Meeting PZ Myers is like rubbing shoulders with a rock star, only with science.
PZ’s blog Pharyngula has, in a very short time, changed my life repeatedly. I stumbled across it at the turn of the year, spent a captivated few days reading post after archived post, and I’ve not missed a day of it since. Pharyngula gave me insight into a whole new world: one in which biology is discussed by ordinary people alongside actual scientists, where atheism is a glorious celebration of godlessness rather than a shameful secret, and where fruitful argument is the order of the day.
PZ proved that you can have your outspoken atheism and your job, too. So, change one: I started speaking out rather than try to slip under the radar. Change two: he was among those who inspired me to start this blog and speak my mind without fear. Change three: I now know that evo-devo exists, and it should prove a fruitful line of inquiry for a poor SF author trying to evolve her aliens properly. Change four: I found out that atheists had started coming together to effect change, and ended up feeling a lot less alone in the struggle against religious right fuckery. And the changes go on and on, right up to those that happened over the past week when my baby blog hosted the first ever Carnival of the Elitist Bastards and was fortunate enough to get an approving nod from PZ. That allowed me to meet PZ Myers not as some anonymous fangirl, but as the captain of the HMS Elitist Bastard, which I have to tell you is a change I liked very much.
Seeing PZ speak has changed my life just as much as his blog has. For one thing, I discovered he’s lying to us all.
He likes to claim he isn’t all that funny or fire-breathing in real life. I’m not sure how he gets away with such claims. Granted, he doesn’t shout from a pulpit like a Texas televangelist, but there’s plenty of fire there. Anyone who loves science as much as he does breathes fire. It’s not the fire of hell and brimstone, but the fire of the phoenix. It doesn’t burn (unless you’re a hapless Christian silly enough to try to take PZ head-on), but renews. It impassions. It’s going to keep me warm on a lot of cold nights.
As far as not being funny, well. The audience certainly laughed a lot in response to his incisive, at times diamond-cutter sharp sense of humor, so I think we can lay that self-depricating little myth to rest.
He is soft-spoken. He doesn’t shout. He doesn’t rant. He’s just implacable, which is a tremendous force all its own. Relentless logic doesn’t have to scream to ring out loud and clear. After watching him lecture twice, I have a lot of sympathy for his foes. It must feel like getting run down by a bulldozer shoveling an avalanche down upon you. I’m glad he’s on our side, I’ll tell you that.
His talk for the Northwest Science Writer’s Association is available in podcast at Real Science. I strongly urge you to listen to it. I’m not going to rehash it – others have done a better job. I’m just going to discuss a few points that are salient to me as a writer and blogger. You’ll filter his lecture through your own interests, of course, and it’s best that you do. Especially since what follows is based on my paltry notes and pathetic memory: it was a choice of relying on those or putting off this post YET AGAIN so I could listen to the podcast. Be warned.
With that caveat, let us move on into what PZ wants to see more scientists and science writers do: speak out. His students, when asked to mention scientists and popularizers of science, come back most often with Bill Nye the Science Guy, Mythbusters, and Marie Curie. Where’s Attenboro, Sagan? he asks. They’ve never heard of them. PZ tells us it’s our fault. We aren’t promoting science enough. And he’s right.
He has a list of what scientists and science writers can do to get science out in the public eye:
- Show passion and personality.
- Be a patient instructor.
- Be an advocate (and in this, he advises us to shun caution and avoid those weasel words that make laypeople believe that science doesn’t have any near-certain answers).
- Be positive.
- Argue Argue Argue.
Looking at that list in stark black-and-white crystalizes matters. I remember looking at that Power Point slide and thinking this is it. This is exactly what we must do if we want science to become something the public can approach and enjoy. Carl Sagan was nearly all of these points. So were great popularizers like Isaac Asimov, James Burke, and Stephen Jay Gould.
In an impatient culture, though, people often don’t have the attention spans or the time necessary to sit down with a good book and read it cover-to-cover. I think this is why PZ emphasized blogging so much during his lecture. He encouraged more scientists (and lovers of science) to blog. And yepper, there was a Power Point slide for that, too:
- Short form writing.
- Community Building.
