Poe’s Law

WTF Indeed!

Poe’s Law states:

It is impossible to create a parody of Fundamentalism that someone won’t mistake for the real thing.

This was formulated in 2005 (by a guy named Nathan Poe) in response the many internet parodies that are usually indistinguishable from actual fundamentalist websites. It was shortly followed up by Poe’s Corollary which holds:

It is impossible for an act of Fundamentalism to be made that someone won’t mistake for a parody.

and Poe’s Paradox which states that:

In any fundamentalist group where Poe’s Law applies, a paradox exists where any new person (or idea) sufficiently fundamentalist to be accepted by the group is likely to be so ridiculous that they risk being rejected as a parodist (or parody.)

In other words, in order to be accepted by the crazies, you have to demonstrate a level of craziness that arouses suspicion amongst the crazies.

What brings this discussion to mind is this wonderful little conference: Galileo was Wrong:  The Church was Right, the First Annual Catholic Conference on Geocentrism. See if you can tell how serious this is. Of course, Geocentrism would be that wonderfully outdated notion that the our earth is at the center of the universe and everything revolves around it.

Of course, any time we find ourselves in that strange dissonance between “is this real?” and “this cannot possibly be real” we know there’s a problem with the domain of the discussion – namely that the notion seems too stupid to believe yet we know there are so many people who believe incredibly stupid things. Invariably the domains most susceptible to this seem to be those who suffer from a lack of critical thought.

Some examples of Poe’s Law at work include The Stephen Colbert report and The Onion. Although these are well enough known now that it seems silly to suppose someone does not realize their parody status, there are still stories that pop up now and then of over-the-edge right wingers who refuse to believe Colbert is a parody because he’s so right on the money. 

And many refuse to believe Jack Chick’s famous ‘Chick Tracts’ are the real deal (a non-parody item you may find in your kids trick-or-treat bag) as they peg the needle right off the edge of the insanity scale.  (Read a few!)  Oh – and here’s a book that is sold off Jack’s website – Lucifer Dethroned.  (Read the excerpt – wow!)  It’s not a joke which, when you browse the website for a few minutes, should give you a full appreciation for Poe’s Corollary.

There’s a great anecdote that is told in science circles that tells of Richard Dawkins’ surprise upon learning that Ann Coulter was not an Onion spoof but an actual person. For a good list off Poe’s Law candidates see tvtropes article on Poe’s Law. Or peruse this list of insanity.

Here’s a video that bounced around the web for a while leaving everyone to wonder genius (parody) or psycho (not parody.)

We’ll close with a church sign – real or not?

How about this mosque sign?


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