Expelled: a Boon to Humanity

Nonono, my darlings, there’s no need to worry: I haven’t seen the film and been converted. That’s about as likely as me developing a deep and abiding love for my uterus. Considering I’d be first in line for a home hysterectomy kit, you can suss out the odds. They’re roughly the same as a meteor landing in Times Square and dancing The Masochism Tango.

Not even going to see the film unless Mark Mathis brings me a free copy. That’s right, Mathis: you want to convert my ass, you do it on your own dime, you slimy shit. You can send Mr. Dumbski down with the video – he’s the boil on the butt of my city, so he wouldn’t have a long drive. Let’s see how your film stands up to a scientifically literate layperson, eh?

I think we all know how that’s going to go.

But Expelled isn’t unmitigated evil. It’s an opportunity. And it’s been a boon to many sectors of society.

Movie reviewers have gotten their first real challenge in years: how do you review a film that won’t let potential critics screen it? Reading through the list of reviews on Expelled Exposed, I get the sense this is the first real fun they’ve had in years. No other movie has forced them to become spies. Not many movies present so many opportunities for mockery. Aside from actually having to suffer through the film, they seem to be enjoying themselves immensely.

Expelled has also led to a Cambrian Explosion of art. Let’s just have a quick survey, shall we?

In drawing and photoshop, we have the classic “IDiot…” from Decrepit Old Fool. We have the excellent Yoko Ono as Kali, Stomping on Ben Stein from Secher Nbiw. Quidam’s What? It’s Not a Copy, Ours is brown! Midwifetoad’s No Intelligents Allowed. And so much more!

In video, a plentitude of mockumentaries have sprung into being. RichardDawkins.net airs Sexpelled: No Intercourse Allowed. You can find FSM Expelled on YouTube.

Comics: Ben Stein’s Career Goes Down the Toilet. Win Ben Stein’s Intelligence.

Song: Bensteinian Rhapsody.

So. Much. More. This has been a mere smattering of the bounty, my darlings. A taste only.

And it doesn’t end there.

Expelled’s benefits to science could prove incalculable. The movie has tied Intelligent Design to religion with steel hawsers. Try denying it’s all about God now. It’s exposed the fact that ID is scientifically empty to a far wider audience than the Dover trial and any number of evolution sites have. It’s proven that ID has to fall back on lies, fallicies, theft, politics and pleas to the churches to get into science class, because it can’t get there on its own merits.

Many people who wouldn’t have given two shits about evolution will now likely be curious just because of all the fuss. And there’s an abundance of evolution sites to satisfy their curiosity. I’m sure an explosion of books, movies and lectures will follow. There’s a hook, now: in exposing the antics of the Expelled crew and the Discovery Institute, there’s a wonderful opportunity to slip real science in with the gory details. They wanted us to “teach the controversy?” Great! By all means, let us teach the controversy. It’s amazing how much science you can learn when you’re discovering why everything those assclowns say about evolution is wrong. Keeps it interesting, too.

We’re not going to reach everyone. Plenty of folks will be happy to pretend that Expelled is purely the truth, because it feeds their persecution complex and their deep-rooted need to be lied to. But there are far more who will be pushed right over to our side because they’ve now seen the clothes stripped from the ID emperor. There’s no pretending it’s science now. They’re not going to fall for fallacious arguments about Darwin = Hitler, Darwin = atheism, Darwin = evil. And they’re going to understand now just what it is that’s trying to sneak into their kids’ science classrooms, and I doubt they’ll like it one little bit.

This run-up to Expelled’s release has helped us hone our responses. We’re prepared. We have all the resources, wit and wisdom we’ll ever need to help folks understand the difference between science and pseudoscience. So when they come stumbling out of Expelled feeling bludgeoned by the rampant stupidity, we’ll be ready.

They’ve heard the lies. Now they’ll be ready for the truth.

And we’ll have Expelled to thank. How fucked up is that?

Update: Blue Collar Scientist has a fantastic compendium of reviews.

One Apology Down, 303,829,130 To Go

Atheist-hater extraordinaire Monique Davis has finally issued an excuse apology to atheist extraordinaire Rob Sherman:


Yesterday, State Representative Monique Davis (D-Chicago) called me from the Floor of the Illinois House of Representatives to apologize for what she had said to me at last Wednesday’s hearing of the House State Government Administration Committee.

[snip]

Rep. Davis said that she had been upset, earlier in the day, to learn that a twenty-second and twenty-third Chicago Public School student this school year had been shot to death that morning. She said that it was wrong for her to take out her anger, frustrations and emotions on me, and that she apologized to me.