- Consciousness raising.
He pointed out that science blogging is good practice for scientists. It’s good practice for any writer – blogging forces you to get the words out, be succinct in your presentation of ideas, and garners you immediate feedback that can drastically improve your writing. Blogs are also becoming a huge part of the new media. A growing percentage of us are getting their news and entertainment through blogs. PZ’s right to advise more scientists to take advantage of the power of blogs to shape and inform public opinion.
PZ, of course, is something of a controversial figure (particularly to those Christians who took advantage of the question-and-answer period to challenge him for challenging their beliefs). It makes perfect sense that he’d include controversy as a major part of his talk. “Controversy sells,” he said, and that’s all too true. So you tackle the controversies head-on. PZ stated that you’ve got to get something that gets people angry. A fight gets people on your side. People against you help you hone your arguments.
I’ve seen that in action with Expelled – I don’t think we’ve ever done better at getting the message out about what science is actually about than when we were fighting that noxious pile of dog vomit. I can guarantee you that people who didn’t give two tugs on a dead dog’s dick what the scientific meaning of the word “theory” was now understand it simply because of the negative reviews of the movie. Plenty of folks ended up on Pharyngula, getting their daily dose of science blogging, simply because Mark Mathis was stupid enough to boot PZ out of the theater, but let Richard Dawkins in.
Science wasn’t something high on my list of priorities aside from a useful tool for my writing until I stumbled across the whole creationist attack on evolution. A huge community of very excellent science bloggers and writers made got me passionately, angrily involved in its defense, and because of that, I’m learning more science. I can’t be the only person that’s true for. And that’s one of the reasons PZ doesn’t shy away from controversy. It hooks people. It interests them. Any good writer will tell you that – without conflict, there’s no story, and without a story, there’s no readers. QED.
But controversy and passion aren’t the only tools in the science populizer’s arsenal. There’s also the little matter of the cultural hook. PZ mentioned several science books that did a wonderful job promoting science by using pop culture as a lure:
I especially like the last three, seeing as how I’m a comic book advocate.
In closing, PZ had a startling tip: the most important thing about science, he said, isn’t its importance. There’s a tendency to emphasize what’s important – without science, there’s no cure for cancer, no solutions to the energy crisis, no flying car. And these are vital things, but PZ contends they’re not important enough to the general public to be the only hook.
“Never mind ‘importance,'” his Power Point slide said, thus shoving aside everything common sense tells us about what a writer should focus a science story on. “Science writing is all about beauty.”
“They appreciate the fact you’ve told them this little piece of something beautiful,” he said as we sat absorbing that extraordinary claim. And I realized, sitting there frantically scribbling my notes, he’s absolutely right. Carl Sagan didn’t spend as much time emphasizing the importance of cosmology as exploring the wonder and the gorgeousness of it all. Controversy and pop culture may lure people in, but what they’re going to stay for is science’s awesome beauty.
Science has too often acted helpless in the face of public apathy and ignorance. Every scientist and science writer who bemoans the lack of interest in scientific subjects among the general populace needs to go listen to PZ’s lecture, and start employing his tactics. Especially that last.
PZ’s lecture put me very much in mind of something Neil Gaiman said when I saw him at the Chicago Humanities Festival in 2001. “Being contentious is what you should be doing,” he said. “You should be shaking people up.” I have a feeling PZ would be in whole-hearted agreement with that.
He’s certainly not afraid of being contentious. In the question-and-answer, a Christian stood up to challenge him on his outspoken atheism. PZ never flinched. He’s unapologetic in his views and never, ever compromises them. “Religion itself is a lie and a danger,” he said, also calling it a “perilous short-circuit in our thinking, and we have to be aware of it.” Plenty of people are out there who can support theistic views, he said. He isn’t interested in being one of them.
And I have advice for the next Christian who plans to stand up and bludgeon PZ with the old “Science can’t explain things like love” chestnut: don’t. The results are brutal. I’ll leave it up to you to listen to that delightful little exchange on the podcast. But it can’t bring across the smile that spread across PZ’s face when that got thrown in his teeth. “Wicked delight” I think describes it fairly well. This was the smile of a gunfighter whose pistol has already cleared the holster when he realizes his opponent is not only a fumbling klutz, but shooting blanks to boot.
