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The Roundtable
Compiled April 2021

Here are a number of short takes I found on the Internet in 2020, give or take a year or two.


Earl Pomerantz   Primary lesson learned from my class at Oxford?  “Certitude is the enemy.  An eager openness, the cure.”  Tutor Jim advised “reading and reading and reading.”  When asked “What if they all disagree?“ he replied, “You have to think more than you read.”

Robert J. Elisberg   If a science fiction writer can develop a fake religion on a lark and convince masses that Scientology is real, almost anything is possible.

Stonekettle (Jim Wright)   When you believe the earth is 6,000 years old, and two of every kind of animal lived within walking distance of Noah's house — a guy who supposedly built a boat the size of a WWII cruiser out of wood, with hand tools, in his backyard — math ain't exactly your thing.

Matthew Federman   The problem is not that all people are stupid but that the very stupid appear to have much more energy.

Gustav Le Bon   The masses have never thirsted after truth.  Whoever can supply them with illusions is easily their master.  Whoever attempts to destroy their illusions is always their victim.

God @TheTweetOfGod   The less you know, the more you think you do.

Scott Renshaw   Proof-by-anecdote is what stupid people think of as rhetoric.
» “COVID can't be that bad because I got it and I was fine.”
» “There's no racism because I can identify successful people of color.”
» “Climate change isn't real because it's cold today.”
It's exhausting trying to explain to willful morons that individual data points don't mean anything when taken out of context.

Leo Tolstoy   The most difficult subjects can be explained to the most slow-witted man if he has not formed any idea of them already, but the simplest thing cannot be made clear to the most intelligent man if he is firmly persuaded that he knows already.

Craig Mazin   One of the hallmarks of the dangerously stupid is the consistent belief they've found great solutions that experts somehow missed.

Rick Santorum (former Republican Senator)   We will never have the elite, smart people on our side.

Chuck Lorre   For my entire life I believed in the common sense of America.  That naïve faith is gone.  I see now the inherent madness based on our willingness to believe in whatever fiction best comforts us.  Or enrages us.  I can only suppose we're wired this way because life, the world, reality, is simply too much.  In the face of overwhelming uncertainty, we desperately seek some ground to stand on, even if that ground does not actually exist.


Neil deGrasse Tyson   Scientists: “We've produced the first-ever image of a supermassive black hole, 55 million light years away.”
Response: “Oooh!”
Scientists: “We've concluded that humans are catastrophically warming Earth.”
Response: “That conflicts with what I want to be true, so it must be false.”

Ariel Edwards-Levy   Poll: “A majority of people think X.”
People who think Y: “This poll is clearly wrong, because I think Y!”

Seth MacFarlane   Despite the (sadly effective) attempts by Big Oil-connected Republicans to spin climate change as a political issue in order to protect their personal wealth at the expense of the planet, it is in fact not a political issue.  It is an issue of science.

Carl T. Bergstrom   Destroying the country's scientific institutions because the facts don't fall the way you them to — that's like gouging out your eyes to avoid seeing bad news.  It works momentarily, but the bad news doesn't disappear, and now you no longer have the advantage of sight in responding.

Noah Smith   If Americans are going to be asked to engage in a war on climate change, they should understand the material and economic sacrifices that will be required of them.  A great many middle-class Americans own houses, drive cars, cook with gas, work in the fossil-fuel industry or related sectors, and live in sprawling metro areas.  These changes will require that the average American sacrifice more material comfort than a 10-cent gas tax or a $2 monthly electricity fee would entail.  The struggle against climate change is effectively a war, and wars require sacrifice, determination, and patience in order to win.


Arie Kruglanski  We don't trust the government.  We don't trust the Congress.  We don't trust the Supreme Court.  We don't trust the science.  We don't trust medicine.  We don't trust the media for sure.  So who do we trust?  Well, we trust our tribe.  We trust conspiracy theories that tell us what we want to hear.

Danny Faulkner  By definition, a conspiracy is a secret knowledge, and the thirst for secret knowledge is why so many people find belief in all sorts of conspiracies so appealing.

Scott Renshaw  Treating “that's what I believe” like a Get-Out-of-Logic-Free Card got us here.  Calling something a “belief” does not inherently make it worthy of respect.  Plenty of beliefs are based on lies and/or are dangerous to other people, and they need to be challenged as such, loudly and unabashedly.  The sincerity with which someone holds them means nothing.

Mark Willard   Challenging/mocking those beliefs often drives people even deeper into cult-like communities that push the beliefs I think you're referring to (Q, antivax, birtherism, etc.)

