Pity for Nathan Robinson

He read an article in the NY Times that praised Ben Shapiro as a “conservative intellectual” and “the cool kid’s philosopher, dissecting arguments with a lawyer’s skill and references to Aristotle.”, so what did he feel compelled to do? He read a whole lot of Shapiro’s writings. I’ve read a few bits and pieces of Shapiro’s spew, and then had to turn away to cope with the gagging and retching, so I’ve never taken the trouble to read it at length and figure out what rotting carcass of conservative thought he’s pawing over now — he was invited to speak on our campus by our College Republicans last year, which isn’t a good sign. They like to invite provocative idiots, so I skipped it entirely.

But now Robinson has clearly immersed himself in the Shapiro oeuvre, and produced a thorough shaming of the man’s shallowness and inhumanity. You’ll discover how Shapiro deals with the race issue…dishonestly.

What dispirited me about Shapiro’s approach is that he’s clearly not actually very interested in Facts at all. The role that race plays in American life is a serious sociological question, one that isn’t answered easily. But Shapiro plucks only the statistics that suggest race doesn’t matter, and pretends the statistics that suggest it does matter don’t exist. Nobody can trust him, because if he comes across a finding showing that incarceration rates more closely follow crime rates than racial demographics, you can bet it will appear in his next speech. But if someone shows that a white man with a criminal record is far more likely to receive a job callback than a black man without a criminal record, you’ll never hear it mentioned.

And then there’s Shapiro’s racism. He’s got to be aware of it, because every talk of his I’ve heard includes a pre-emptive salvo in which he claims that being called a racist is the worst slur in America, because it shuts down rational conversation (he’s very big on “rational conversation”, while not bothering with any himself), so pointing out that what he says is racist is inherently irrational.

My initial impressions were also soured by Shapiro’s casual bigotry. That may not be the wisest observation to lead with: I’m sure Shapiro would be very pleased with himself to hear me call him a racist. (Though Shapiro always looks somewhat pleased with himself.) Nothing could better prove his point: the left has no arguments, so they resort to calling people they dislike “racists.” And since he explicitly says that he isn’t a racist, what am I doing if not using the classic left-wing “bullying” tactic of dismissing your opponent as a nasty, bigoted individual?

But, well, I don’t know what else to call a statement like this: “Israelis like to build. Arabs like to bomb crap and live in open sewage.” (Shapiro followed it with the hashtag #SettlementsRock.) Arabs like to bomb crap and live in sewage. Perhaps I’m crazy. Perhaps there’s a definition of the word “racism” that wouldn’t include a statement like that. But since the statements “Black people are violent and want to live in sewage” or “Jews are violent and want to live in sewage” would both sound… somewhat racist, I don’t see how the conclusion can be avoided. What do you call a crass pejorative generalization about an entire ethnic group?

So not-racist Ben Shapiro can advocate a not-racist solution to the Middle East problem by condemning an entire ethnic group as evil, which is not-racist because you don’t get to call him racist.

Usually conservatives are careful to draw a distinction: they are not condemning an ethnicity, but rather adherents to an ideology, namely Islamism. Not so with Shapiro: for him, the problem is not Islamism or even Islam writ large. It’s Arabs: “The Arab-Israeli conflict may be accurately described as a war between darkness and light. Those who argue against Israeli settlements—outposts of light in a dark territory—argue for the continued victory of night.” Arabs “value murder” while Israelis “value life,” and “where light fails, darkness engulfs.” Arabs are therefore, as an undifferentiated unit, a people of darkness. Palestinian Arabs are the worst of all: they are a “population rotten to the core… Palestinian Arabs must be fought on their own terms: as a people dedicated to an evil cause.” The “Arab Palestinian populace… by and large constitutes the most evil population on the face of the planet.”

His solution, by the way, is mass deportation of all Palestinians to somewhere else.

And then there are his arguments that transgender people don’t exist, but if they do, they ought to be confined to an asylum.

Shapiro’s position on transgender people is very simple then. He rejects “the pseudo-scientific nonsense that a man can magically turn into a woman,” because it is no different than thinking an undergraduate can turn into a moose. Shapiro says that “individuals who believe they are a different sex than that of their biology are psychologically ill—self-evidently so” and has compared the idea of being transgender to his schizophrenic grandfather who thought the curtains were speaking to him.

