Been thinking a bit lately about THIS old post?
It’s still an interest of mine.
So, I sometimes make a point to call out the spurious quotes thriving all over the net these days. It’s not the most noble of personal callings, I know, but I noticed a long time ago that the information correcting some of this stuff isn’t often found in the same electronic neighborhood as the political pornography in which these bullshit quotes normally reside. So, I reckon it ain’t the least useful thing a guy could do with a spare 15 minutes or so to introduce the author of an un-sourced quote to a well reasoned debunkitation.
I’m often fascinated by the responses I get.
I was quite interested when Pinterest suspended my account for a few weeks, …I think over this. I could be wrong, but I do think this pastime is what did it.
The thing is, you can find the same spurious quotes in countless memes all over Pinterest. It’s just so damned easy to spread information when all it takes is the click of one ‘save’ button. The net is full of ccrap, I know, but the political hashtags at Pinterest are a particularly bullshit rich environment.
I can say it in a few different ways, but what needs to be said in response to these fake quotes is usually pretty simple, and I can’t help thinking a good link to Mount Vernon or Monticello.org ought to find itself somewhere in the response. The link alone really ought to suffice. The trouble is that these misquote-laden memes are distributed through a variety of different accounts on Pinterest. If I’m posting a lot of links to the same page correcting them, then of course I am the spammer.
Don’t get me wrong, the principle in question makes a kind of sense, as does its application. You don’t want someone posting the same link over and over again on a social media platform, but it does create an ironic outcome. In this instance, at least, it seems that’s a lot easier to spread disinformation than it is to counter it.
Before moving onto the more personal responses I’ve gotten over the years, I must admit that my own tone here varies. If I think the person passing along a fake quote has done so accidentally, I try to just call attention to the problem. Hell, I reckon I’ve probably made this mistake myself once or twice. It ain’t no hanging matter; I just want to correct a (hopefully honest) mistake. If, on the other hand, the fake quote is accompanied by narratives about how teachers, media, and liberals are too damned deceitful to share the ‘truth’ of the quote, I must admit, my own response is likely to come with a little sarcasm on the top. There are of course other signs of bad faith that I typically meet with a more combative tone.
Sometimes I’m nicer about this than others.
Also, sometimes, I just ask people for a source to see what they come up with.
Oh yeah, my first post on this topic, the one about Abe Lincoln, has a couple rich responses of its own. Still kinda chuckle about those.
By far and away,, the most interesting response I get is the occasional effort to document the quote by linking me to the ‘spurious quotes’ pages at Monticello or Mount Vernon. Seriously, this has happened a few times.
“Did you read it?” I ask.
At least once, someone realized their mistake at that point and owned up to it. She gets props for doing the right thing.
Once I was assured by someone that clearly hadn’t read the material that he totally had read every word of it. He also assured me that he understood what ‘spurious’ means. Yep! Definitely! We went a few rounds on that, before he dropped out of the conversation. A ‘block’ button may have been pushed. I dunno…
Others simply stopped responding immediately.
Someone else told me I was being rude.
…which was of course true.
Several people have tried to tell me that the quote in question may have been undocumented, but that it accurately reflected what the person to whom it was attributed really did believe. I got this at least once with a popular bastardization of George Washington’s first address to Congress.
…right after I had explained in detail exactly how the quote misrepresented him.
It seems that to some people making this argument these quotes are a kind of Kantian thing-in-itself (a truth truth-in-itself?). The truth as they envision it rests over and above the facts, even the facts of its own expression. If you can’t find one clear expression of that truth in the messy real-world of the historical record, that doesn’t matter, because we know the truth and the source to whom it has been attributed must have known it. So they might as well have said it.
It’s all true anyway, so what’s the problem?
This is one of the more disturbing responses I get, because it reveals an air tight echo chamber in the thinking of the person in question. They love America’s founding fathers and they love their guns and such, and two things they love must love each other, and so when the real-world George Washington doesn’t live up to their masturbatory fantasies, well then, they can just speak up and say what he woulda said anyway.
The rationale also works for any number of subjects certain people feel America’s founding fathers must certainly have loved every but as much as they do.
…even if those founders didn’t actually say so.
Not much to be done about folks who reason like that.
Another common response is to ask how I know the quote isn’t real.
…and that’s one of those moments when I remember why burdens of proof matter.
A related tactic is to assure me that the quote is real and tell me to do my own research. Faced with credible sources that claim the quotes can’t be found in any known archives, those using this tactic assure me that the quote is real and that we skeptics really ought to work harder.