Greg Sargent   If these folks recognize no obligation of any kind to remain tethered to reality in depicting the leftist threat however they see fit, then it's a short leap to justifying anything in response to it.

Seth MacFarlane   The word “belief” is often used in relation to scientific certitudes like evolution and climate change.  This is misleading.  A belief is something you take on faith.  Empirical evidence does not require faith to be affirmed.  I do not believe in climate change.  I accept it.

God @TheTweetOfGod   Overwhelming evidence suggests many people choose to ignore overwhelming evidence.

Janine Ramsey   Mexico, politically, does not value scientific evidence.  Why?  Because it takes decision-making away from the politicians.

Allison Hantschel   Like any other cult, Republicans have conditioned themselves not to respond to external realities.  Bringing down a hellfire of facts and figures doesn't work because they simply will not recognize facts or figures from non-cult members as legitimate.  Same for appeals to reason, to history, or to basic human decency.  Citing their own words back to them from five minutes ago, when their cult believed the exact opposite of what they believe now, will elicit nothing more than a cow-dumb stare followed by a smirk because, Bwhahahah!, they just owned you, snowflake.

Neil deGrasse Tyson   You can't use reason to convince anyone out of an argument that they didn't use reason to get into.

Mark Twain   It's much easier to fool people than convince them they've been fooled.

Blaise Pascal   When we wish to show another that he errs, we must notice from what side he views the matter (for on that side it is usually true) but reveal to him the side on which it is false.  He is satisfied with that, for he sees that he was not mistaken, and that he only failed to see all sides.  People are generally better persuaded by the reasons which they have themselves discovered than by those which have come into the mind of others.


Mark Evanier   When someone complains that singers or actors or athletes should STFU about politics and just sing, act or play, it never seems to be about the singers, actors or athletes who support the complainer's side.

Steven Pinker  Left-wing and right-wing political ideologies have themselves become secular religions, providing people with a community of like-minded brethren, a catechism of sacred beliefs, a well-populated demonology, and a beatific confidence in the righteousness of their cause.

David A. Graham   American conservatism has transformed from a movement that believes in limited government to one that primarily prizes marshaling the power of the state to punish those who disagree with it.  The principle is straightforward enough: small government for me, but not for thee.  The cruelty is the point.

Earl Pomerantz   Conservatives hate everybody but themselves.  Liberals love everybody but conservatives.

Eric D. Snider   The thing about conservatives (apparently, based on all available Twitter evidence) is that they personally don't believe in anything except Stickin' It to the Libs, so they think everyone else is only pretending to believe in things, too.

Peter Wehner   Many consequential Republicans decided their best bet is to keep their contracting coalition in a state of constant agitation and fear, combatants in a never-ending culture war.  And that, in turn, requires them to feed the base even greater falsehoods.


Tom Nichols   As James Madison warned us, without a virtuous people, no system of checks and balances will work.  The Republicans have gone from being a party that touted virtue to being a party that is determined to destroy legal and moral norms in the pursuit of raw power.

brucegee1962   One of the things that bugs me is “You're just an atheist because you don't want to have to live by moral rules.”  From now on, my response will be “I think morality is crucially important.  It's so important that I don't want to leave it to a bunch of bronze age shepherds and carpenters.”

Heather Flowers   In Cain's defense, literally nobody had ever died before.  He had no idea what was gonna happen when he hit his brother in the head with a rock.

Josh Fruhlinger   You can justify a whole lot of policies with biblical quotes because the bible says a bunch of contradictory things.  It was written by a bunch of different people with different audiences and purposes over a period of centuries.

Mark Evanier   That's the trouble with so many people who claim we have to live our lives according to the Bible.  They don't understand the Bible or care to understand the Bible.  Whatever they want to believe is in it, they say is in it ... and if you argue with them, their comeback is that you're arguing with God.  They have to try that because they can't defend their views any other way.

Scott Renshaw   We keep acting as though it's possible to shame certain people into behaving like the Christians they claim to be.  They simply don't care about being Christ-like.  It's nothing new.

Sarah Silverman   Believing that hell exists does not make you behave.  Only an actual sense of humanity does that, and they don't got it.

PZ Myers   Do others, to achieve salvation, have to believe as you do?  Letting go of that idea will give you peace and the ability to truly love your neighbor.

BCC   Scriptural prophecy is much more about a call to repentance than predicting the future.  When biblical prophets predict the future, it's usually about prophesying the judgments of God that will come without repentance.


Eric D. Snider   WWJD?  Well, He certainly wasn't shy about telling people in power that they were mean hypocrites who were rotten inside.

Paul F. Tompkins   “We Wish You a Merry Christmas”?  Sorry, the people in that song are asking for material goods (figgy pudding) under threat of harrassment (continued singing).  That is extortion.