Rob reports that he forgave her, which proves he’s a kinder human being than I.

I think this is a sad fucking excuse for an apology, and I shall now count the ways.

1. It took being named Keith Olbermann’s “Worst Person in the World” before she even bothered to offer an apology that should have been profuse and immediate.

2. It was issued privately, which is wonderful – except that while her statements were aimed at Rob, they hit us all. Christians, atheists, et al deserve a very public mea culpa. This wasn’t a private matter. The offense happened when she was acting in her official capacity. It’s ridiculous that she seems to think she can then apologize as a private individual.

3. This wasn’t even an apology. It was a fucking pathetic excuse followed by “I apologize” and it does nothing to solve the latent problems that led to her outburst in the first place.

The phrasing in this so-called apology tells me she’s only sorry she let her feelings out in public, not that she’s sorry for the underlying prejudice. Note the key words “anger, frustrations and emotions.” That so-called apology offers no understanding of or remedy for her (b)latent motivations. It’s just damage control. It’s spin. It’s pure fucking bullshit. But I’m sure she thinks this solves everything.

It doesn’t.

Oh, I grant you she fulfilled the letter of an apology:

1. An acknowledgment expressing regret or asking pardon for a fault or offense.

2.


a. A formal justification or defense.
b. An explanation or excuse…

But she sure as shit didn’t manage the spirit:


[A]pology usually applies to an expression of regret for a mistake or wrong with implied admission of guilt or fault and with or without reference to mitigating or extenuating circumstances. [emphasis added]

Without that pesky little implied admission of guilt or fault, her apology means nothing. It’s ass-covering. She’s just trying to make people stop giving her a well-deserved spanking. She’s not going to take anything to heart. She’s not going to rethink her attitudes toward atheists. She’s not going to take a step back and realize that such attitudes have no place in public service. She’s not going to face what her outburst says about the meaning of the Constitution with its Establishment Clause and prohibitions on religious tests for public office.

She doesn’t see how damaging her outburst is to the dignity of her office. She doesn’t understand the damage done to her church. All of this is manifestly obvious by that half-assed excuse for an apology offered to Rob Sherman and no one else.

And she can get away with this because Christianity has a stranglehold on this country, and atheists are god-haters with no morals, no PAC, and no impact. Everybody can feel just fine hating on atheists. It’s a total non-story.

If she had said “You have no right to be here” to a Muslim, there would have been an outcry. If she’d said it to a Jew, the media would have been screaming it 24-7. Same thing for a gay, a welfare mom, a drug addict, or any number of reviled minorities who still get defended when some complete assclown of a Democrat slips up. Even Republicans are forced to backpedal furiously when they let their prejudices slip that badly. Her apology would have had to be profuse, and extremely fucking public.

But she shouted down an atheist, and so there’s nothing.

That, more than her lack of insight, apalls me. It shouldn’t matter what shade of citizen was the subject of that tirade. You could have sat a serial killer, a child molester, or a Republicon in that same chair, subjected him to that same abuse, and I’d say the same thing I’m saying now: “Twasn’t right, and you need to apologize to us all.”

There’s that pesky Constitution again, you see.


Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

It’s the right of the people to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. The Constitution never, not once, adds “unless they are atheists, or another despised group, or unless the Representative is having a bad day, or if the theoneocons get in power and decide who does and does not deserve these rights.”

The right to petition is even in their very own Illinois State Constitution, in case you were wondering:


SECTION 5. RIGHT TO ASSEMBLE AND PETITION

The people have the right to assemble in a peaceable manner, to consult for the common good, to make known their opinions to their representatives and to apply for redress of grievances.

That’s right below the section on freedom of religion, mind.

To sum up: No public official has a right under either the United States Constitution nor those of the states to tell any citizen of this country that they have no right to come before the government and testify. And this is what I think Monique Davis needs to realize, and make abundantly clear, in a very public apology.

I’ll even draft a sample one for her:

“I want to extend my sincerest apologies to Rob Sherman, to the people of this great State of Illinois, and to all Americans, for the remarks I made to Rob Sherman during his testimony before the House State Government Administration Committee. My outburst was inexcusable. I apologize to those I hurt. I reaffirm the rights of all citizens to petition their government, whether they profess a faith or no faith. And I pray that I can understand and overcome the fear that led to this regrettable outburst. Let this incident give us the opportunity to reach out to each other in understanding and in hope, and strengthen our commitment to the principles of freedom this country was founded upon. Thank you.”

See? That’s not so hard. And it’s a fuck of a lot better than a snivelly excuse and a quick dodge.

