it. "Debunking" is the removing of "bunk". Its like trying to remove salt from rainwater. One cannot desalinate rainwater.


#60386 03/13/02 02:27 PM
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But you can try to desalinate rainwater if you think it has salt in it!


#60387 03/13/02 03:19 PM
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I think you guys are arguing from the same side of the fence.


#60388 03/13/02 03:45 PM
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.. Parents find it expedient to misrepresent to their children the facts of life.Particularly in wartime governments find it expedient to deceive the public.Some people become incurably suspicious, and misinterpret events, and believe they detect deceit when there is none. They refuse to accept the best evidence, and construct contorted arguments to support their views.


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