But for a man who loves Logical Argumentation and would never “mischaracterize his opponents’ positions,” Shapiro doesn’t actually seem to grasp what the left argument about gender actually is, or what it is he’s actually supposed to be disproving.

That’s not enough? There’s a hodge-podge of odious nonsense that is quickly surveyed.

There are plenty of other points at which Shapiro has showed that his command of Logic may not be terribly strong. He loves Facts, but will make statements like “monitoring mosques is the simplest and most effective way of preventing terrorist attacks” and cite “simple common sense” as his source. He will look back fondly on the era of the Hays Code, in which movies that did not portray correct moral messages were censored, and state that it is “no coincidence” that many great films were made during this time. (Someone ought to introduce Shapiro to the idea that just because two things occur at the same time does not mean that one of them was responsible for the other.) The ACLU’s attempt to bring Abu Ghraib photos to light was “designed as a direct attack on American soldiers abroad.” (Again, there’s no argument here, he just says it.) Hip hop is “not music,” people only say it is because of “cultural sensitivity,” and it is the product of a “disgusting” culture; again, one presumes these are just Facts, not Feelings. (No, he didn’t like Hamilton either, and spent part of a radio show playing Hamilton and West Side Story side by side, like a cool kid, in order to show that Hamilton has “forced rhymes that aren’t actually rhymes” and has “no harmony, no melody, just rhythm, and this is my problem with rap generally.”) The Supreme Court’s decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act was literally worse than Plessy v. Ferguson and the case that allowed mentally ill people to be sterilized. (Shapiro believes the decision “said that the federal government can force you to do anything” because it can “tax nonbehavior,” though since there is zero practical difference between providing “a tax penalty for not doing something” and “a tax credit for doing something,” this framework means every tax credit is a form of totalitarianism.) Some of his arguments just make no damn sense at all: witness his contention that capitalism doesn’t mean the greedy pursuit of self-interest, corporatism does, while capitalism just means… I’m not sure. (Try to reconcile his statement that capitalism isn’t about economic self-interest with his statement that capitalism values people by their economic usefulness.) Or his case that socialism is racism because in capitalism people are valued entirely in accordance with their market worth, irrespective of race. (Shapiro has argued that shop owners who discriminate among customers would go out of business, which might be true if there wasn’t a huge racial wealth gap and no consumers ever preferred to patronize racially segregated establishments.)

Keep all that in mind if you ever have to deal with a “conservative intellectual” like Ben Shapiro. Those two words contradict each other.

I’ve heard of drinking urine, but…

injecting urine? No thanks.

It seems that some people have had the brilliant idea of treating allergies with home injections of urine, because there are antibodies present in urine, and therefore you’ll make antibodies to your own antibodies? What?

You see, you first eat the substance you’re allergic to, triggering an immune response. Then you pee urine that has lots of those antibodies (actually, it won’t be lots — if you’re leaking lots of protein into your urine, you have a problem), and then you inject 10ml of that urine, which will have a lower concentration of those antibodies than your own blood, into your butt, which will then make your immune system generate antibodies against your antibodies…oh, fuck it. This is just nonsense through and through.

But apparently it’s a thing. People are also collecting urine from pregnant women and shooting themselves up with it to help them lose weight, because there’s a hormone in it.

It’s human coriogonic gotrophin, said Iris McCarthy of Success Weight Loss Systems.

Never trust a Weight Loss Technician who can mangle human chorionic gonadotropin that badly.

Then there’s the gentleman who injected himself intravenously with his own urine, “to maximize his vitality and potency, as he had developed nausea and vomiting twice after drinking his urine orally”. Yeah, I can see how nausea and vomiting are unpleasant. Almost as bad, as the paper this story comes from describes, nearly dying of acute sepsis.

People: Urine is a waste product. Your body works hard to get rid of it. It’s not beneficial to take it back in, because then you’ll just have to pump it back out again. Trust me on this. Do not pump your butt full of pee. Do not inject it into your veins. Don’t drink it.

Christianity is not dead

An evangelical Christian declares that the death of Christianity in the U.S.