Lessee… it’s been two hours since I started this. Let’s see how many people Monique Davis needs to apologize to now:

303,829,771

I’d hurry before that number hits 400,000,000, myself.

News Flash for Monique Davis: It’ll Only Get Worse

As the citizens of the United States still await her apology, Keith Olbermann sits up and takes notice:

It’s not every day that a Democrat earns the dreaded “Worst Person in the World” top honors on Countdown. Muchos gracias, Keith!

Illinois Rep. Davis’s antics have even earned her immortality in song. And a good song it is, although she can’t carry much of a tune.

Your own dear Dana has jumped on the email bandwagon, as a full week without an apology is seven days too many:


Dear Rep. Davis:

You do not represent me, but you have affected me as a citizen of this country.

On April 3rd, you told atheist Rob Sherman, “You have no right to be here!”

You launched a tirade against him for not believing in God. You did this not as a private citizen, but in your official capacity as an elected representative of the citizens of Chicago. Your behavior was utterly outrageous for one of our democratically elected leaders. And yet you’ve shown no shame.

No apology. No explanation. Not a single word.

You should be deeply ashamed, as an American, as a Christian, and as a human being.

I feel sympathy for you. I truly do. I can only imagine that your vitriol came from a deep-rooted fear of atheists. It must be a terrible thing to live with so much fear. But that doesn’t excuse your ignorance or your actions.

Atheists are part of your constituency. You represent them. You cannot do so effectively when you scream at one of them that he has no right to be testifying before his own government.

Atheists are human beings. We have a moral compass, just as you do. We live, we love, we feel. Our lack of belief in a deity does not in any way minimize our humanity, or make us dangerous to you. Do not mistake a desire to see church and state safely separated for the desire to destroy all religion. The vast majority of us have no issue with what others choose to believe. We do take issue with those who would force their faith on us. We most certainly take issue with those who would tell us we have no right to petition our own government.

I want you to reflect, and pray, and consider what happens when a population is dehumanized, ostracized, and condemned by virtue of their creed. I’m sure you have a basis for comparison. Christianity, after all, was once a reviled faith until it grew strong enough to oppress in its turn.

You owe your city, your state, and your country an apology, but you owe one to your savior most of all. From what I
understand of him, he preferred compassion to condemnation.

Sincerely,
Dana Hunter

In my copious amounts of spare time tomorrow, I will be compiling a list of news outlets and writing up a nice little email we can all send along demanding attention. Such outrageous attacks from elected officials shall not pass unnoticed and unanswered.

And if many more days go by without a heartfelt mea culpa, I won’t be in such an indulgent mood, either.

“I am Fear! I am Evil! They Call Me… Peaches”

I’ve spent years wondering why some Christians are so damned scared. I mean, from my brief excursion into the church, I thought it was supposed to be “God-fearing,” not “God, fearing.” Then again, fearing God didn’t make any sense to me either, so what the fuck do I know?

My Christian friends are of no help to me, because they’re practically fearless. They’re not scared of gays, lesbians, liberals, pagans, atheists, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Christians from the church down the street, evolution, epithets, the ACLU, sex, magic, rock n’ roll, video games, or any of the 10,452,867,983 other things that many other Christians seem to fear. So I doubt they’ll be able to explain what I sensed from Rep. Davis’s little tirade.

It wasn’t just contempt. It wasn’t just anger. It wasn’t just disgust. All of those things were there, but above all, filling my nose like a nosegay dipped in raw sewage, was naked, shitting-herself terror.

I’ve got theories. Maybe it’s to do with the fact that someone’s getting along just fine without God propping him/her up like the U.S. of A. supporting a useful dictatorship. That can’t be comfortable. Here you are, letting go and letting God, and there’s some schmo frolicking happily in the meadows of free thought. Manifestly not suffering. Suspicious lack of bursting into flames, or getting struck by lightning, even. Blessings abounding, despite the fact said atheist has poked ye olde middle finger straight up God’s nose. You toil and sweat and suffer through those gawd-awful hymns sung off-key at church on a Sunday morning, while the atheist lolls abed or plays in the park, and yet you both get an equal share in the blessed and the cursed.

No fair, eh? Makes one wonder, don’t it?

So yes, I suspect it has a lot to do with atheists giving the lie to sacred teachings, just by dint of living human lives like everybody else. But is that really all that leads to that vicious fear?

I mean, come on, ye faithful. God might just be biding His time, giving said atheist just enough rope for a good self-hanging, right? Hellfire and damnation to come, no? You’ll be laughing all the way to Heaven while Satan’s asking that dirty atheist “Would you like your damnation spitted or flayed?” What’s to worry?

