The amazing Science Junkie — one of the Palace’s many tens of loyal readers — recently sent us several missives containing a number of interesting links. Science Junkie frequently provides this valuable service to the Palace, free of charge, and incredibly valuable dialog often ensues. (I can say without reservation that incredibly valuable dialog is one of the greatest joys of having many tens of loyal readers in the first place. I highly recommend it.) In one recent exchange, I found myself inspired to reply in such a way that when I was finished writing it, I realized the response amounted more or less to a blog post. In other cases, I almost certainly would have done the same had I found the time to reply with anything more than a brief expression of sincere gratitude.
Just so we are crystal clear, I would never post here any personal or private content that may (or may not! ha!) occur in offline exchanges between the Palace and its loyal readers. But inspiring blog fodder doesn’t just grow on trees, people. You have to take it where you find it. This is why I told Science Junkie last evening “you’ve sent me so many great links recently that I’m about to do a Science Junkie ‘guest post’ on my blog.” Shameless, aren’t I? So without further ado, I now present:
My Commentary on Science Junkie’s Awesome Links.
They Fucking Hate You. John Cole of Balloon Juice infamy is an entertaining and interesting writer — and at times an infuriating one, to be sure. I have loved him ever since this, which was then and remains to this day the Gold Standard of personal accountability for any writer, in my view. In They Fucking Hate You, the ex-wingnut ‘splains what students of Conservative Personality Disorder already know all to well: hate, specifically hate for “the Other,” motivates right-wing conservatives. Hate is usually nothing more than a mask for naked fear, and fear has long been understood (pdf) as a generator of that particular brand of batshit-flavored insanity known as “right-wing conservatism.” It is my fervent hope that as more and more is understood about the fear/hate mechanism, the Big Scary Hate Mask will ultimately shrivel in the eyes of the American public and appear more and more like the tiny, pathetically embarrassing fig leaf that it actually is. Then we can all shame, mock and marginalize it into hiding in the shadows and under the rocks, where racism went before it and sexism will hopefully follow. But as I told Science Junkie, hate has always been the hardest thing for me to understand about conservatism. I can only really relate to it in the sense that I “hate” pro football, violence and war, mosquitoes, and a thousand other things. But to have inside me a roiling cesspool of instinctual hatred for other people for no reason except their “other”-ness? I honestly cannot begin to fathom what it would be like to live that way. And I really don’t want to know. For better or worse, though, conservatives have been teaching me a great deal about hate: I am learning to hate them back. I am learning how to deliberately resist my instinctual inclination to empathize, and to consciously reject the demonstrable fact that no matter the circumstances of our birth or the courses our lives might take, as human beings we are one tribe sharing vastly more in common with each other than not. And yes, in my case this fledgeling hatred is entirely based on a well-founded fear of the hell-on-earth that engulfs the land like wildfire whenever and wherever right-wing conservatism obtains political power and societal support. The difference, I think, is that I have to work very hard to feel anything even remotely like that kind of hate, whereas for CPD cases it comes as easily as breathing. John Cole says this:
They fucking hate you. They want you, and everyone who speaks for you, and every institution that represents your values, whether it be Planned Parenthood or food banks or ACORN- you name it. They want it destroyed.
I just do not understand why more people do not recognize this. The Republicans have declared total war on America, and people are responding like this is politics as usual. It isn’t. It really isn’t.
I submit that the reason more people do not recognize this is that they simply cannot fathom this hatred. They experience nothing like it in their own lives, except under aberrant and fleeting circumstances. It is not in their nature to experience the entire world through this lens, and so they unthinkingly project their own non-hating nature onto right-wing conservatives who do not share it. Cole’s often-crude musings may not be to everyone’s taste (“I don’t suck dick, but I might give a reach around when I read shit like that, because so many people just don’t get it at all.”), but what he has to say is well worth savoring.
“It’s Part of their Culture” – Reading Nick Cohen in the light of the Jaipur affair. While I am still bitterly disappointed with Richard Dawkins (for reasons I allude to briefly here, and which are beautifully elucidated by Liss at Shakesville here), the man often makes an excellent point. Unfortunately, the one he makes at this link is not one of them.
Throughout the piece, Dawkins mentions numerous instances where fundamentalists have made credible violent threats, such as those visited upon the Jaipur Literary Festival he recently attended in India: the Danish cartoons uproar, Theo Van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi-Ali, a book publisher receiving death threats, and even “the Papal Nuncio who, in 1580, encouraged Englishmen to murder Queen Elizabeth because she was ‘the cause of so much injury to the Catholic faith . . .'” He lambasts what he deems “woolly, liberal accommodationism,” and approvingly cites Nick Cohen (quoting Robert Hughes) on the “hypocritical double standard of liberal academics” for kowtowing to such threats in a cowardly and patronizing way. He offers two possible reasons one might give for this kowtowing:
1. I shall give in to your demands to suppress freedom of speech, purely because I fear your threats. But don’t for one nanosecond confuse fear with respect. I do not respect you, I despise you and everything you stand for – especially given that your faith is apparently so weak in argument that it requires violent threats to shore it up.