Christianity has died in the hands of Evangelicals. Evangelicalism ceased being a religious faith tradition following Jesus’ teachings concerning justice for the betterment of humanity when it made a Faustian bargain for the sake of political influence. The beauty of the gospel message — of love, of peace and of fraternity — has been murdered by the ambitions of Trumpish flimflammers who have sold their souls for expediency. No greater proof is needed of the death of Christianity than the rush to defend a child molester in order to maintain a majority in the U.S. Senate.

I wish Christianity were dying. It’s not. It’s merely reverting to its roots. The Christianity he’s pining for — a beautiful faith of “love, of peace and of fraternity” — only existed briefly in the minds of a tiny fraction of wishful thinkers. It’s as if he thinks that benign Christianity is the eternal truth of the religion, and that this recent controlling, selfish, faith of indignant sanctimony is a recent innovation.

Just go back to the 19th century. Christianity was used to justify colonialism, slavery, the extermination of Indians, manifest destiny (oh, man, Christianity is so tangled up in the very idea of manifest destiny), the whole European expansion. Christianity sailed into China aboard gunboats selling opium. Christian missions were planted in Africa to justify invasion. In North America, Christian schools were tools to destroy Indian culture. Yet now we’re supposed to pretend the bigotry and sleaziness of Roy Moore are an aberration doing great harm to the reputation of the faith? Only if you’re shortsighted and have no appreciation of history at all.

If you insist on more recent examples, though, remember that it was the good Christians of the South who lynched black men for imagined or trivial slights against the propriety of Christian white women, or that even today the Southern Baptist Convention opposes gay rights. These are not exceptions. It’s built right into the bones of Christianity.

I think it’s wonderful that some Christians have struggled against the grain of Christian history to try to build a better, more egalitarian religion. I would wish that they could succeed. But let’s be honest here: you’re trying to do so on a foundation of patriarchal authoritarianism, with 1700+ years of persecution and corruption as a tradition. If you really want to get rid of the hatred and sectarianism and obsolete sexual mores, the first thing you have to dump is the Bible, and then you’re not Christian anymore.

You also have to admit that Roy Moore isn’t anti-Christian at all — he’s following the Bible with more fidelity than someone who accepts modern ideals of tolerance and pacifism and the acceptance of love in all its forms. You just have to recognize that Moore’s religion is a bad thing.

I guess I just didn’t love my children enough

The callow young gentleman in the middle of this line of celebrities (I guess, I don’t know who any of them are) recently celebrated his 18th birthday.

His daddy gave him a nice present.

The party came to a total of about $4 million. And for his birthday gifts? The birthday boy received a full loaded blue Ferrari, an IWC Portugieser Tourbillion watch and a custom-made painting from Alec Monopoly.

Whoa. I betcha Donald Trump is giving the whole family a great big tax break, too.

Welcome to the world of wealth inequity!

A terribly backwards take on the Franken resignation

Ugh, New Yorker.

The case of Franken makes it all that much more clear that this conversation is, in fact, about sex, not about power, violence, or illegal acts. The accusations against him, which involve groping and forcible kissing, arguably fall into the emergent, undefined, and most likely undefinable category of “sexual misconduct.” Put more simply, Franken stands accused of acting repeatedly like a jerk, and he denies that he acted this way. The entire sequence of events, from the initial accusations to Franken’s resignation, is based on the premise that Americans, as a society, or at least half of a society, should be policing non-criminal behavior related to sex.

It’s not at all about sex. It’s about consent and respect. It’s about treating women as people.

If Al Franken had been participating in discreet wild orgies with consenting adult men and women, it would be fine — it would be none of our business, would have harmed no one, and would have been irrelevant to his position as a senator. I’m not interested in “policing non-criminal behavior related to sex” at all. The concern is the casual abuse of power, the expression of mocking contempt for a colleague, and the neglect of that all-important consent.

I don’t know why this is so hard to get across to some people. Your sexual behavior is personal and private, and as long as it only involves consenting adults, we shouldn’t care. It’s the Right that wants to bust into your bedroom and arrest you for your activities there.

Square dancing! It’s a conspiracy!

Why does American history have to suck so bad? Last night I saw this tweet, and it led to all kinds of horrifying crap.

You’ll have to look elsewhere to find out about quicksand porn*. The subject this tweet prefaces is…square dancing.