Here’s a clue: “It’s dangerous for our children to even know your philosophy exists!”

Except… no. It’s not. Kids are indoctrinated brainwashed taught how to resist the siren call of those Christ-denying Jews and those Johnny-come-lately-to-behead-you Muslims and the they’re-not-following-the-Bible Baptists down the road. There’s less fear and a lot more sneer in those cases. So why are they terrified of pagans and shit-scared of atheists?

And they really are that scared. There’s a subset of Christians who just can’t handle the presence of one of said pagans or atheists.

It’s anecdote time. Settle in and grab your drink.

So this one time, at the library, a few years after I’d given up Christianity for a bad job, I was sitting on the floor in the stacks. Doing research, you see. Had a story featuring a Native American character, didn’t I, and I knew bugger-all about the Kiowa. So I had a bunch of books on the Plains tribes spread out around me. Books with titles like Red Power and Native American Myth and Legends. Which maybe should’ve been the first clue to the willowy young woman who came mincing her way between the shelves. But she had me dead in her sights, she did, and that cross was sparkling on her chest, and she was going to bring me to Jesus, oh, yes.

“Hi,” she said in this bright, quavery voice. “I’d just like to invite you to our Bible study class.”

Back in those days, I wore an ankh from Vampire: the Masquerade. Maybe that’s what made her ignore the fact I was wearing all black and sitting cross-legged among all those Native American books: to the untrained eye, that ankh looks something like a loopy cross. Regardless, I slowly looked up at her eager little face and thought, awshit. I had to think fast. My first instinct was the truth: I’m agnostic. Only, if you say something like that to a prostelytizing Christian, they hear I’m wishy-washy on the whole God thing, tell me more! I didn’t have time for ten hours of argument on the subject, and I had fresh in my mind the incident wherein one of my friends told some Jehovah’s Witnesses he’s a witch and got to watch them run away. So, in an inspired moment, I said in my most forboding tones, “I’m pagan.”

She turned sheet-white, stammered out “I’m sorry!” and ran away. Literally. Ran away.

I couldn’t fucking believe it.

I’ve mulled that little scene over for years. I don’t understand it. I have no idea why they can’t abide the mere presence of an avowed pagan. They’ll run from those, but atheists are a different story: we godless sorts make them act like cornered animals, shaking in fear and loathing and fighting for their lives. It’s incredible. Rational Christians, like my friends, just sort of roll their eyes when I proclaim my lack of belief, but Christians like Rep. Davis just go apeshit. And if you were really secure in your faith, if God’s really with you, why should that be so?

Is it because atheists are better with Bible quotes? Satan can quote Scripture to his own ends, right, so maybe that’s it: we’re literally Satan. But if you read your Bible, if you understand what it means, you’ll know that, Satan started out as just an adversary, and he and God liked to have a bit of fun at the expense of people named Job. Job clung to his faith with his fingernails and all was well. Did he run? No.

Did Christ run away screaming when Satan came a-tempting? No. They had a debate, and Jesus won. That simple.

So that’s why I don’t get this “I must run away before I’m destroyed by this atheist” mindset. We’re not so dangerous to people of faith. Even the atheists who like to try to talk sense into Christians can’t make a dent in strong faith. We do have fun trying, sometimes, but I’ve talked to many Christians who find it just as fun to turn the tables. I respect them. Those who are truly secure in their faith also tend to be warm-hearted toward infidels such as myself, and that’s returned in kind.

So perhaps that’s what it really comes down to. The most homophobic are often closet homosexuals. The most anti-atheist could just be closet atheists. We scare them because we resonate.

Interesting thought, no?

I wish I had a useful summation here. It would be nice to have the solution to all of the fear and loathing and bigotry. But I’m afraid all I can do is show a bit of understanding: yes, you’re terrified of atheists, and you lash out from that fear. That’s what frightened animals do. Rise above that or get the fuck out of public office, right?

In the end, we atheists may just have to revel in our status as a scourge worse than Islamofascisthomobabykilling freaks until time proves that the entire world isn’t going to descend into hedonistic chaos because we gave up gods. After all, it gives us the chance to quote Rocko’s Modern Life:

“I am fear! I am evil! They call me… Peaches.”

…and I think you’ll agree that’s pretty fucking awesome.

Passing Observations: All About Odin

Today is a good day for Norse mythology. It’s not only Odinsday (Odin = Wotan = Wotan’s Day), it’s the 9th. 9 is a number sacred to Odin. Nice symmetry, there.

