David Irving – What Next?

Well, next week look like it’s going to be busy.

From the Jackson Free Press we’ve got this royal gem: Holocaust denier David Irving is coming to Jackson. On October 21st, the day before Victor Stenger comes to town.

For those of you who don’t know, David Irving is one of a rare breed – although, in my opinion, not rare enough – a holocaust denier.

It’s quite the hurdle to leap – I mean, in the case of your anti-vaxxers and your climate change denialists, you’re dealing with often wordy, obtuse scientific papers, issues where there are a whole lot of other people pretending to be scientific, new data all the time, that sort of thing. It’s somewhat understandable. Then there’s the HIV-denialists, which slip into (in my mind) a second category where you can still kind of see what they’re doing, even though you know it doesn’t click.

But holocaust denial? I mean, hell – you can go talk to the people who were there (though fewer of them daily) you’ve got American soldiers who tore the things down, survivors and their families, you can go and look at the remaining camps, you can see mounds and mounds of evidence – the purchasing of the equipment, the lists of living and dead, the forms requisitioning soldiers and guards, the personal effects of the dead.

The only thing Irving has in common with your garden variety denialists is technique.

(Courtesy of Denialism Blogs)

1: Selectivity. (Aka cherry picking) This lovely little technique allows guys like Irving to, say, pick up a doctored photograph of a concentration camp and say “Hey, they’re all doctored.” Since has collected a gargantuan supply of Nazi memorabilia, he can certainly engage in a little quote-mining. He, and many other denialists operate on a “snapshot model” of history: one tiny detail turns the tables on all the historians and documentation and data out there. They are well versed in the minutia of their pet cause; death camp timetables, the size of crematorium ovens, the placement of zykon-B showers, that sort of thing: and they inevitably find tiny pieces here and there which point to what they want to believe – ignoring, of course, the mountains of evidence that point in the other direction.

The fun thing about cherry picking is that the picker leaves themselves open to all of the other wonderful things out there that in fact do not read the way they want.

2: Fake experts. Well, since Irving himself is that expert, this one is a bit out of place. You might think that Irving would quote other denialists and fake experts, but the man does his research. See above.

3: Impossible Expectation. This is one where a guy like Irving can say “well, unless you were there” (in which case he must ignore people who were.) or – Irving’s favorite tactic: “There was never a document signed by Hitler calling for the liquidation of Jews.” Of course, there was never a document signed by Hitler calling for the start of the war, either. Rest assured, if someone finds that document, Irving will claim it is fake or say that he has a new standard that must be met. The moving goalposts technique is a favorite amongst those who are outclassed by someone prepared for a certain topic.

4: Logical fallacies: Since everyone (should at this point) know about these, I’m going to skip it. There is a really good list on wikipedia.

And, finally, the mother-of-them-all, for many woo-meisters, denialists, and David Irving in particular:

5: Conspiracy. Ah yes – how else to explain why there is no evidence to support your claims? Of course someone must have stolen it! Why is there so much evidence to the contrary? Of course, someone must have created it! When you’re deep into your own claims, you can’t let something like “a lack of corroborating evidence” get in the way. Irving believes that all the normal historians – those that aren’t part of groups like The Institute for Historical Review – are in some sort of dry, unimaginative lockstep, all on the same page, never a new idea amongst them. This is, of course, strictly untrue – one need only examine the constant output of new and updated historical information to see that this gambit is only a rhetorical technique.

Now on to the deeper question: What to do about Irving?

His appearance at City Hall will follow an “informative talk” given somewhere in the city – I’ve been trying to find out where, exactly, but have not yet, as I don’t want to pay the fifteen dollars to reserve a seat.

His accomplice in this is long time Mississippi rabble-rouser Richard Barrett who you may or may not remember from his recent antics down in Jena, Louisiana, or his ill-fated “come shake the hand of Edgar Ray Killen” booth at the Mississippi State Fair. For a far less complimentary view on Barrett, you can click here. Now, sure, Barrett still gets honored by the state legislature but wherever he goes, he tauts his appearances (usually a small handful of people protected by a wall of police from a wave of protesters) as “victories of free speech.”

And free speech is what these men have. While free speech does mean that they can say what they want, it also means we have the right to a counter message. Unfortunately in this day and age, often the counter-message is simply “shut up,” or a cry of antisemitism, but this does not count as debate, nor does it really do anything to deny the deniers a hold on historical revision.

Instead, one must counter their arguments with knowledge. And David Irving is therefore a dangerous opponent – though recently descending into a more outrage-inducing banter of insults and outright racism, he does have at command a barrage of facts he uses to profess his knowledge. One who fell for his “this tiny bit is true, therefore all of this outrageous historical re-write is true” might very well take Dan Brown seriously, and there is far too much of that going on already.

On the morning of the 21st, Irving will appear on the cringe-inducing Gallo Radio Show on Super-Talk 97.3. I do hope they’ll be taking callers.

Later in the day, Irving is going to be on local radio channel WJNT 1180 AM at 5 PM during a call-in show. I’m sure there will be plenty of priceless quotes from that meeting of the minds, so be sure to add your own.

This will take place right before his trip to City Hall (scheduled for 6PM, if the city allows it).

So if you’ve got any idea, comment! We shouldn’t let people like this show up and go uncontested – the message of “not even in Mississippi” would be a good one, methinks.

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