I do not have fond memories of square dancing. In my grade school years, whenever it rained (and this was Seattle, it rained all year long), our physical education classes would immediately devolve into a) dodge ball, or institutionalized, state-endorsed bullying of all the scrawny nerds, like myself, or b) square dancing. Square dancing was horrible and pointless. First, there was all the trauma of the boys and girls being separated and then told they had to pick a partner, which effectively meant both sides would stand paralyzed and motionless, doing nothing, until the instructor got fed up and started pairing us off arbitrarily. Then the horror began.

We had to go through these dance steps — “do-si-do”, “allemande left”, etc. — while listening to annoyingly bad music played on scratchy records. The thing was, no one listened to this kind of music outside of this class. It was the 70s. It was Elton John, Cher, Janis Joplin…jesus, at the school dances they would play “Smoke on the Water” and we were somehow supposed to dance to it. We didn’t do-si-do. We didn’t form lines. There was no choreography. Dancing was The Hustle, The Funky Chicken, The Bump, and the most coordination we engaged in was to know the motions for YMCA.

Square dancing was this alien, inorganic, antiquated assortment of sterile moves that had no part in our lives and never would. So why were all our schools united in foisting it off on us?

It was all Henry Ford’s fault.

Around 1928, Boards of Education all over the United States endorsed their square dancing program. Almost half the public schools in America began teaching square dancing and other old fashion dancing. Not only was this great exercise, but Ford and Lovett felt square dancing corrected the missing fun and teamwork that one-on-one dance lacked. Ford and Lovett felt that having square dancing in schools would help train children in manners, courtesy, and social training, a quality Henry Ford wanted to see excel in people.

It was state-mandated social engineering. Worse…it was social engineering by capitalists and industrialists. Under the influence of Captains of Industry, artifical organizations sprang up to convince state legislatures to declare that this was “American folk dancing”. Never mind that my “folk”, Scandinavian immigrants and other North European rascals, didn’t do much dancing, and what there was involved lots of alcohol (my father’s side) or Lawrence Welk (my mother’s side). It’s an incredibly fake attempt to invent a wholesome united American culture by a terrible, awful, no-good racist.

Yeah, that’s the dismaying bit. Sure, if this was a fake culture that was as authentic as Velveeta cheese, I could just roll my eyes and ignore it. But this is America! We have to imbed an uncomfortable amount of hate in everything. The reason Henry Ford was so keen to contrive a bland American folk tradition was that he hated jungle music and Jews.

Despite being progressive in paying blacks equal pay to whites, Ford sponsored country music events for his workers to keep them away from the supposed detrimental effects of ‘Negro’ music.

Why did Ford hate jazz music so much? Not only was he fearful of “urban, negro” entertainment, he also blamed the Jews for it. No doubt you’ve heard of Ford’s tome “The International Jew,” the anti-Semitic rants that sometimes get lost in history while we keep buying Mustangs. In Ford’s own words:

Many people have wondered whence come the waves upon waves of musical slush that invade decent homes and set the young people of this generation imitating the drivel of morons. Popular music is a Jewish monopoly. Jazz is a Jewish creation. The mush, slush, the sly suggestion, the abandoned sensuousness of sliding notes, are of Jewish origin.

Monkey talk, jungle squeals, grunts and squeaks and gasps suggestive of calf love are camouflaged by a few feverish notes and admitted in homes where the thing itself, unaided by scanned music,” would be stamped out in horror. The fluttering music sheets disclose expressions taken directly from the cesspools of modern capitals, to be made the daily slang, the thoughtlessly hummed remarks of school boys and girls.

Oh god.

I have two bits of good news though.

  1. Obviously, Ford failed. We all grew up on the “abandoned sensuosness of sliding notes” and “jungle squeals, grunts and squeaks”, and we liked it. Urban rhythms rule. Square dancing drools.

  2. The alt-right are going to declare square dancing the official dance of neo-Nazism. We’re going to have another reason to point and laugh.

Of course, if you happen to enjoy square dancing as a hobby and form of exercise, that’s fine, go ahead. Just don’t pretend it’s authentic or especially American.

Except in the sense that it’s rooted in racism, like so many American traditions.

*No, don’t google it! Your search history will be forever poisoned with stuff you don’t want to know!