Since I can’t actually honor the god with human sacrifice, as such is illegal (and would be a silly thing for an atheist to do anyway), let me just share with you one of my favorite bits from the Eddas:

The Lord of the Gallows

I hung from that windswept tree,
hung there for nine long nights,
I was pierced with a spear,
I was an offering to Odin,myself to myself.

-Kevin Crossley-Holland, The Norse Myths

And he did it all for knowledge. Fucking awesome, says I.

Look. Just because I’m an atheist doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate a good myth, all right?

Rep. Monique Davis to Atheists: “You Have No Right to be Here!”

And in reply, madam, I say, “Wrong answer, but thank you for proving my point, as well as giving me an unexpected dose of hope.”

I believe I mentioned somewhere before that I left the church not because science made me an atheist, but because other Christians did. Rep. Monique Davis (D?!-Chicago) is a shining example of the kind of narrow-minded, venom-spewing hate monger masquerading under the costume of God-Fearing Christian who sent me fleeing for the peaceful hills of atheism.

Here is what she had to say to Rob Sherman, active atheist and concerned community member, who was testifying before the House State Government Administration Committee in Illinois:


Davis: I don’t know what you have against God, but some of us don’t have much against him. We look forward to him and his blessings. And it’s really a tragedy — it’s tragic — when a person who is engaged in anything related to God, they want to fight. They want to fight prayer in school.

I don’t see you (Sherman) fighting guns in school. You know?

I’m trying to understand the philosophy that you want to spread in the state of Illinois. This is the Land of Lincoln. This is the Land of Lincoln where people believe in God, where people believe in protecting their children.… What you have to spew and spread is extremely dangerous, it’s dangerous–

Sherman: What’s dangerous, ma’am?

Davis: It’s dangerous to the progression of this state. And it’s dangerous for our children to even know that your philosophy exists! Now you will go to court to fight kids to have the opportunity to be quiet for a minute. But damn if you’ll go to [court] to fight for them to keep guns out of their hands. I am fed up! Get out of that seat!

Sherman: Thank you for sharing your perspective with me, and I’m sure
that if this matter does go to court—

Davis: You have no right to be here! We believe in something. You believe in destroying! You believe in destroying what this state was built upon.


And here is a complete list of the news organizations carrying the story as of 4:24am Pacific:


That’s right. One (1) (Un, uno, ein). Six days later, we have precisely one (1) news source all over this story.

If she’d been hating on gays, Jews, Catholics, single moms, drug addicts, lepers, Rush Limbaugh, or just about anybody else, this would have been nonstop news. Of course it would have been: she’s a Democrat (?!). A black Democrat, no less. Who attends Rev. Jeremiah Wright’s church. Doesn’t this just seem like a right-wing mouth-breather’s dream? But she’s hating on atheists, so it’s all okay. Everybody hates atheists. QED.

As it turns out, she’s wrong about that. And that’s why I’m not sitting here cussing up a blue streak, outraged beyond belief, calling her a bigoted God-blind fuckwit with the IQ of a small piece of asparagus (apologies to asparagus). That’s why, although I’m horrified by the idea that an elected official can tell a citizen of the United States of America that he has no right to be here without the media ripping her to shreds, I’m not calling her a dangerous fucking fanatic who is a disgrace to the Democratic Party and should be summarily removed from office. And it’s why I’m not focusing this post on the fact that she’s so fucking ignorant about Lincoln’s religious beliefs that it would be funny if it wasn’t so bloody pathetic.

Tirades like that against a person simply for being an atheist have absolutely no place in American government, State or otherwise. No American citizen should be subjected to such invective from an elected representative performing in his or her capacity. Americans would be pretty bloody stupid to cheer on this kind of foaming-at-the-mouth hate and spite and not realize what it means for their rights, too. Christians should be ashamed that another Christian – elected to represent the people – could say such things.

They should be. And they are.

I have, to paraphrase Michelle Obama, never been so damned proud of my fellow Americans in my life.

All of you. Atheists, Jews, Christians, agnostics, secular humanists, callow youth and venerable aged, one and all, you spoke out. For fuck’s sake, even the Conservative blog I stumbled across reading up on this incident shocked me – it was rational, decent, thoughtful. What the fuck, you conservatives? No sneering attacks that of course she’d say shit like that because she’s a black Democrat who attends Wright’s church? (Okay, there were a couple, but not many.) You mean you weren’t leaping to her defense because while she’s an icky black Democrat who goes to Wright’s church, you gotta admit she’s right about them thar evil, dangerous atheists? You seriously fucking sat back and looked at this and said, “It’s wrong for Americans, Christians and our Country?”