PZ is one of those incredible people who has the courage of his convictions. Whatever you think of him and his outspoken atheism, you can’t deny him respect for that. He’s a fabulous advocate for science, and he’s a rock for atheists. Along with the fantastic ideas for science writing, he’s provided me a stellar example of someone who won’t compromise his values for the sake of pandering to religious sentiment. Even though we don’t fully agree on this point – I don’t mind religious moderates so much as he does – I appreciate very much the fact that he won’t back down. He’s not one of those thunder and no substance folks. There’s a cannon in all that smoke.
PZ’s talk at the Seattle Society for Sensible Explanations dinner on Friday was a lot more difficult, and I’m not even going to attempt to rehash the biology. I could follow a good bit of what he was saying, but it was the first I’d really heard of the evolution of the eye. That means that, even with my pathetic little notes, I can’t do his lecture any justice without a hell of a lot more reading on the subject. Thankfully, PvM from Panda’s Thumb was there, and has a post up with links to some spiffy science papers on the whole thing. PZ’s also promised to post some of the slides on Pharyngula soon, probably complete with an excellent write-up.
In light of that, I’m going to play up the sizzle more than the steak. PZ promised he’d trash the Bible in his talk. I figured he meant he’d trash-talk it, but no – he ripped Genesis right out of the Gideon Bible he’d filched, and waved it about at several points in his talk. His point: the “science” contained within that page and a half is absolutely ridiculous. You can’t encompass the whole of creation within a few verses of awful poetry. He compared that page and a half to the reams of papers tracing just the evolution of the eye. That was a stark example of the paucity of science in scripture. “This is not enough to be talking about science,” he said as he rattled it. And he pointed out another flaw: Genesis talks about the waters and the fish, but where are the squid?
Indeed, the squid are MIA in Genesis. So much for all the answers being there, eh?
Someday, I hope he writes up a brief little tract on the evolution of the eye that I can hand to creationists who show up at my door. I didn’t ken a lot of the intricate detail of the evolutionary biology, but I grasped just enough to know one thing for sure: things would have turned out very differently indeed had an actual God created the eye. It’s complex, to be sure, but not irreducibly so. It’s complex the same way a very old city is. You’ve seen ancient cities that grew up organically and are a complex, somehow-functioning but ridiculous mess. Old streets get pressed into service they weren’t originally intended for, old buildings get absorbed into the new, and a lot of nonsensical crap is forced into making some kind of crazy sense out of necessity, whereas things would be a lot more streamlined and sensible if the damned thing had been designed and built from scratch, with modern necessities fully in mind.
That’s not a perfect analogy, but it’s just about how the eye is. You’re talking something that’s actually neural tissue – would any self-respecting God press neural tissue into service for seeing when there had to be better material He could have created? What about those crazy upside-down photoreceptors? Looking at the eye is like looking at a stoned MIT student’s attempt to design something with the help of a chimpanzee.
PZ compared it to a Rube Goldberg machine. “Only an idiot would design something like this,” he said after entertaining us with a slide of a Rube Goldberg machine for making orange juice. “The Designer was demented.”
Looking at the slides of how the eye works, I can only agree. And yet, the damned thing works. Evolution doesn’t always give us the most elegant solutions to our survival needs – much the opposite – but it gets us there. Somehow. And at least it’s never boring!
I’m looking forward now to digging into the story of eye evolution. I’d never really considered before how my aliens see. I’ve now got a plethora of eyes to choose from, and a fantastic one-liner to come back at creationists with. Everybody wins (except the IDiots).
wo lectures have also inspired me to add a bit more science to this blog: expect regular Sunday Science features from here on, complete with controversy and a heaping helping of sheer beauty.
So that’s it. My two encounters with PZ Myers of Pharyngula fame. And I’ve got the pictures to prove it. That’s me in the one on the left, there, and JC from the Seattle Skeptics group on the right.
Envy us, don’t you? You know you do. So don’t miss PZ next time he’s in your town.