…which brings to mind words like ‘gaslighting’, ‘trolling’, ‘asshole’, and a quick end to the conversation.
Sometimes people complain that my efforts to check them reveal a character flaw on my own part. Don’t I have anything better to do?
No such questions seem to have been asked about the time it takes the individuals in question to pass along a spurious quote. But of course, we all have much more important things to do when the one we are presently engaged in turns out to be a little frustrating. It’s human nature.
Probably the most common response I get to declare the source of the quote irrelevant. It’s the idea that matters, I am told, and surely that idea is true. So, it doesn’t matter if Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin or any other made up source didn’t really say what they were supposed to have said. That’s not the point. The point is it’s true.
I must say that it’s an interesting coincidence that so many timeless truths that could come from any source really, seem so often to be attributed to sources of great political value. It’s also an interesting coincidence that so many of them seem quite useful to specific political agendas today, agendas which often sail under the banner of faithfulness to American principles and respect for the wishes of America’s founding fathers. It’s really quite convenient that so many questionable quotes would seem to provide the politics of the people in question with the authority of a voice from the founding fathers. The sources really don’t matter, so it seems, not after the source has been debunked.
Perhaps I could be excused for thinking the source mattered, at least a little, before that source came into question.
What I always find most interesting about this tactic is how seamless the transition is from presenting an undocumented quote to declaring the named source irrelevant to its content. People employing this tactic rarely take so much as a moment to acknowledge their error. Often they avoid conceding the point altogether as they shift from a historical claim about who said what to a kind of Platonic reasoning in which the idea itself is all that really matters.
And thus a person wholly unconcerned with the falsehood of a factual claim suddenly becomes the priest of a timeless truth.
Oh yeah, some people don’t respond at all. Some just keep right on producing the bullshit quotes too. This is particularly true of some websites like BrainyQuote. It’s also true of some dedicated ideological warriors. They just keep right on posting the fake quotes long after a reasonable person might have at least quietly deleted the material from a blog or a social media account.
There is one response that gets me every time, and that’s the one where somebody simply acknowledges the mistake. Often this is followed by a ‘thank you’. Maybe they take down the quote. Maybe they just let their acknowledgement of the correction stand for itself in the discussion. Either way, it’s a class move.
These days, such responses surprise me a little more than they ought to.
…and that’s kinda sad.
I suppose it doesn’t really surprise me that people would respond defensively to such things. People don’t usually like to be corrected. I know I don’t. And of course, any of us could get things like this wrong. That’s not terrible. It’s human. Still, some of these rationalizations do seem to give you a peak behind the curtain, so to speak, into the mind of someone for whom due diligence is simply unthinkable. They must be right one way or another, so they seem to think.
…even if they are wrong!
It’s always fascinating to see the slippage commonly coming between a story and its headline, and again between a headline and a social media message about it. The hackwits at Fox News are always happy to provide examples of this sort of thing. Last week I couldn’t help but gripe about their misrepresentation of a major story on twitter. Today, the angle isn’t all that clear, but sloppy slippage is a habit that seems to serve them well.
What got my attention a few minutes ago was this tweet:
So, I see this and I am thinking; Really? I always thought Bonnie and Clyde were in their car when they were shot. Or was that just the movie? No, I’m pretty sure they were in their car. So, when was this? Just before they got in? How long before… No, this says the pic was taken was right before they were shot. But…
…and thus I clicked the link (which is admittedly to say that I fricking fell for this click-bait bullshit. Still kicking myself over that.)
So, anyway, and at the expense of providing a link to a common source of right wing propaganda, here is the story.
The opening passages of this story are fascinating in much the same sense that grading a freshman essay is often fascinating. By ‘fascinating’ I of course mean saddening. It’s not just the brief, blurby, writing style that jumps out at me. (Seriously, this is clearly written for people with the attention span of not-even-gerbils.) What really irks with a vengeance here is the complete inability to stick to a consistent account of the story.
Check it out!
Mini-paragraph 2 says the photo was taken ‘days before’ Bonnie and Clyde were shot down. Mini paragraph 3 says ‘shortly before’. I guess ‘days before’ could count as ‘shortly before’, at least if you aren’t paying attention enough to wonder why they are re-framing the time-scale in the very next sentence. Most sensible people would think that was at least a little odd. And most sensible people would think that change of wording does shift the meaning, at least a little bit. Either way, it would certainly be a stretch to say that ‘days before’ counts as ‘right before’ or ‘moments before’, as indicated on the Fox News twitter account.