I didn’t expect this. I clicked on that link on Google because I was certain that here, here, would definitely be the attitude I expected when I first read this story (tip o’ the shot glass to PZ). Here would be the intolerance, the bigotry, the narrow-minded, gleeful “atheist got his comeuppance!” invective I’d been expecting all along. I hadn’t found it in the comments thread to the original article. I hadn’t found it on Yahoo! Answers (and that’s a place I’d given up on as hopeless a long time ago). And I didn’t find it at the Illinois Review.

Incredible.

I knew the atheists would get it: that what Rep. Davis did was utterly beyond the pale, had nothing to do with American values, and didn’t belong in our government.

But Christians got it. Conservatives got it. Joe and Jane Q. Public got it. For the first time in a long time, people seemed to understand what this separation of Church and State thing was all about. And that gives me an unbelievable degree of hope.

I spend a lot of time in this blog screaming at the stupid fucking people who want to impose their authoritarian, batshit-insane fanatical Christianity on every citizen in this land. I rip and claw and tear at neocons and theocons, agents of intolerance who are trying to burn the Constitution, revise our history, and turn this country into a farce of democracy. I do hope the rest of you realize that it’s aimed at a narrow segment. That segment turns out to be a lot narrower than I believed. And that is incredible good news.

There are true Christians left in this land. True conservatives have survived. Moderates are battered but not broken. And we liberals, we have room for the lot of you. Even the eeviiil atheists among us, we’re willing to find common ground. It’s starting to look as if there’s some good rational territory left for us to meet on where we can laugh at the fanatics together. It’s starting to look as though we can find things to build on together. Our differences can be accommodated. Sure as shit, we’ll never agree on everything, but that was never the point, was it? We just need to make enough room for each other, keep the intolerant fuckheads at bay, is all.

Remember this moment, my darlings. Remember that when you were faced with an elected official telling a citizen that he had no right to be here because of his lack of belief, you stood up and said, “Excuse me, but no. That’s not what Christianity is about. That’s not what America is about.”

Remember it the next time some complete bastard tries to persuade you that American government should do away with all that secular nonsense and open its arms wide to religion. Because if you don’t, I’ll be blogging about how some raving fundamentalist Christian was screaming at a Catholic, or a Lutheran, or a Methodist, “You have no right to be here!”

And I really don’t want to have to do that.

As for Rep. Davis: I await your abject apology, Madam. And I suggest you mean it. You have not only your atheist constituents to atone to, you have an apology to make to your Christian, Jewish, Muslim, agnostic, et al ones as well.

Enormous shot glass of premium tequila raised high to Eric Zorn of the Chicago Tribune, who broke this story, and who has one of the most awesome comments sections evah.

(Un)Civil Discourse

I’m hamstrung.

It doesn’t help that I took the knife to my own tendons in accepting Canadian Cynic’s “The CC ‘Canadian Dumbfuck Wanker Challenge.'” Yes, I know I’m not Canadian, and thus could have thrust my nose high in the air and proclaimed, “Well, I’m an American, so that doesn’t apply to me.” I’m a cynical liberal who likes to cuss a blue streak, and that’s all the reason I needed to accept this challenge:


For one day — Monday, March 31 — I challenge every single member of Canada’s progressive blogging community to be polite.

That’s right — from midnight to midnight, over the course of Monday, March 31, I’m defying every single left-wing blogger in Canada to be nice. Be genteel. Be suave and urbane, and refrain from calling anyone a numbskull, retard, imbecile, cementhead, stupid cunt or dumbass motherfucker, even when they clearly deserve it, just to prove that, yes, we can play nice when we feel like it. I don’t think it’ll be that hard. 24 hours? I’ve gone longer than that without a beer so I’m pretty sure my willpower is up to it. (And, yes, playing nice includes comments as well. No getting around this on a technicality.)


This is just too great an opportunity to pass up. I’d wanted to say a few words about words anyway, and then here’s CC, challenging us to use family-friendly language for 24 hours.

It comes at a time when some folks over at ScienceBlogs are wringing their impecably polite hands over PZ’s succinct use of the f-bomb. (Word to the Wise: if you visit the first link there, the true gold is in the comments.) There’s also an article exhorting liberals to make more liberal use of fighting words. It’s a debate that comes up with depressing frequency: should we, or shouldn’t we, be more polite when we call someone a fu dumba ret person who’s not using his or her mental faculties adequately?

I have to admit something: I used to come down on the side of civility. I thought you’d get your point across far more elegantly if you didn’t use – um – “strong” language to make it. Set the example by using reasoned, decent language while the unwashed masses were slinging shi poo at each other. Don’t sink to their level. Yada yada bulls whatever yada. Granted, I was a veteran user of the euphemism for intercourse, an expert in alternatives to “excrement,” and a blasphemer extradordinaire in private life, but I’d never stoop so low as to use such words injudiciously in a written piece unless it was dialogue or a direct quotation.

