Monday, February 19, 2007

Hard Truth, Comforting Fantasy

I'm usually fond of obsessive old kooks -- flat earthers, cryptozoologists, ghost-hunters and the like. There's often something admirably Mulder-esque, or at least Lone-Gunmen-esque, about these determined Cassandras. You want to avoid getting cornered by them at parties or after church, of course, but in small doses in the proper setting -- such as listening to their calls on Art Bell's radio show while driving late at night -- they can be a source of delight. The world would be a duller place without them and most of them are mostly harmless.

Unfortunately, some of them are not. Harmless. Some of them manage, somehow, to be taken seriously by a larger audience, and their unreal ideas become the basis for decisions in reality, which never works out well. In other cases, the kooks' elaborate theories turn out to be inextricably interwoven with a reflexive, and very dangerous, bigotry. In either instance -- or in the worst-case scenario when both of these things are true -- these people cease to be merely colorful and amusing. They end up hurting people.

At first glance, Marshall Hall seems like he might be a mostly harmless crank.* The retired schoolteacher from Georgia seems to have self-published more than a dozen titles on a variety of topics, all of which he seems to have desperate, passionate opinions about. Like many cranks of the fundamentalist variety, he speaks with an earnest certainty that expresses itself in a fondness for exclamation points, rampant capitalization and sweeping statements about the revealed truth of God. Ask someone like Hall about the weather and he's liable to respond, "False prophets deceive many with their UNSCRIPTURAL claims of only a 40-percent chance of rain!"

....This seems, as I said, like something merely amusingly kooky -- the sort of thing that would make you turn up the volume on Art Bell so you could sit back and savor it's high-grade nuttiness.

Unfortunately, three things prevent me from finding any of this amusing: 1) Hall's pervasive anti-Semitism; 2) a legislative emphasis that seeks to make his goofball ideas the standard curriculum for American schools; and 3) Hall's demonstrated ability to have his theories respectfully heard, approved of and disseminated by actual officials who have the power to legislate No. 1 and No. 2 above.
[via slacktivist]

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