Eric D. Snider   The reason it's so important to say “Merry Christmas” is that otherwise people have no way of knowing we're a “Christian nation.”

Dick Cavett   “I just thank God I found that place to hide from the bullets.”  What would happen if the reporter said, “So God saved you.  In your concept of God, where was He while the others were being killed?”

God @TheTweetOfGod   Everything happens for a reason you make up afterwards.

Victor Wren   Why did the Holocaust happen?  Why didn't God stop it?  The traditional answer is “God has a plan.”  This, of course, negates the entire validity of prayer, because that is an appeal to God to set aside his plan to satisfy the needs of an individual.  If God isn't going to lift a finger to stop a leprosy epidemic, because that's part of his ineffable “plan,” what makes you think God is really, really interested in helping you find your car keys?  The world as we live in it operates in a way that appears exactly the same as it would if there were no God at all.  His existence doesn't seem to have any effect on what happens.

John Fugelsang   Abortion is the issue that gets followers of Christ to vote against everything Christ talked about, by talking about something Christ never talked about.   Christ never opposed abortion and never supported incarcerating women or doctors.  Yet Christians have prioritized it over everything He did teach.

Stonekettle   Supposedly, Jesus wandered around the ancient holy land, offering a message of peace and love, feeding the hungry, washing the feet of the poor, healing the sick, and very specifically preaching against the acquisition of wealth.  Two thousand years later, somehow that message was twisted into the Prosperity Gospel, i.e., “be selfish and hateful and God will reward you with riches.”

Ken Jennings   I'm always bewildered by “prosperity gospel” Christians.  It was a religious upbringing that convinced me that wealth was not only immoral, but unseemly.

Riley   It's so weird being raised by Christians and spending your entire childhood being told to care about others, then one day they're just like, “You're not actually supposed to care about others, you stupid socialist!”


Spencer Bounds   I have something important to tell y’all.  This will be upsetting for a lot of you, but it's the cold, hard truth.  Are you a fan of:  Healthcare? Public schools? Street lights? Military? Police & firefighters? Roads & bridges? Trash collection?  If so, you're a fan of Socialism.

Robert Reich   You know how you got your vaccine without paying a dime? That's how all health care could be.

Simon Donald   Capitalism: anybody can be rich.
Communism: nobody can be rich.
Socialism: anybody can be rich but nobody should be poor.

Jason Call   If capitalism is so great, why does it need to be bailed out by socialism every ten years?

Robert Reich   When I graduated college in 1968, the typical corporate CEO got 20 times the pay of the average worker.  When I became labor secretary in 1993, the ratio was 61-to-1.  According to a report released today, the ratio is now 320-to-1.  Capitalism is off the rails.

Stonekettle   When you elect business people to run government like a business, you're gonna get the business.  If you elect people who hate and fear government to run government, you're going to get a government of hate and fear.  Every time.  Bad government can't handle a crisis, won't help its citizens, and can only blame others for its failure.

Ian MacIntyre   Superman stories aren't a fantasy about how good it would be to have power.  They're a fantasy about what it would be like if someone with power was good.

Patricia Hazen   A country is not a corporation. It is a group of citizens trying to live safe, happy lives.

Jonathan Cohn   The incentive structure in conservative politics rewarded the ability to generate outrage, rather than the ability to deliver changes in policy.  The party that believes in government is so much better at it than the one that doesn't.

Elayne   They have no use for government.  They outright disdain it and have systematically and deliberately dismantled it.  The only reason they're in power is to have power, not to govern.  Power for them means enriching themselves and their friends.  It does not mean protecting and caring for their citizens.


Mark Evanier   What a total coward Trump is.  Everything bad that happens is somebody else's fault, someone's lie, someone's doing.  There may be a percentage of his flock that admires the lying or rationalizes, “That's what you have to do today to win.”  Winning is all-important in America today, especially Trump's America.  Of the many insults he hurls at anyone who doesn't support him, “loser” is the most frequent.

Anne Applebaum   Trumpism is really about the fantasy of unending victory.

Joe Koffee   I still don't understand why MAGAs love Trump, except that he's cruel and hates the same people they do.

PZ Myers   Ignorant, hateful people all around the world look up to Donald Trump as their hero.

Robert J. Elisberg   I'd suggest that one of the things Trump acolytes love about him is that he doesn't learn anything new, but is unshakable about pretty much everything in his life, no matter how much evidence to the contrary is presented to him.

Bill Maher   The reason Trump has an easy sell with evangelicals is because they're hard-wired to put faith over reason.  Plus Trump is the spitting image of the religious con men they grew up with on TV.

