Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on morals and manners.

Advice on manners and morals.
March 21 2002 2:10 PM

Seeing Is Not Believing

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For weeks there's been a big whoop about the letter from the man who found Holocaust-denier sites in his father-in-law's computer history. The following letters pretty much speak for all who wrote.

Dear Prudence,

Just because he has visited these sites doesn't mean he subscribes to their theories. As a curious person, I often visit sites that are antithetical to my own viewpoints. The other day I did a search for the "Flat-Earth Society" because I wanted to know what the kooks could possibly be thinking and what their argument was. It's a small-minded person who won't expose herself to readings she finds distasteful, silly, or even just plain wrong. Know thy enemy.

—Curious Georgette

Dear Prudence

What I don't understand is why so many people believe that if you read something, you must necessarily be in agreement with it. Perhaps this fellow is, like me, a connoisseur of intellectual dishonesty. Although I must admit that I prefer the site of the Communist Party of the United States (from which, if one knew nothing else, one would conclude that Marxism-Leninism is a vital force in contemporary American social and political life) to Holocaust-denial sites. But to each his own. The best thing about the Internet is that by visiting sites containing hateful things, you wind up costing the person or group that sponsors the site money. This is much better than when you had to buy their literature to see it and actually give them money. Imagine getting everyone with Internet access to visit some hate-filled site and then the slug who runs the thing getting a huge bill from his Internet provider. Ah joy.

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—George

Prudence,

I am a computer professional and often work on other people's computers. I consider what I find on them to be none of my business and treat what I find as a doctor would with a patient. If this guy spent more time with his father-in-law, perhaps he would know him well enough to know his opinion on the Holocaust.

—Sincerely,

Pablo S.

Prudie,

I think you should have mentioned in your column that visiting Holocaust-denier sites is not an intrinsically evil act. The father-in-law who visited the sites is probably just as sure that the Holocaust happened as you or I. Maybe he was curious about the arguments so he could refute them in addressing a friend who is dabbling in white supremicism. Maybe he is just curious about fanatics and their organizations. I myself have spent a little time studying cults, which involves visiting their Web sites, but I'm not rushing off to sign up for one. In any event, a person's views cannot be defined by the Web sites they visit. We should give the browsing father-in-law the benefit of the doubt.

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—Sean, trustingly

Prudie,

I know that if one were to "snoop" into my computer's Web history, they may jump to the conclusion that I am something completely different than I actually am. I often visit sites that are very liberal in nature (DNC, PETA, Greenpeace). However, my politics are very conservative. P.S.: I read each morning both Slate and the Wall Street Journal. I figure somewhere in between is the truth.

—Informed

Dear Prudence,

Please advise the next person who writes in after "not snooping" that prudence (the virtue, not the advice columnist) requires considering alternative explanations before determining that the computer's owner is a psycho.

—Cordially,

A Friend in Chicago