You can refer to my previous posts to infer that I have changed my mind.

There is such a thing as being able to use vulgar language in a sophisticated way. I indulge in that at times. Sometimes, it’s good to just let yourself go, and I indulge in that variation as well. There are times when you could use flowery phrases to state a position, but you could use a single curseword to much greater effect.

One example of that has stayed with me for decades.

So no shi kidding, there we were in DARE class, back when I was in high school and (according to creationists) dinosaurs still roamed the earth. We’re sitting there bored as a Home Depot overstocked on lumber, and our DARE officer is yammering on and on about the dangers of drugs. I can’t tell you what he was saying, and I was a law enforcement buff who was less inclined to tune out and start thinking about fu sex than most. You can imagine how little most others were hearing. But then, he says in this deadly serious voice, “I want to tell you something.” He leans over his desk, knuckles planted, and gives this furtive look around the classroom and door for lurking administrators. We all perk up. What’s he got to say that’s making him look like Deep Throat about to spill Nixon’s secrets?

“Drugs are shit,” he says.

I can guarantee you that if you polled the group in that classroom today, that is the only thing they’ll remember. It’s the only thing they needed to remember. Here was an authority figure, a cop no less, speaking naked truth in the starkest terms possible. It wasn’t just the word, although that was powerful stuff coming from a representative of authority in a suffocatingly religious community. It was the tone. It took an attention-getting word and made it stand for every harm drugs could do to self and society.

There are times when one naughty word is worth a thousand civil ones.

There are times when sinking a level or two is the right thing to do. Sad to say, many Americans (and I’m sure plenty of Canadians and British and other assorted speakers of the English language) aren’t appreciative of sophisticated wit. That doesn’t mean you don’t use it. That means you sneak it in with a heaping helping of vulgar tell-it-like-it-is language-of-the-streets in-your-face verbal smackdown. The pure intelligentsia and literati may gasp in horror, but they’re drowned out by the rest of the audience gasping in appreciation. And you reach a broader swath of people that way. Talking over someone is just as annoying as talking down to them, if you ask me. There’s a difference between being learned and snooty. A judicious use of colorful language makes it easier to avoid the snoot.

Then there’s the ridicule factor. You can patiently trot out the facts, correct erroneous arguments, plead for reason, tolerance and civility, and make a scrupulous example of yourself as a fair-minded, kind-hearted, open and friendly defender of science/liberty/justice/Mom. Some folks might listen, especially those on your side. But when you salt the above with some salty language, you catch the attention of those who might not have been listening otherwise. Do you think I give two tugs on a a flying fu a darn about Canada’s right wing? I do now, but it’s not because of some excrutiatingly polite liberal moan about the horrible lies and why can’t we all just get along and this is so terrible! It’s because Canadian Cynic’s snark is so delightful. And because of said snark, I now know that they have a Bush II clone in office, they have a right wing that gives ours a run for their money on lies, corruption and destructiveness, and that if progressives everywhere don’t grow a pair, this is all we can hope for the world over: that the authoritarian sadists will allow us a dab of Vasoline before they bend us over.

Snark breeds awareness, my darlings. Don’t you forget it.

“But we need to set an example,” I hear some folks whine. Of course we do. That’s why some of us will be iconoclastic, outrageous, generally, perhaps charmingly but above all relentlessly offensive.

This accomplishes several things.

It gets attention.

Far from drowning out the voices of moderation, it can highlight them. I can imagine some folks turning to the likes of Nisbett, Moody et al in relief after getting their ears sandblasted by PZ Myers, Dawkins et al. Face it, friends: if you didn’t ha
ve radicals to blush about, how much would you have in common with the moderates on the right who are busy blushing over the shenanigans of their own embarrassing relations?

It shows folks that you can stand out from the crowd and survive.

That last bit’s important, and I’ll tell you why: Bob Altemeyer. He did a study on authoritarian followers (i.e., the 30% or so who swallow every lie the neocons and theocons feed them and keep swallowing no matter how many times wiser folk have proven they’re drinking poison). You should read it if you’ve run out of horror novels. But anyway, he did some studies, and found that a good majority of us will follow authority. And if there’s not someone else there setting an example in defying said authority, that majority gets scary huge.

However:


Often one person can steel another, and another and another, until many are working together. You don’t have to form a majority to have an effect. Two or three people speaking out can sometimes get a school board, a church board, a board of aldermen to reconsider authoritarian
actions. Lack of any opposition teaches bullies simply to go for more. But it takes one person, an individual, to start the opposition. [The Authoritarians (pdf) page 244]


See there? We need to act out for the good of society!