So why do this? It really doesn’t seem like deliberate spin. It seems more like a short attention span. Perhaps, it’s the habit of a mind accustomed to spinning an inch into a mile every chance it gets. These micro-shifts in meaning can be damned useful if you are spinning a story with a purpose. A mountain is easily reduced to a molehill with a little crafty word choice. The folks at Fox News are well accomplished at this technique. Still, it’s a little odd to see this much slippage crowded into such a small and simple account. The only clear pay-off in this particular instance is the added dramatic value of the click-bait, but even that doesn’t explain the shear quantity of equivocation in the Fox account. The story itself uses two different time-frames, and that shift isn’t explained by the desire to generate click-bait. Neither does the use of two different time-frames on the twitter account. A subtle shift is one thing, but these guys are all over the place. I find myself wondering if these folks can stick to a simple account even when they don’t have an axe to grind on the story.
Seriously, I can’t figure out how this will help to advance the war on the poor. Neither will it enable the Manchurian Man-Child to gin up a war to help keep all our minds off the Mueller investigation. I can’t even tell how this proves Hillary killed Han Solo in the living room with a candle stick. It’s not all that agenda driven. It’s just drivel-driven. it’s also a hell of a way to hack up a simple story.
Let’s say I post a criticism is Islam (or of some Muslims) somewhere on the net. What is the most likely impact of this action? I know. Crickets chirping, right? But let’s think about the possibilities. Even if it is an e-drop in the digital ocean, I, like others who add their comments to countless social media accounts are trying to communicate something to someone. That may or may not happen, but as it is the point of posting in the first place, it’s worth thinking about it. So, my question is, what kind of impact will my criticism have?
If I say something about the mistreatment of women or homosexuals in Islamic countries, will my words have any positive impact on the lives of vulnerable people in places like Saudi Arabia, Iran, or those living in ISIS controlled territories? Or will my criticism simply add to the din of anti-Muslim rhetoric in the west? Will I in some small way help to ease the pressure on those oppressed by Muslim strictures? Or will I in some equally small way help others to make a case for bombing runs abroad and discriminatory policies at home? If I complain that Muslim women are oppressed through the need to wear a burqa, will this help to give some poor lady the right to bare her face in public? Or will my comment be just another insult to Muslims in general, even the women wearing those burqas? If I complain about female circumcision, will I help to spare woman this procedure, or will my comments serve simply denigrate those who have already had it? If I simply disagree with something Muslims believe, will my comments to that effect give them something to think about? Or will they just add to the stigmas already placed upon Muslims now living in the west? Might my comments (whatever the specifics) help to inspire some nutcase to go scapegoat a random Muslim on some random street corner in America?
And by random Muslim, I could well mean a Sikh, not because I’m unaware of the difference, but because those inspired to such random violence generally don’t.
Could my criticism have more impact on the lives of Muslims actually living in the west? Perhaps. But what would that impact be? Will I inspire people in a predominantly Muslim community to be more accepting of some of some of their own members? Will I make them a little less likely to entertain acts of terrorism? Is that even a real concern, much less a real hope? Or will my criticism simply provide one more signal that the western world is truly hostile to their own ways? Will I give them one more reason to insulate themselves against the rest of us, and live apart even as they live nearby?
I can do some things to increase or decrease the likelihood of positive impact. I can study-up to make sure I have a reasonable point, or I can pass along a meme with a real gotcha kinda gut-punch? If I choose the former route, what then? A reasonable criticism presupposes a basis for constructive dialogue, even a willingness to listen to the response. Sitting up here on the northern edge of northiness, I’m not sure I have such a basis for constructive dialogue, and I suspect your average Muslim (whether living in the West or otherwise) will have even less reason to give a damn that some random guy has a bone to pick with his or her religion. There may be inroads to make such conversations possible, but they don’t begin with the criticism. They don’t begin with me sitting down and saying; “I’m gonna take Islam down a notch today.”
I write this because some people seem to think criticism of Islam is a moral obligation. They can often point to bad things happening in Muslim circles, and I can often agree that some of those things really are bad. But how the Hell do I express concerns about things without making life more miserable for the countless Muslims here or abroad who just want to get through their day?
Much as I do.