It seems to me that there is nothing reprehensible in such a response. It is not cowardly, simply prudent…But the same cannot be said of the following:
2. I shall give in to you because I know that freedom of speech is not part of your culture. Who am I to impose Western, colonialist, paternalistic ideas like freedom of speech on your very different and equally valuable culture? Of course your ‘hurt’ and ‘offence’ should take precedence over our purely Western preoccupation with freedom of speech, and of course we’ll cancel the video link [of Salman Rushdie, whom the fanatics were up-in-arms about].
After noting that no one spells out this second rationale in such explicit terms, Dawkins nevertheless concludes — based on what evidence or reasoning, he does not say — that the spiel at number 2 is the subtext underlying a whole lot of “woolly, liberal accommodationism” of violent fundamentalist extremism.
No liberal I know of would not be outraged at the German judge who denied a Moroccan-born woman the divorce she sought on the grounds that the Koran permits husbands to beat their wives. And yet, this is the example Dawkins describes as the closest approach he knows of to someone explicitly spelling out reason 2. I think Dawkins completely misreads what is going on here. Allow me to invoke the late, great William of Ockham: What is a more likely explanation? That (a) this judge was loathe to impose Western, liberal ideas like “we’ll grant your wife a divorce if you beat her up” out of some misplaced, wooly-headed deference to the husband’s wife-beating religious culture, or (b) the judge was a misogynist fuckwit, whose ruling was perfectly in line with a long, dismal, conservative Christian cultural tradition in Germany? And no, it matters not one whit that this judge is a woman: some of the worst misogynists imaginable are women. The point is that liberals are, generally speaking, fucking appalled at behavior like that exhibited by this German judge.
No, there is something else going on here, something Dawkins either has not considered or perhaps dismisses outright, without ever having explained why (at least not to my knowledge). As I explained in a long, blathering rant to Science Junkie — a long, blathering rant that I shall now inflict upon you, if you would be so kind to indulge me — it is important to remember a couple things when examining and critiquing liberalism. First, liberals’ instinctual live-and-let-live worldview is fine, but only up to a point. It is better than fine, actually: it distills to “freedom” in its purest essence. But where behavior crosses a line into something illegal, harmful, or highly destructive — such as death threats or the like — by those who have no desire (or ability?) to live-and-let-live themselves (i.e., conservatives) it is the very antithesis of liberalism to make excuses and justifications for such behavior and to allow it to continue unchecked.
I see vivid parallels between the violent Islamist backlashes like those Dawkins describes and the conservative onslaught of the last 30 years in American political culture. In a sense, with respect to both of these instances Dawkins is right: those on the left have indeed been willing to tolerate, accommodate, and practically fall all over themselves to compromise with hateful, petty, and irrational people who will never, ever respond in kind. Still, it is in liberals’ very nature to live-and-let-live, and this often manifests as a genuine attempt to get along without giving unnecessary offense (see also my comments above on They Fucking Hate You). But it has long been my contention that when liberals compromise on a crucial caveat to live-and-let-live — namely, as long as no one is harmed — they are not defending liberal values so much as virtually ensuring that those values will be further and further eroded. Live-and-let-live only works when the majority agrees on that absolutely crucial caveat.
Further, live-and-let-live also requires a buy-in to the idea that secularism, and all that it entails (the rule of law, the strict separation of religion and government, basic fairness, non-discrimination, etc.) is necessary for a civilization to thrive. In a secular society, everyone is perfectly free to believe whatever crazy, fucked-up crap they want, as long as no one — or more accurately, no one but themselves — is harmed by the actions they take as a result of those beliefs. And “harmed” is a very different thing than “offended.” Being offended from time to time is a price one pays for living and participating in a free society: no matter how easily some people (usually conservatives, of course) will fall to the fainting couch after some grievous insult to their sacred cows, being offended is just not a very large burden to bear. (“OMFG! Some asshole just said some really offensive shit — and they did it on the Internet!“) One big hurdle for secularism is that it requires an understanding that “we’re all in this together,” and conservatives are perpetually stuck in an “us-vs.-them” paradigm. Another hurdle is that secularism entails a reality-based approach to public policy, which is the opposite of the dogmatic approach inherent in a Christianist agenda or “free-market” economic conservatism. And we all know how tightly people can hold onto their pet dogmas (and if you do not, see Sam Harris’s The Fireplace Delusion, discussed below, for an illuminating view into just how daunting a task overcoming dogma truly is).