All right, so he has other points that tend to counter mine in that list of suggestions for changing hearts and minds, but he’s talking about courting the 30-percenters, and I’m talking about swaying the people who aren’t sure which voice to follow: the one that says “You must obey authority!” or the one that says, “They’re [expletive deleted] getting us killed, you [asperation on addressee's intelligence deleted]! Sod this for a game of larks Forget them!”

John Dolan has it just about right in his article “How to Humiliate – and Convert – a Right-Winger”:


A good first step would be accepting the fact that language is a weapon — and then start using it effectively. Most liberals affect scorn for mere words, in the way that I affected scorn for mathematics after flunking algebra twice in high schools. And most of the hardcore academic progressives I’ve known have tin ears. Their sheer awfulness is adaptive within the academic ghetto, in the way that a lack of any olfactory ability is adaptive for carrion eaters; but it’s disastrous when they try to talk to people outside their guild.


He goes on to say much the same thing John Douglas did when speaking of serial killers – when we give more respect than is due, when we elevate them by calling them “John Wayne Gacy” instead of “that sick bastard who killed all those kids,” when we don’t denegrate, we make them glamorous rather than horrifying. He advocated digging through their past for humiliating nicknames and using other such means to minimize and despise them.

Yes. Yes! Granted, right-wingers, creationists, theocons and neocons and all of the other plagues on democracy and reason aren’t serial killers, but they are bullies, and you don’t win a bully’s respect by whining about fairness and decency. You put a stop to him by putting him down. PZ Myers has it right – point and laugh. Ridicule. Debunk. It’s a sad fact that people respond to negative attacks more readily than reasoned discourse, but they do. The bards in Ireland were feared by kings because of their power to make people laugh. Reducing your opponent, destroying his prestige, works.

I plan to use the language as a weapon. I’ll use all weapons at my disposal: satire, parody, reason, rhetoric, logic, and the foulest of foul language. Let others be the diplomats. I’ll even be diplomatic, when the situation calls for it, but diplomacy without fighting spirit comes across as being a snivelling pansy, and we all know how much that impresses people, don’t we?

There are times when a judicious application of (un)civil discourse can go a long way. These are those times. And I cannot fuc friggin wait until April 1st…

Roots

Just so we’re clear: I’m one of those pathetic Americans who speaks a few words of español, a smattering more français, and for seasoning can add a greeting or two in Japanese, German, Russian, and sundry other languages. But I’m sadly unilingual.

So why all the Spanish? Why not just celebrate my native tongue, unadulterated by others?

Well, there’s reasons. For one, English isn’t English so much as a hodge-podge of assorted borrowed, begged, pilfered, filched, and impounded words from a great many languages. I’ve never tried this experiment, but I’d be very interested to see what would happen if you reduced the dictionary to pure English-origin words. We’d have, what, about a handful left? So I’m just carrying on the grand English tradition of appropriating whatever catches my fancy at the time.

Then there’s the fact I grew up in the Southwest. Rather hard to avoid appending a word or two of Spanish down there. “¿Cómo estás?” becomes just as habitual as “how’re you?” Your horizons expand beyond “enchilada” and “taco” by default.

So it’s funny that I used to hate Spanish. Or maybe not. Familiarity breeds contempt and all that. I took French in high school instead. Je parle un petit pous français, très mal, and now I wish I’d taken Spanish, because I’ve fallen in love with it. And now that I’m without it, I suffer.

I love the Northwest, I truly do, but a part of me will always miss the Desert Southwest. I miss the border culture, where Mexican and American intermingle so much that it becomes hard to tell where one ends and the other begins. There’s a latino community up here, true, but it’s not yet so pervasive. If I try to tell the joke about why the Chevy Nova didn’t sell in Mexico, I have to explain it. I can’t just say, “Because it’s a no va!” and get a gale of laughter. No, I have to murder the punchline by adding, after the blank pause, “no va is Spanish for ‘doesn’t go'”.

I miss Cinco de Mayo and Mexican flags and restaurants where all you hear is rapid-fire Spanish.

I miss being so close to Puerto Peñasco, where Roger Clyne and the Peacemakers throw Circus Mexicus twice a year.

And these are the reasons this blog will have such a heaping helping of Spanish words and phrases. Just in case you were wondering. Look, I provided you with a link to Babelfish if it gets too much. And hey, maybe this would be a good time to think about your roots, too. What’s in your history that you celebrate?

Just a thought.