Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sudden surge in readership

A counter located in the right-hand column informs me that my Antipodes blog usually receives about a hundred visits a day. On Friday evening, I happened to notice that this counter had started to surge abruptly, in an exceptional fashion. Yesterday (Saturday), the counter continued to indicate an unusually high volume of visits, so I started to investigate what might be happening. My immediate reaction was that it might have something to do with my blog post entitled Hacking [display]. Maybe certain Internet authorities had decided that I might be mixed up with groups of hackers, and they had broadcast some kind of directive asking their investigators to follow me. Maybe it was Badger who had ordered his international matrix of groupies to invade my blog. Maybe the Aussie minister of communications was using his hounds to find evidence of unAustralian thoughts in my blog, enabling him to put me on his blacklist (if ever I weren't there already)...

In fact, I soon discovered that the surge in Antipodes readership had been brought about by my short blog post about a tribe of natives in Papua New Guinea who had been filmed during their first encounter ever with pale-skinned visitors from the outside world [display]. Basically, this story—which I had picked up in a French news website—was an excellent candidate for Antipodes, since the fabulous theme was universal, while the background information existed apparently only in French. Yesterday, observing that my readership was still mounting (up to over 1500 by the end of the day), I struggled to correct factual errors that had existed in the French source, while rapidly supplying my readers with summaries of two basic French-language documents concerning this affair. Meanwhile, there was a lot of discussion on the Internet (which I had helped to provoke) about whether this "first encounter" had been a genuine event or rather a fake happening staged for the production of a spectacular video.

During my investigations, I was alarmed to discover that, back in 1997, a prominent critic of the video had been convicted of slander. Although I didn't know the circumstances in which such a trial had taken place, I decided immediately that I should abandon this subject on my blog, while backtracking concerning any suggestion that the video might not have recorded a genuine event. I realize that my reaction surprised certain readers, but that's simply because they're not familiar with the French legal system. Unfortunately, here in France, we do not have total freedom of speech of the kind that exists, say, in the USA. Consequently, if a distinguished anthropologist were to deny, say, that any unknown stone-age tribes remain hidden in the jungle, then he could be attacked for slander by somebody who declared that such tribes did exist. Now, that is the kind of legal battle that's lost in advance by the deniers, because it's logically impossible to produce evidence proving that such-and-such an alleged entity does not exist. We're in the domain of Bertrand Russell's famous celestial teapot that has been orbiting the planet Earth for ages.

If somebody were to claim rashly that this artificial satellite is a figment of the imagination, which does not exist, how he could he possibly prove his negative belief? Teapot believers would simply point out that the non-believer had never been at the right observation point at the right time, otherwise he could not have avoided seeing the teapot gliding along its itinerary through the heavens. These days, atheists have imagined a kind of divine variation on Russell's teapot theme: the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

If I were to declare that this creature does not exist, and that anybody who believes in it is surely crazy, then members of the Congregation of the Flying Spaghetti Monster might decide to take me to court for slander. I would explain to the judge: "How do you expect me to prove that this creature doesn't exist? That's a logically-impossible task." And the judge might reply: "My poor fellow, you've misunderstood the sense of this trial. We don't expect you to prove that the creature doesn't exist. Besides, the plaintiffs know that no such proof could be forthcoming, for the simple reason that they're absolutely convinced that the creature does exist. But I would like to see you condemned nevertheless, because your harsh denials have gravely offended and distressed the innocent members of the Congregation of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, by implying that they lack intellectual discernment."

Normally, caricatural situations of that kind don't arise in our everyday existence. But there have been exceptions. And, when such a situation arises, there's no sense in trying to defend yourself, or even argue, because your opponents simply don't believe fully in logic. Personally, in such a predicament, I find it advisable to shut my mouth and get the fuck out of the place.

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