In addition, it is well worth remembering that fear lies at the shriveled heart of conservatism. I cannot seem to find it now, but a while back I came across some interesting research that concluded that whenever fear is triggered in a populace, liberal and conservative views tend to converge — at the conservative view. Case in point: 9/11. Even people who previously hated George W. Bush enthusiastically rallied around his us-vs.-them mentality, and it was a cinch to sell them a war in Afghanistan, and soon after, in Iraq. When people are scared — and they are legitimately terrified when another kid at their child’s school, or another member of their parliament sitting right next to them, is living under a credible threat of violent death by raging fundamentalist lunatics — the ancient lizard brain goes into high gear, and they (or perhaps I should say “we”?) become the cowardly conservative chickenhawks we so despise during times of lower anxiety. It’s the fight-or-flight response in action — and flight is almost always preferred. And you would be hard pressed to find a cowardly conservative chickenhawk who would not readily rally for someone else to retaliate violently against the source of their fear, as they perceive it. And there are many, many people who are not only willing but eager to retaliate violently: another strain of conservative — the flip side of the chickenhawk coin — the aggressive sociopath.
Robert Heinlein said that man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal. Both of Dawkins’ possible reasons for kowtowing in the face of credible threats are nearly always proffered after the kowtowing course has already been set, i.e., they are both post hoc rationalizations. And while the first rationale may seem “prudent” and preferable to the second — and the second is only imputed by Dawkins — the kowtowing at issue may in fact have very little to do with either rationale. The salient fact is not that these kowtowing reactions can and do occur among those who identify as politically liberal, but that when they do occur people are acting like conservatives. You are capable of it, I am capable of it, that German judge is capable of it, and so is Richard Dawkins. Trigger the fight-or-flight response, and watch it happen to anyone with a functioning cerebral cortex. This is not a rational reaction: it is an ancient survival mechanism that predates human rationality by millions of years. In extreme circumstances where death is perceived as imminent, it is hard to argue that anyone even has a choice in kowtowing, if “choice” is to have any meaning at all. Cooler heads often prevail some time later, when adrenaline levels have long receded and the damage can be soberly surveyed. But this does not usually happen with conservatives: in a near-perpetual state of fear, by this point they’ve already moved on to the next irrational and destructive reaction. Pointing out the counterproductive results of the previous reaction does nothing except re-trigger the initial fear, and subsequently the same counterproductive reaction, which is then rationalized (in ways that make no sense whatsoever to those cooler heads), and around we go again. Dawkins is of course free to pin kowtowing to violent extremists on wooly-headed liberals if he wishes — and at the end of the day he may be entirely correct in that assessment — but he will need to do a much better job to convince me that this is anything other than the all-too-human lizard brain at work.
Incidentally, while I am not blacklisting or boycotting the words and works of Richard Dawkins because he is an obstinate, clueless git of the first order on an issue near and dear to me, I must admit that I did purchase fewer copies of his amazing book, The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True, for holiday gifts last year than I otherwise would have: I purchased only one, which went to dear friend and loyal reader nubs goodyear. We all have to navigate such matters in accord with our own ethical standards, for which we have no one to answer but ourselves. It occurs to me while writing this that the oft-repeated coinage, “Even broken clocks are right twice a day” has a flip side: Even a state-of-the-art clock in excellent working order is wrong every now and then.
Planned Parenthood Opens $8 Billion Abortionplex. From the incomparable, invaluable Onion, a positively vicious piece of satire from May has timely resurfaced in the wake of the Komen debacle. It features a graphic map of the main floor of the “Abortionplex,” as well as delicious bon mots like this one:
“We really want abortion to become a regular part of women’s lives, especially younger women who have enough fertile years ahead of them to potentially have dozens of abortions,” said Richards, adding that the Abortionplex would provide shuttle service to and from most residences, schools, and shopping malls in the region. “Our hope is for this facility to become a regular destination where a woman in her second trimester can whoop it up at karaoke and then kick back while we vacuum out the contents of her uterus.”
Wicked, wicked stuff. LMAO.
The Fireplace Delusion. Sam Harris at his finest: holding up a mirror to show us what we may not want to see, and in the process offering a humbling glimpse into the workings of the flawed human mind. I have nothing to say about it, except that although I never burn wood (just Duraflame logs or similar, which are alleged to burn much cleaner), I suddenly find myself eying the Palace fireplace with grave wariness and trepidation.
What Breast Cancer is, and is not! A brave soul named Linda tells it like it is. And after watching this, I really do have absolutely nothing to say.
And now if you will excuse me, there is another missive from Science Junkie in the Palace inbox that I simply must attend to. I’m sure you understand.
[big, big h/t to Science Junkie.]