I’ll be posting a write-up of my two (count them, two!) events with PZ Myers later on Saturday for your reading pleasure. He’s a fascinating speaker, a lot funnier and interesting than he’ll admit to. He’s also a genuinely nice guy. Being nice doesn’t mean he’ll compromise his values, though, and that’s certainly given me food for thought.
Right now, though, I’m coming down from an extremely eventful week, and I’m going to chew over some of the more personal ramifications. Feel free to skip. It’s all navel-gazing from here, I’m afraid. Well, aside from the shameless praise of my readers, so maybe there’s something in it for you after all.
Those of you who’ve been around here long enough, or gotten curious enough to click over to me website, know that Dana Hunter is a nom de plume. Possibly even a nom de guerre, the way things are going. I’m assuming the Seattle Skeptic’s group I just joined this week is also aware of this fact, as I gave them a wee bit o’ a clue in my profile (i.e., explained the above).
I’ve been introducing myself as Dana Hunter all week. It’s the name folks know from online, ye see, and seeing as how I was meeting PZ Myers as well as a fair number of Pharyngula readers, I figured it would be simpler that way. And damn it, I like my pen name. Those of you who know my legal name know exactly why that is.
The strange thing is, I’ve become Dana Hunter. I’m sure every author who writes under a pseudonym goes through this at some point: moving from awkward to perfectly comfortable with the alternate identity, finding that it doesn’t matter which name is given because the underlying person is the same. It’s just that one name is recognized and the other’s not. I’m sure this is going to get a lot more common – I already have friends I wouldn’t dream of referring to by any other name than the one they use on the internet. And at least this time, I didn’t have a cautious dad doing a double-take when his son introduced me under one name and he found out I was born with another.
This is also the first time I’ve been recognized by strangers. When I started this blog, I had no idea that was going to happen. Eventually, people coming up and saying, “You’re Dana Hunter, aren’t you?” will become common place. Right now, it’s a novelty. And a flattering one at that. Thank you!
I’m going to take some credit for that recognition – after all, I’m the one who writes most of the shite for this cantina – but a huge chunk of the credit is down to the readers. An author is nothing without readers. Some authors forget that, and take the appreciation as their due. I never will. I may not always have the time to respond to each of you individually, but I hope I’ll always manage to get across the fact that I appreciate each and every one of you. I’m constantly amazed that I managed to attract such an amazing community of readers. Writing is something of a reward in and of itself, but what I’ve always wanted is you – intelligent, engaging, and wonderful people who actually enjoy reading what I write. It’s overwhelming to realize that’s happened.
On top of that, I’ve roped in some truly brilliant co-bloggers. They keep this blog from degenerating into What Dana’s Pissed About Now. I hope you all enjoy their perspectives as much as I do.
So, I’ll go back to work on Sunday a different person than when I left. I’m one co-blogger, one Skeptic’s group, two PZ lectures, and one phenominal Carnival of the Elitist Bastards linked to by Pharyngula richer. I’ve become Dana Hunter. None of that could have happened without you.
Don’t you forget it.
My best friend from North Carolina is here, PZ wuz here, I met a group of absolutely delightful skeptics, and I’ve got a packed week, so posting is going to be light and probably of inferior quality, alas. I’ve got some posts in the kitty to keep you entertained, and I’ll still be doing Discurso for the political junkies among you.
I’ll be writing up PZ’s talk at the Pacific Science Center in the next day or two – Garrett will allow me to steal that much time away.
To all the people I met tonight: you’re awesome, I’m thrilled to meet you in the flesh, and there will be much more awesome fun!
En Tequila Es Verdad will resume its regularly scheduled intense snark in just a few days, with added PZ. Until then, thanks for suffering through the thin fare!
You, my readers, all deserve the very best snark I can give. I shall deliver.
And for those eagerly awaiting a new installment of the Carnival of the Elitist Bastards, folks are already putting together fantastic contributions, and we’re less than a month away from another voyage. Details to follow. Prepare to board!
…when you start dreaming about your blog? I had a very long and involved dream this morning that Blake Stacey from Science After Sunclipse came for a visit, and I was ignoring the poor man because I had to comb the internets for appropriate tidbits for you lot. As I remember, he sat nearby making very distracting snarky comments. And ordered me pizza. Thanks for that.
