The news for Americans, especially Independents, lacks meaning, direction, ideology– and they miss it, just like economically, they’ve been left behind. Now the news is artificial drama, just local crime stories blown up nationally, a natural disaster, the occasional Youtube video– where’s the Change, where are the upheavals, where are the riot police? We don’t have political riots here, we have high end sit ins near the Broadway Starbucks, and occasionally 20 motorcycles will attack a minivan. “Is ‘motorcycle’ code?” That’s where we are right now, this is what the media has trained you for, detecting racism or hypocrisy or some other character flaw in the speaker as a proxy for the complexities of the issues so you don’t have to think. It is under these conditions that you expect John Boehner to “compromise” on something you don’t at all understand, and scream for his beheading if he doesn’t, all to the thrill of the media. “See! TLP is a right wing zealot!” See, you’re stupid. And boy oh boy do I have the news network for you.
Say you’re a supervillian. Your goal is not to take over the world, but to create more unpleasantness. So you set out to create a device that would ensnare normal, rational people and turn them into ranting lunatics. What would your Argument Machine look like? How would it work?
…I’m not saying that Twitter was designed to create arguments. I’m just saying that, if you set out to create an Argument Machine, it’d come out looking a lot like Twitter.
I’m convinced. I’m also comfortable broadly asserting that no intelligent person with a serious point to make would ever choose Twitter as the forum for kicking off the discussion. (Someone like Richard Dawkins, I assume, is just indulging a newfound love of trolling.)
If You’re Chillin’ in the Dark and You’re Lookin’ Through a Telescope, You Will See Me Sleepin’ Like the Soul of a New Hope
Not to be overly romantic, but I do think it’s true that spending lots of time stargazing or studying planetary climates or searching for habitable exoplanets will change anybody. Your view of nature and your place within it changes. Looking out at the night sky, you might feel small and insignificant, but then looking back from our present moment through the eons of life’s evolution here on Earth, you might justifiably feel you’re a part of the most meaningful thing in the known universe, something that could be the source of significance for countless past and future events.
• In English, we don’t really have a swearword for the clitoris. There’s clit, but it’s just not that offensive, and it is rarely used. If you call someone a clit, you’ll probably get puzzled laughter, or even a pitying look. Perhaps English-speaking women should be insulted that clitface and clit for brains are more funny than shocking, that the clitoris doesn’t register high enough in the cultural consciousness to deserve its own swearword.
• The verb irrumare involves pretty much the only other orifice available — it means “to penetrate the mouth.” Irrumo is a bit different from the other verbs because, as we’ve seen, it usually carries a threat of violence. You might do it for pleasure, but part of that pleasure would be in humiliating the man you are forcing into fellatio.
…The poet Catullus assails some of his critics with irrumo too. Catullus was accused of effeminacy because he wrote about dalliances with women, the delights of long afternoons spent in bed, rather than about war or farming like the more manly Virgil. He asserts his impugned masculinity with a verbal attack, beginning one poem: Pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo, “I will bugger you and make you suck me.” Threatening to stick his penis into the assholes and mouths of other men is supposed to prove that he is a real man. Displaying too much interest in sex with women, in contrast, is what got him accused of effeminacy in the first place.
Those are just a couple excerpts, but I could have picked any number of others. It’s a very entertaining and informative book. You should read it.
I’m equally ambivalent about the question of whether reading literary fiction really does make you a better person—not just about what the answer might be, but whether the question itself is really a meaningful one to be asking at all. It implies a fairly narrow and reductive legitimation of reading. There’s a risk of thinking about literature in a sort of morally instrumentalist way, whereby its value can be measured in terms of its capacity to improve us. There was a weirdly revealing quality, for instance, in the language that the Atlantic Wire used in reporting on similar research conducted in the Netherlands earlier this year. “Readers who emotionally immerse themselves with written fiction for weeklong periods,” David Wagner wrote, “can help boost their empathetic skills […] Gauging the participants’ empathetic abilities and self-reported emotions before and after such reading sessions, they found that the fiction readers got more of an emotional workout than the nonfiction readers.” It’s possibly unfair to put too much pressure on one writer’s choice of words in framing the discussion (particularly in a roundup blurb), but it hints at a certain view of literature that is implicit in this way of thinking about it—literature as PX90 workout for the soul, as a cardio circuit for the bleeding heart.
Nah, it’s not unfair. The Atlantic Wire, as we saw only a few weeks ago, looooves this sort of superficial ego-stroking for the moderately-cultured, and Wagner in particular is exactly the sort of “journalist” you’d expect to find reporting on hashtag news. Anyhoo, yes, that’s not to say that the whole moral-benefits-of-fiction idea is totally useless, however — knowing the vapid twits who are impressed by it allows you to avoid ever being trapped in conversation with them.
• I’d rather affiliate with progressive theists (although I’d be carping at them constantly about their goofball faith) than with atheists who want to rationalize women into subservience. We’re in a fight for the soul of atheism — and I want atheism to be something worth fighting for.
• Atheism is ultimately going to have to be a progressive political force, fighting for inclusion, evidence-based policy, humanist values, and the goal of expanding knowledge and power for all. We’re hampered right now by a rather reluctant leadership that tends to focus on pettier issues in the name of unity.
So, Peezles has finally followed the logic, such as it is, of his recent conversion to its inevitable conclusion, namely, that atheism is meaningless unless it’s one plank in a progressive political platform, with progressivism being, of course, the only rational choice by his famously circular, self-serving definition of rationality. Which, you know, fine, whatever. Lots of luck with that! Politics, as we all know, is about compromise, coalition-building and utilitarian solutions that leave everyone somewhat dissatisfied; Peezy and the rest of the social justards have never shown an aptitude for anything beyond adolescent temper tantrums, emo hysterics, Manichean moralizing and heaping invective upon anyone suspected of being part of the out-group. In all likelihood, those morons will never do anything more substantial than hashtag sloganeering, like every other slacktivist. Too bad, though; I imagine a Tea Party of the left would provide plenty of amusement, assuming they could even keep from savaging each other over arbitrary standards of purity long enough to work toward some sort of achievable political goal.
