Poe’s Law: Fundamentalism and Parody
Have you ever seen a story about someone saying something so crazy that you wondered “is this serious or is this a joke?” Poe’s Law says that it is impossible to tell parodies of fundamentalism from good-faith expressions of it. The law is stated by RationalWiki:
Without a winking smiley or other blatant display of humor, it is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that SOMEONE won’t mistake for the real thing.
The graph above attempts to represent Poe’s Law in visual form. It takes a few seconds to see some of the humorous patterns expressed in the simple drawing. An extreme fundamentalist will see everything as real fundamentalism and the extreme rationalist will see everything as parody. People in the middle are left wondering, and frequently laughing.
I found out about Poe’s Law during a discussion about whether ChristWire was a serious site or not. The consensus is that this site is parody, but that it is almost indistinguishable from actual crazy conservatism.
What? The Colbert Report is Satirical?
One of the funniest examples related to this principle was the Ohio State University study which showed that a lot of conservatives don’t “get” that Stephen Colbert’s show is satirical:
Using data from an experiment (N = 332), we found that individual-level political ideology significantly predicted perceptions of Colbert’s political ideology. Additionally, there was no significant difference between the groups in thinking Colbert was funny, but conservatives were more likely to report that Colbert only pretends to be joking and genuinely meant what he said while liberals were more likely to report that Colbert used satire and was not serious when offering political statements. Conservatism also significantly predicted perceptions that Colbert disliked liberalism.
Take a look at these seven sites compiled at RationalWiki. Three are parodies of fundamentalism and four are (attempted) serious sites.
- Landover Baptist Church
- 4 Step Proof for God of the Bible
- OBJECTIVE: Ministries
- Rapture Ready
- Time Cube
- Chick Tract – The Last Generation
- True Christian Church of Christ
In any case, there are and have been a lot of religions whose beliefs are easily mistaken for satire. Some find it hard to believe that Scientology really teaches things like the alien Xenu planting billions of people in volcanoes and blowing them up with hydrogen bombs 75 million years ago or that the Latter Day Saints movement really teaches that Joseph Smith used gold plates to write the Book of Mormon before the gold plates ascended into heaven.