For those who are wondering, his intellect is indeed as formidable in the dreamosphere as it is in the blogosphere.
Do you bloggers ever dream blog-related dreams?
You lot have saved me today.
My day blew goats. Summer’s peeked in on Seattle. It’ll run away screaming soon enough, but today it decided to grace us with scorching sun, oven-quality heat, and the kind of humidity that isn’t really noticeable until you get overheated and discover your sweat has decided to shirk its cooling duties.
In this heat, I had to roll myself out of bed and venture down for an emissions test.
They ask you to turn off the air conditioner for better results.
Whilst there, I discovered that my tags expire tomorrow, not at the end of the month. So I had to scamper down to the licensing branch. In the heat. And humidity. And I took a wrong turn and ended up stuck in a New York-quality clusterfuck on a long, winding road that meanders along Lake Washington. In the midst of this, the gas light comes on. In a residential neighborhood. In bumper-to-bumper traffic that measures its progress in inches per hour.
I started sweating more. The nervous sweat joined the previous sweat’s rebellion and refused to evaporate, and I had to turn the AC off in hopes I could preserve a precious bit of gas.
When I finally stumble into the licensing branch, it’s bumper-to-bumper people. And it’s hot. And I haven’t had anything to drink in hours, and there aren’t any chairs, and I haven’t eaten, and by now I feel pretty pathetic.
I survive that only to get home and remember I promised my mother I’d call today. Calling my mother is a form of torture that would be banned under the Geneva Conventions, but is perfectly legal in the opinion of the Bush Administration. I spent a mind-numbing hour listening to stories of evil credit card companies, evil flu viruses, evil flu viruses killing a dog, evil meth-addicted neighbors poking sticks at the surviving dog and turning it mean, evil landlords raising rent, and then we had a segue into hating God but loving Jesus.
My sum total contribution to this conversation was several “Um-hmm. That’s terribles” until at the end of an hour I could finally work in a regretful, “I’ve gotta go – I’ve got carnival work.”
Thank you, my darlings, from the bottom of my heart, for providing me the excuse.
My headache and I went to bed, where we sweated to death and tried for a recovery nap. It didn’t work. My brain felt like those little stained glass beads after they’ve been sitting in the oven for several minutes: a partially-fused, misshapen mass that looks as if no good could ever come of it.
Until I started reading your submissions. They brought me back to life. They made me laugh, made me think, made me shout out in appreciation. And this is only the beginning.
The delight of being a host is that you get one of the first looks at the incredible range and power of a group of people with different interests and backgrounds coalescing around a common theme. It’s been a privilege and a joy, and it’s not stating the case too strongly to say that you’ve rescued me. My brain has been restored, and it’s all down to you.
Keep the submissions coming: firstname.lastname@example.org. We’ve got room for plenty more. And I can tell you from what I’ve seen so far that this Carnival of the Elitist Bastards is going to be among the greatest shows on Earth.
I really do love you, you Elitist Bastards you. Thanks for saving me.
(Postdated so everybody gets to play.)
Right, my darlings. We’re overwhelmingly for a Carnival of the Elitist Bastards, which must mean we’re all elitist bastards. ¡Viva los bastardos del elitista!
For those of you just joining us, or who haven’t yet decided to make your opinions known, there’s still time. Go here and weigh in. There’s room for more than one Carnival on this site.
And I do not want to hear, “But Dana, I’m not good enough to write for a carnival!”
Of course you are. We’ll have no more of this crazy talk.
I might hear, “But Dana, what is a Carnival of the Elitist Bastards?”
That’s what we’re here to discuss.
First, for those of you who already plumped for being elitist bastards, I’d like you to stop reading. Yes, right this instant. Go write down what you thought such a carnival would be, and then come back for the rest. Don’t let my opinions sully your original ideas.
Got it down? Good. I’ll just continue, then, shall I?