Even for an aspiring political animal, though, this is some incredibly brazen chutzpah:
If we are going to claim to have positions based on reason and the intelligent interpretation of the evidence, then the climate change denialists, the sexists, the racists, the narcissistic worshippers of the Holy Market…they cannot be regarded as representative. The ones who think the solution to Islamic theocracy is to bomb Muslim countries or deport brown people should be considered as lunatic and beyond the pale as atheists who advocate nuking the Vatican or ostracizing Catholics.
Yes, you read that correctly. Atheists who “ostracize Catholics” are beyond-the-pale-lunatics. This message brought to you by the imbecile most famous for sticking a nail through a Communion wafer, the very same unbelievably self-unaware clod who, less than a year ago, made this attempt at winning hearts and minds for the greater progressive good:
Fuck the Catholic church. Empty every pew, loot every coffer, disband every level of the hierarchy, take all their property and turn it over to secular authorities to be managed ethically and rationally.
And if you’re still attending church…what the hell is wrong with you?
Does that count as “nuking” the Vatican, or is he going to contradict himself yet again and stick to a strict dictionary definition of the word?
“To modern eyes, the chaotic and adversarial media environment of the 1640s has much in common with the Internet’s blogging culture,” he writes. “To modern eyes these tablets, with their flat writing surfaces surrounded by a wooden frame, look strikingly similar to tablet computers.” Well, I suppose if you’re looking for similarities between the primitive wax tablets used for correspondence by the Roman elite and the iPad, you can find them. But how similar are they, really, aside from their rectangular shape? The iPad is a commercial product from a multibillion-dollar corporation, marketed to middle-class consumers who use it to send messages, take photos, play games, compose marketing presentations, watch episodes of MasterChef, wake themselves up in the morning, and myriad other purposes. A wax tablet is a wax tablet.
Things that appear similar from a distance gradually reveal their differences on closer examination, and the more you think about some of Standage’s analogies, the keener the differences become. I quite liked the section about how the residents of ancient Rome would scribble messages on city walls—hotel reviews, sexual boasts, political endorsements—but I’m not entirely convinced that those messages actually constitute some sort of antediluvian Facebook wall. It certainly seems that, like today’s social platforms, Roman walls offered relatively unmediated spaces in which residents could interact, with nobody to direct the conversations or guide them toward productive ends. But there is a significant difference between messages that exist in a fixed physical space and those that exist only in digital form. A different format means a different user experience, and Standage’s failure to substantively address these differences makes it hard to actually gauge the value of the comparison.
Similarly, I question whether Martin Luther’s experiences are all that relevant to our understanding of modern viral content. Yes, the speed with which Luther’s arguments spread somewhat resembles the way that modern causes can find huge support in a small amount of time. But isn’t the difference that something actually came of the 95 Theses? Luther fractured Christendom. He sparked the Reformation. Modern social campaigns come and go in days, as flighty Tweeters move on to the next big cause or petition, or simply turn their attention to hot new photos of dogs wearing hats. That’s not to say that Twitter and Facebook and the rest could never be used to galvanize significant social change. It’s just that today’s social media platforms are so much busier and broader than those in Luther’s era that it’s hard to attempt any sort of direct or useful comparison. If Luther had issued the 95 Theses today, they would be forced to compete for attention with lists of 95 Great Places to Eat in Wittenberg; which do you think would be more popular?
Yeah, that’s pretty much what I had in mind.
At its best atheism cultivates a sober, clear-eyed scientific view of the world as it is, not as we might wish it to be, while seeking to improve the fortunes of people, individually and collectively, through the propagation of rationality, tolerance, altruism, personal freedoms, and social responsibility. At its less stellar, atheism inspires smug, self-righteous bombast and cliquish chauvinism.
As many believers can attest, humility, forbearance and altruism aren’t just attitudes; they’re habits. Alas, being an atheist can be nothing but an attitude, and not a pretty one at that.
As recently as a couple years ago, a pugnacious essay like this would have landed upon my sensibilities like the sting of a leather glove across the cheek. Now, though, it only makes me nostalgic. I mean, he’s complaining about what arrogant jerks “New Atheists” can be. New Atheism! Oh, those were the days! I don’t disagree with his opinion — many godless people are just looking for a socially acceptable excuse to be obnoxious assholes — but fuggit, I can’t even muster up the energy for a devil’s advocate defense of atheism as a movement. The rudeness and arrogance of the mid-aughts are nothing compared to how online atheism has recently become a haven for couch-fainting, panty-sniffing, witch-hunting, ressentiment-driven caricatures of political correctness, exemplified, of course, by the psychological basket cases and moral-panic-profiteers that populate the FTB/Skepchick/A+ common area. Atheism’s no more significant to me now than eye color.
It is the hope of New Escapologist that disenfranchised employees and sleepy commuters the world over — drones with dreams — will adopt this symbol for themselves. It will quietly say “I may be consigned to pointless toil today, but I’ve got plans”.
The pieces have been maneuvered into place, my friends. The endgame is about to begin. We’ve crunched the numbers and had the strategy sessions. By this time next year, the plan is for me to have left behind the heavy yoke of daily labor and moved into full-time writing and editing, which should also free up more time for me to tag the alleyways of the Internet with my digital graffiti.