Josh Frulinger   He doesn't pay taxes because he's smart!  Getting around dumb rules that nobody likes is part of his rogueish charm.

Bishop Talbert Swan   Calling a Black POTUS — married 25 years to one wife with two children, no mistresses, affairs or scandals — “the antichrist,” but a white POTUS — married thrice, five kids by three women, mistresses, affairs and scandals — “God's anointed,” proves your religion is white supremacy.

VARIOUS   People voted for Trump because they were tired of being civil to people they felt deserved less than they did.  When confronted with racism and moral behavior, they prefer the racism.  It's not that they want to fix the immigration system.  They want fewer non-white people to come to America.  They want America to be whiter.  Full stop.


Matt Pearce   Constant demographic change is maybe the singular defining characteristic of American history.  No American has ever lived who didn't see their America die and born again.

Paul Waldman   Social change will continue, and older people will find it disorienting, as they always have.  But the conservative base wants to be fed that lie — that the right president and the right Congress can stop the social changes they find disturbing.

Geraldo Rivera   Psychologically we need the wall on the southern border, because we're scared that the demographic makeup of the country is changing.

Michele L. Norris   The Republican Party is determined to time-travel back to the 1950s, when white supremacy was thought to be permanent.  America's real future is more colorful, more vibrant, more diverse.

Shalise Manza Young   Saying you don't see race means you're not seeing people for who they fully are.  Claiming you're blind to race is to say that you're indifferent to the experiences of those you claim to be in the same boat with.

Matsamon   Racism is so American that when we protest racism, the average American assumes we are protesting America.

Victor LaValle   Black Lives Matter protests are essentially a national exorcism.  If seeing them makes you rage and shake and froth at the mouth, maybe you've got a demon in you.

Ida Skibenes   So, we have to accept Nazis marching in the streets because of the First Amendment, but kneeling players protesting racism will be punished.  Got it.

Mere Smith  The fascists sure get mad when the cops aren't hurting who they're supposed to hurt.  “They're shooting at us,” a woman said to a small group, her voice shaking.  “They're supposed to shoot BLM, but they're shooting the patriots.”

Chuck Modi   73% of white male voters chose Roy Moore.  63% voted Trump.  71% of white male voters chose Ted Cruz.  Basically, two-thirds of all white men will vote for any vile, repugnant, racist, sexist and predatory POS who will protect their dominance.  Before anything else, America's number-one problem remains white men.


George M. Johnson   It's ridiculous that so many men base manhood on the ability to have agency over women. Women are literally being killed because y’all can't take rejection.

Virginia Montanez   There are a whole lot of people on this planet who think kindness and empathy are emasculating weaknesses, not admirable character strengths.  We're doomed.

Sarah Beattie   I have an idea.  Let's take all the guns from the boys and give them to the girls, and see what happens.

BelligerentMan   Personal freedom is an important value for Americans.  But there's a thin line between “freedom” and “selfishness” and we've crossed it.

Tom Nichols   Americans now interpret freedom not as a political condition in a democratic society, but as a constant chant of “you're not the boss of me.”

Amanda Marcotte   Free speech, they argue, is dependent not just on the absence of censorship, but the absence of any consequences whatsoever, including criticism from others who are using their free speech rights.  However, it is a “right” enjoyed only by those on the right.

Mark Evanier   The ones I've encountered seem to think that “the government (or popular opinion) keeps telling me to do it” is reason enough not to do something.  I've tried to point out to a few that the government (or popular opinion) also tells you not to consume a lot of alcohol and then drive a car, but they don't get it.  I worry for one friend in particular who doesn't think he needs to get vaccinated. 


Virginia Montanez   I love watching people who refuse to get vaccinated get mad that there are plans to give special treatment to the vaccinated at cultural and sporting events.  If people refuse to get vaccinated for whatever reason, they should not be angry when those who are vaccinated get additional freedoms because of it.  Reject science, get rejected.

Keith Olbermann   The idea is not to mandate vaccination but reward it.  The market will take care of much of this.  If you need a $30 test each time to get into an event, but a $0 vaccine and $0 barcode will get you in, our natural cheapness will prevail.

Mangy Jay  We're not in a country like Japan where folks have a cultural sense of responsibility.  “I wear this mask with pride because it means I am protecting my neighbor.”

Stonekettle   People in Asian countries habitually wear masks when they have a simple cold, out of concern for others.  No one mocks anyone for wearing a mask.  No one cries about being oppressed.  Americans are self-centered toddlers.

Christine Pelosi   Neanderthal thinking is insisting that God, not masks, will protect you from COVID — but guns, not God, will protect you from crime.