It’s always helpful in these cases to start with a definition. Being elitist bastards, we are likely elite, are we not? Here’s what the Free Online Dictionary has to say about that:
e·lite or é·lite
n. pl. elite or e·lites
a. A group or class of persons or a member of such a group or class, enjoying superior intellectual, social, or economic status: “In addition to notions of social equality there was much emphasis on the role of elites and of heroes within them” Times Literary Supplement.
b. The best or most skilled members of a group: the football team’s elite.
2. A size of type on a typewriter, equal to 12 characters per linear inch.
Somehow, I don’t think #2 works for us, but if one of you clever buggers just felt an idea go “ding,” run with it.
An “elitist” is defined as “someone who believes in rule by an elite group.” Seeing as how we expect our fearless leaders to have two brain cells to rub together, I believe that puts us firmly in the elitist camp.
But what kind of elitists are we? Thankfully, they have a quiz for that.
I happen to be a Book and Language Snob.
You speak eloquently and have seemingly read every book ever published. You are a fountain of endless (sometimes useless) knowledge, and never fail to impress at a party.
What people love: You can answer almost any question people ask, and have thus been nicknamed Jeeves.
What people hate: You constantly correct their grammar and insult their paperbacks.
Yes, that’s me. Hi, me. And what sort of elitist are you?
And what’s so wrong with being an elitist, anyway? The Washington Post, never known for its brain power these days, likes to think it has our answer:
Other than being called a criminal, a philanderer or a terrorist sympathizer, is there an accusation in American politics worse than being branded an “elitist”?
Other than being called a criminal, a philanderer or a terrorist sympathizer, is there an accusation in American politics worse than being branded an “elitist”?
The word supposes something fundamentally effete and out of touch, a whiff of brie and latte. There’s something about it that grates against our Jacksonian, egalitarian self-image.
Admittedly, it’s a fine line. It’s okay to be perceived as smart (Bill Clinton) but it’s not okay to be perceived as bookish and intellectual (Adlai Stevenson). And it’s okay to be elite. Olympic athletes are elite, as are Marines and Navy SEALs. But it’s not okay to be insufferably proud of your elite skills, which is just obnoxious.
Could we expect any better of a newspaper owned by Reverend Moon? Probably not. And that was a terribly elitist thing of me to say, wasn’t it? (Update: I just realized it’s the Washington Times that’s owned by Rev. Moon, not the Post. How silly of me. I wonder what in this article could possibly have led me to confuse the two? Apologies to the Post – you’ve actually displayed a little less fuck-wittedness than the average mainstream newspaper lately.)
Here’s how I see things: I think it’s time to plant a boot firmly in the arse of the anti-elitist bastards. I think it’s time to show the world that there’s nothing wrong with being “bookish and intellectual.” That, in fact, the world needs to celebrate more thinkers and fewer meatheads. Meatheads got us into this sorry state. Thinkers can think a way out.
It’s time we took the word “elite” back. Time we turned the tables on the “populists” and made their “anti-elitist” and “anti-intellectual” poses the obnoxious ones. What they’re basically saying is, people are stupid and enjoy mucking about with stupid people because they’re too stupid to appreciate intelligence.
I say bunk.
I call bullshit.
I think there’s all kinds of elites, and they’re just too damned afraid of being branded elitists to say so.
Is there anything wrong with preferring wine over beer? No.
Is there anything wrong with loving a complex, elegantly worded novel more than mass-produced, simplistic trash? No.
Is there really anything wrong with being so smart you need a bigger skull for your brain? No.
And what the fuck could possibly be wrong with being an expert in a field and knowing more than a layman? Absolutely nothing.
People like to spout off about the “wisdom of the masses,” but when the masses intentionally lower themselves to the mental level of their most intellectually deficient member, then the masses just ain’t that wise. I think it’s time for the masses to aspire to some of that vaunted wisdom rather than trying to flatten the bell curve with a sledgehammer.
I think it’s time we stop letting our culture celebrate willful ignorance and start promoting genius instead.
So that’s my view of this Carnival of the Elitist Bastards: we celebrate our cerebrums, jerk the sledgehammer out of the hands wielding it against us, and kick anti-elitists to the curb. We’ll delve into the delightful varieties of elitist and elite pleasures. We’ll wax philosophical and hold up the elite of our societies for praise.
