There's No Arguing with a True Believer

February 23, 2005

This insightful passage from a review of Mary Lefkowitz' Not Out of Africa details the futility of trying to debate an Afrocentrist or other true believer. The writer could easily have included Nordicism among the many other "-isms" cited as examples.

It is not an accident that the students of Afrocentrism and catastrophism act more like disciples of a guru than students of a scientific teacher. They are on a mission, not a quest. And, as with many before them with noble goals, they believe the end justifies the means. Hence, it is nearly futile to engage them in debate. Scholars have difficulty debating opponents such as Afrocentrists, catastrophists, creationists or even anti-abortionists, because they expect their opponents to be civil and play by the rules of scholarly evidence. They mistakenly believe they have entered an arena where all sides are in quest of the same truth. What they are actually getting into is a street fight, where the goal is to defeat and humiliate your enemy. Their opponents don't follow traditional standards of evidence in their printed arguments and diatribes, so why expect them to be any different in a public debate? If you challenge their accuracy, they will question your integrity. If you ask for evidence, they will insult you. If you challenge their sources, you will be asked to prove the absolute certainty of your sources. You think the arena is an intellectual one where the combatants use wit and intelligence to score points, but while you are looking above your opponent's shoulders, he will kick you in the groin. You may have the evidence and the arguments on your side but your opponent doesn't care about the evidence and is not interested in your arguments. He already knows the truth.