In Internetspeak, a Poe is a person engaged in a "Parody of Extremism" (apparently, I'm now told, a backronym for Poe's Law), going on social media and pretending to be somebody from a group which they despise and acting out all the worst tendencies of that group to so absurd an extent as to fall on the line of opponents actively wondering aloud whether such extremism can indeed be real. The practice supposedly originates with people purportedly pretending to be fundamentalist Christians, belligerently expressing the worst aspects associated with that belief (rampant scientific ignorance, homophobia and other forms of theologically justified bigotry, resort to circular argument and like logic errors).

A Poe thus presents a most quixotic paradox. Since their goal is to present a certain degree of extremism, they accomplish this primarily by arguing with and annoying people who hold the position opposite the extremism portrayed, to the point of exasperation. I recently landed in some turmoil simply by pointing out the tautological consequence of this fact. Specifically, an Atheist and a Christian (or a person presenting themselves as a Christian) were arguing about religion, as these sorts are wont to do. And at one point the Atheist arguer became so upset by the apparent intransigence of her foe that she accused him (or her) of being a Poe. Essentially, that is, of faking being a Christian because no real Christian could argue as blockheadedly as the opponent assertedly was. At which point I, simply as a passing bystander, noted that, if you're an Atheist and you're calling your debating opponent a Poe, what you're really contending is that they too are an Atheist -- one of your own group -- and that you've been wasting all this time debating somebody who is an undercover actual ally, a faux foe.

This observation got me soundly cursed out with a rich variety of variations of the F-word (by the Atheist, the asserted Poe or possible truly fervent Christian disappearing instantaneously from the conversation at that point), and her excoriations quickly attracted an echo chamber of the like minded (as Twitter outbursts sometimes do). One of them at least suggested that if the other arguer was indeed a Poe, this would be a disapproved tactic amongst the larger Atheist population (his exact wording was "if a guy walks into a church and murders a dozen people, and says he's an atheist, you're expecting me to say, "Oh, he's an atheist, he's okay then." We aren't a team"....) which is neither what I was suggesting, nor what I would expect. Ultimately, it is perhaps simply amusing that the concept even exists for a person who attempts to undermine a position by pretending to the extreme of that position. In the end, it must make one wonder, what if *most* of the intransigent arguers on the Internet aren't arguing anything except the opposite of what they believe?

I feel constrained to point out here that the prospect of a person being a "Poe" is unlimited in pretended persuasion. An Atheist could as easily pretend to be a fervent Muslim or Mormon or Jew; a Theist could pretend to be a foully-dispositioned Atheist; and people of opposing political persuasions, or, really, philosophical positions of any kind, could as readily carry out such a subterfuge -- and end up only arguing with their logical actual allies.