I don’t think we’ll have any shortage of material.
But that may not be what first came to your mind when you decided that a Carnival of the Elitist Bastards would suit you right down to the ground.
So it’s your turn: what do you think this Carnival of the Elitist Bastards should be?
The floor is open.
Update: for more Carnival of the Elitist Bastards information, including contact info for yours truly, see this post.
This post could turn into a wankfest, and you should feel free to skip it.
Still here, eh? Well, pour yourself a drink. Pour me one, too. Make mine a double. Thankee kindly.
I’m enjoying this blog immensely. I love my burgeoning community of freethinkers, iconoclasts, Elitist Bastards, and philosophers. Putting together the Carnival of Elitist Bastards has been more exciting, fun, and deeply rewarding than I had any right to expect. The response has been immense. One day, I’ll have to have someone shoot a video of me jumping up and down in glee when another blogger signs on. Each and every one of you are precious to me. You’ve been my rope: before you, I was sinking fast. Won’t go into it. Just one of those crises we all experience from time to time, when another year passes and everything you’ve thought you’d accomplish has failed to get accomplished, and the niggling doubts start to chafe.
I blame Bush. Before his tragicomedy of a presidency, I was perfectly happy to live in an apolitical bubble. Had my writing to do, didn’t I, and no time for political bullshit. Didn’t know a damn thing about the Wedge Document and other such appalling assaults on intellect in this country. Before Bush, I had no idea just how far the neocons and the frothing rabid religious freaks had gone in their mighty efforts to destroy everything that was good about this country.
Bush brought that all to light by being so bloody outrageous that even an apolitical SF writer had to sit up, take notice, and sputter, “What the fuck?”
Eventually, the outrage spilled over, and ended up creating a blog, because I would have exploded if I didn’t do something. It’s not like I’m thinking that this blog will change the world. I know that I’m not a cool voice of reason logically and carefully deconstructing the arguments of irrational fools. Plenty of others do that better than I. No, I needed to voice my outrage, and I know that some of the people who battle this bullshit every day need that catharsis. They don’t have to worry about being accommodating or politically correct or understanding or civil here. It’s a cantina. You can let it all out, and use whatever language you like in doing so.
No problem with that.
And we have to get up a good head of anger, because we won’t defeat the voice of unreason with appeasement. One thing I’ve always known about dogmatic sorts: they’ll take your kindness, courtesy and accommodation and use it to brutalize you. You can’t compromise with the uncompromising.
This cantina reserves the right to refuse courtesy to those people who are so divorced from reality that they’ll see courtesy as capitulation.
I think the regulars understand that. When the opponent has completely disregarded all evidence disproving their reality-challenged views, refuses to even agree to disagree, and doesn’t understand the meaning of “live and let live,” there comes a time, after all of the civil discourse, when you find yourself with no other recourse but profanity, insults, and disgust. But none of that is aimed at the good, reasonable folk who disagree with some fundamental conclusions but have no trouble reaching an accord. In other words, folks who can say, “I’ve got my Bible, and you’ve got your Dawkins, and we’re all good here” have nothing to fear.
Thankfully, there’s still plenty of those folks out there. Some of them even fight shoulder-to-shoulder with us against the assaults of narrow-minded, anti-science, anti-anything-that-doesn’t-fit-their-absurdly-limited-understanding fuckers. They can see the dangers as clearly as we do. When you let power be taken by those who are so convinced they’re right that there’s no room other ways of thinking, other ways of believing, and other ways of life, you might as well bring the wood to your own burning.
And this all drives me crazy, because I am, at heart and despite the impression this blog may give, one of those people who would prefer to think the best of other people and would love to give them plenty of room to do whatever makes them happy.
That only works if the other bugger doesn’t decide that your scoodging aside on the bench means they get to take the whole damned bench. And the ground you’re standing on.
It’s gotten so much worse. It used to be you could just brush the buggers off the bench and get on with the sunbathing, but that ended when the far right got its grubby hands firmly on the reins of power and dug in the spurs.
