What We Can Learn from Jon Stewart

Last night, Jon Stewart ended his brilliant run at The Daily Show, but not before delivering a short monologue on the importance of calling out bullshit:

Bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy. And their work is easily detected. And looking for it is kind of a pleasant way to pass the time. Like as “I Spy” of bullshit. So I say to you tonight, friends: The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something.

That’s essentially the skeptics’ mantra, isn’t it? it encompasses so many of our values:

Ask tough questions.

Don’t believe something just because an authority figure said so.

Trust, but verify.

When everyone around you believes a lie, have the courage to speak out against it.

Anyone can say these ideas are important. Very few people have the ability to act on them. That’s why Stewart and his writing/research team deserve a lot of respect: they were almost always at the top of their game when it came to exposing bullshit within politics and the media. They could spot hypocrisy from a mile away and expose it to the masses. They may have been comedians by trade but they were also excellent journalists.

It’s a skill so many of us value in the world of skepticism/atheism, too. We love it when James Randi debunks a snake oil salesman on national television, and George Carlin points out the inherent contradictions with certain religious beliefs, and Yvette d’Entremont details how the “Food Babe” is full of shit. Those are among our role models.

For many of us, smelling that bullshit is why we left our family’s faith in the first place. I remember feeling powerful, like I uncovered a secret very few people knew about, and I’ve spent many years since then trying to share that feeling with others.

There are plenty of times where we fall short and are just as gullible as the people we mock — I know I’m guilty of it — but I love being part of a community that appreciates critical thinking and the search for verifiable truth. It’s a high standard we ought to hold each other to at all times.

Jon Stewart may have signed off for the last time, but that’s what I’ll remember about his tenure more than anything else. His team perfected the art of exposing certain kinds of bullshit, doing so in a way that reached a wide audience, and making us laugh in the process. It’s the same foundation we later saw in The Colbert Report and continue to see on Last Week Tonight. It’s something you rarely witness on right-wing television, in church, or on religious websites, where tough questions are routinely ignored or rationalized away.

Trevor Noah would be wise to use the Sniff Test as his guide for what to cover when he gets in front of the camera.

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