Emily   I'm not going to be told I'm “living in fear” for wearing a mask by someone who is so afraid of the world that they need to bring a gun to Walmart.

Kevin Drum   In Trump country, where lots of people spurn the whole idea of masks in order to own the libs, you're unsafe even if you buck the trend and wear a mask yourself.

Stonekettle   Greatest Generation:  Mobilized the entire country to fight WWII.  Gave up all luxuries, stockings, butter, spare tires, new cars, appliances.  Kids collected scrap metal.  Rationing.
Trump Generation:  But wearing a mask makes me all itchy!  Waaaa!


Keith Edwards   We don't have more mentally ill people than other countries. We have more guns.

Eric D. Snider   I guess I believe that there are gun lovers who don't secretly fantasize about the opportunity to shoot a human being, but I don't believe it very much.

The Onion (satire)   Finding himself increasingly uncertain as to the purpose of his substantial cache of military-grade firearms, Billings resident Greg Carnes admitted Tuesday that he was unable to remember whether the 20 rifles he'd stockpiled were meant to aid in armed rebellion against the government or prevent the same.  “I got that ‘Don't Tread On Me’ flag on my truck and all, but I can't remember who that's talking about either.”

Gene Collier   From the moment I became interested in politics in the 1960s, Republican legislators have raised money and scared a substantial portion of their base with this ridiculous “they're coming for your guns” tripe.  There are almost 400 million guns in America, which means we have way more guns than people.  Whoever “they” are, they're doing an absolutely terrible job.

Stonekettle   The people who own an arsenal of military grade weapons, in case they suddenly decide they need to shoot down the government, are the very same people who think the government is justified in shooting down a black kid because “he had a gun?”  ?  Maybe it's just me.

PZ Myers   The governor of Pennsylvania says “These senseless acts of violence are not who we are as Americans.”  I wish that would go away.  It is who we are as Americans!  We've got a few perpetrators and a vast mob of people, enablers, who are fully supportive of allowing weapons available to anyone.


Middle Age Riot   When Republicans say “America first” they mean “white people first.”

Anonymous   When they say “we the people,” they mean “we and those like us are the only people who matter.  This is our country, and those who don't look and think like us don't have any business here.”

Robert J. Elisberg   When they cry, “Get out of my country,” I want to ask back, “Just curious, what makes it ‘yours’???  There are 320 million Americans here.  Why isn't it his or his or hers or hers or hers or his or hers or hers or his or mine?  You're out-numbered 319,999,999 to 1.”

Anonymous   The people currently justifying tearing children away from their parents spent the last twenty years insisting “every child deserves a mother and a father.”  They hit exactly the note Republicans are aiming for:  “Our children are the only ones that matter.  Those ‘others’ aren't important enough to worry about.”

PZ Myers   I was brought up to think that there were these important American ideals, like liberty and equality; that we were a nation of immigrants, this great melting pot where we welcomed the “huddled masses yearning to breathe free”; that Americans fought and died to bring freedom to others.  These were all lies.  This country was built on the backs of slaves, over the corpses of the native peoples.  We fought wars to open markets so that we could exploit others.  Revealing that reality is what drives those Americans to be afraid and worried.


Adam Serwer   For the past 30 years, the GOP has pursued a consistent strategy: Find a misunderstood or marginalized group, convince voters that the members of that group pose an existential threat to society, and then ride to victory on the promise of using state power to crush them.  They believed that picking on these particular groups of people was good politics, because of their supporters' animus toward them.  And so Republicans have conjured a new existential threat, targeting trans people, a tiny segment of the population that is nevertheless the subject of full-blown panic with a particular emphasis on “protecting” children, a familiar echo of their opposition to the civil rights of gay Americans.

Seth MacFarlane   I ain't too bright at all, so perhaps you would be kind enough to explain to me precisely how refusing to serve a gay person differs from refusing to serve a black person.

PZ Myers   When your online friendships are built on a foundation of anti-Semitism, an individual vies to be the most outrageously anti-Semitic member of the community he can be.  He can feel content that he has won the respect of his peer group.  Someone like me might feel horror and disgust and contempt for him, but he doesn't care, since I'm not one of his friends, and he despises me and my kind.

Lisa Chisholm   The entire reason that the right needs “alt-right” social media platforms is the same reason they need “alt-right” news sources.  Normal news and platforms won't tolerate the hate.

Michael Keaton   If you want to see a city that's far, far stronger than hate, you should go to Pittsburgh.  If you want to see a city that's tolerant, accepting, inclusive and compassionate, you should go to Pittsburgh.  If you want to bring hate, racism, prejudice, and division, you should go to hell.



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