Hence the anger. Hence the disrespect. How the fuck can I respect a ruling party that thinks torture is fine as long as it’s them doing the torture? How the fuck can I live and let live when the get-God-in-the-classroom-by-hook-or-by-crook crowd decides that their morality dictates the science my future doctors and researchers learn, not to mention which cures can and cannot be pursued? How the fuck can anyone expect moderation and fairness when our media’s idea of “fair and balanced” is to present he-said-she-said fights in the sandbox, without taking the very grown-up step of determining who’s lying through their teeth?
I wanted to be apolitical. I wanted to be kind, gentle, compassionate, and all sorts of other soft and fluffy things. Wanted to be reasonable and fair and erudite. And profane. Damn it, I love the word fuck and always have.
I wanted so many things, you see. And then Bush came along and let all of the lunatics out of the asylum, and I found myself drowning in this sea of insanity, and all I could do to keep from going under was scream out.
Imagine my surprise when so many of you heard me.
Imagine my delight when so many of you answered the call for Elitist Bastards and set themselves no less a goal than making the world safe for reason and intellect again.
You’re my hope and my inspiration. You make me believe that there will come a day when I won’t need to write so many diatribes and can pen a few more odes instead. We’ll be able to push the lunatics back to the fringes where they belong and give ourselves time for being and dreaming and enjoying the finer things in life.
You give me hope that we’ll create a world where religious strife, political bellicosity, and rampant ignorance hold a lot less sway than they do just now. You may never know how much that means.
Many years ago, I read The Authority by Warren Ellis and fell in love with Jenny Sparks. I live by her words: “Bugger this, I want a better world.”
We can make it happen.
We Elitist Bastards can help lift the whole world.
So I pull up Sitemeter tonight to see what my blog’s been getting up to while I’m otherwise occupied, and I come across a referral from a site I’ve never heard of before:
The hell….? Of course, I click the link. And get bludgeoned with this:
Elitists feel no guilt when they attack the fragile self-regard of the masses by using words of more than two syllables. They feel no shame when they display knowledge which has no other use than making the
average person feel inferior. They are a danger to the nation and shouldn’t be allowed to express their perverse thoughts in public. Indeed, they can’t even be considered citizens and shouldn’t be allowed to vote.
But they recognize no limits on their arrogance and insist that they have the right to speak up, just like normal people. One example of such brazen swaggering pomposity is the upcoming Carnival of the Elitist Bastards, which will be hosted at En Tequila Es Verdad.
And then she calls for a boycott?
I call on you to boycott this so-called Carnival of the Elitist Bastards. Ignore the elitists and let them fade away in ignominy. Show them the superiority of the average American; show them what self-esteem is really all about.
The sarcasm. Sublime. The snark. Exquisite.
My darlings, I think Connie M. (Catana)’s paid us quite a compliment. Add to that John Pieret’s beautiful, rousing write-up, and, well, wow.
We haven’t even got a submission date or a button and we’re already making an impression!
Update: Postdated to stay up here a spell.
I’ve a few ideas:
Carnival of the Media Clowns – wherein we bash the wretched state of the modern American media.
Carnival of the Elitist Bastards – wherein we enjoy the novel fact that we use our brains for thinking and we know stuff.
Political Sideshows – wherein we unleash our rapier wit and scathing satire upon those politicians who have proven themselves no better than circus freaks.
I know a majority of you are excellent writers – I read your blogs, and you blow me away. I know a good number of you enjoy bashing politicians – otherwise, you wouldn’t be dropping by for Happy Hour Discurso. I know you’re smarter’n all get out, because your comments here are always insightful. And being that all of the above are true, I know you’re probably frustrated to death with the overwhelming stupidity of our nation’s mainstream media.
So what say you? Up for the challenge? Ready to create our own three-ring circus? Any of the ideas above catch your fancy? If so, let me know, and we’ll put together the greatest show on earth.
Or at least one that’ll pass for it given enough alcohol. The Cantina is open!
This blog is beginning to develop a healthy community of readers. I just want to take this opportunity to tell you something: each and every one of you is precious to me. You give me hope. You give me strength. I read your blogs, and I see you making a difference, and that keeps me from giving up. You make me realize that we can and will make a difference. We can and will make this a finer world.
What we do is important. Don’t ever forget that.