It’s not at all uncommon to see net-warriors goading certain parties to be more critical of Islam. This is often coupled with an effort to minimize criticism of some other interest. Evangelical Christians, for example, will sometimes complain of atheists that we criticize Christianity while ignoring Islam. (A common gambit here is to suggest that we are too scared to criticize Islam. …chicken if you don’t, so to speak.) Voices within the right wing echo chamber frequently ask why the left complains of homophobia in their own circles when the executioners of ISIS literally throw gay men from rooftops. The answer frequently strikes me as obvious. No-one from ISIS gives a damn what I type. The far right here in America probably doesn’t either, but they are a lot closer to it than anyone living in ISIS-controlled regions of the world. Net battles are all sound and fury, this is true, but there is a lot more cause for hope when speaking to people with more cultural baggage in common and less political baggage piled up between them.
I used to hear and read similar games played on the subject of communism. Some folks would wonder out loud how the American left could be so critical of our own nation when we have so little to say about the crimes of the Russians. Why didn’t we protest their policies, I recall a few folks saying. I always thought the answer was damned obvious. The
The political context of such conflicts simply don’t give us a clear line from a criticism to a positive outcome or even a constructive dialogue. More to the point, the criticisms themselves suffer in this case from a lack of attention to context. It isn’t just that Muslims are unlikely to listen to a random criticism from a random non-Muslim; that criticism is unlikely to be worthy of consideration in the first place, still less so if it is made under the illusion that the value of such a criticism could be determined in the abstract.
All in all, it’s a pretty childish game, I am talking about, but it’s one that seems to have extra traction as applied to Islam. The right wing has done a good job of generalizing the sense of war in our present age. In the days immediately following 9-11, George Bush was careful to tell the public that we were not at war with Islam or with Muslims in general. That didn’t ensure authorities would treat Muslims with anything near the respect deserved by any human being or even with the respect that should simply go with due process, but at least the man did make an effort to define America’s wars (reckless as they were) in ways that didn’t make innocent Americans into the enemy. The right wing echo chamber has been working damned hard to change that in the years sense then. Whether it was the fight over the so-called Mosque at ground zero or the constant drum-beat of professional bigots such as Pamella Geller, Ann Coulter, or virtually the entire Fox News Network, they consistently nudged the nation (and the world) toward a vision of one grand apocalyptic battle between the western world and the Islamic World. To be sure, there are voices within the Islamic world that agree with them on the terms of this war, but the mating calls of violent people will always resonant with those of their own enemies. The bottom line is that an awful lot of people see Islam itself as a force to be reckoned with, an enemy to be defeated with rockets abroad and with rhetoric at home.
This situation has the effect of skewing a number of general conflicts between Islam and its would-be critics. The philosophical arguments fielded against Islam by atheists, Christians, and others take on the significance of a political agenda. Sam Harris, for example, has suggested that 9-11 inspired him to become a vocal atheist. At the end of the day, atheists and Christians will have our disagreements with Muslims. If there have ever been paths to constructive dialogue between these communities, the notion that violence rests on the consequences doesn’t help much. Too often those of us on the other end forget just how much of that violence falls on Muslim communities. As the question is framed in popular culture, it is almost always about what they might do to us. What we have done to them never really seems to be on the table. Muslim and an atheist (or a Christian) could theoretically have a thoughtful discussion about their beliefs. Such debates are not the norm.
It wasn’t too log ago that I encountered a white nationalist on twitter claiming that Islam was a virus. He didn’t want that virus to infect the western world, and so his tweets on the subject moved back and forth between the notion that Islam itself was a virus and the notion that Muslims were the virus, that they must be kept out of western nations. To say that this was dehumanizing rhetoric would be putting it mildly. I have always regarded the dangers of comparing people to diseases (mental or otherwise) as one of the legitimate lessons of Nazi history. What surprised me about this example was the number of people who joined the conversation in order to defend the notion that Islam was a mental illness. Their interest in the argument, of course, stemmed from Richard Dawkins notion of religion as a kind of mental virus. That the specific comments in question were nowhere near so abstract was lost on the majority of those chiming in to defend the man’s comments. That the man producing them was a committed white nationalist was also lost on his many defenders. And thus a group of philosophy dude-bros came to the aid of an outright bigot without ever realizing the point at hand was more than a theoretical matter about the nature of religion.
Sometimes a philosophical discussion is anything but.
A second, and perhaps more serious problem lies in the nature of human rights abuses carried out by Islamic regimes or by militants under the expectation that such regimes will protect them. These deserve a response of some kind, but the countless war-mongers spreading news of every atrocity ever committed in the name of Allah certainly aren’t doing anything to promote respect for human rights. (Honestly, I think some folks suffer from terrorist-envy.) I often pass along what I take to be credible news accounts of atrocities, and I am happy to support the efforts of organizations such as Amnesty International or other such organizations working to prevent human rights abuses. That may sound weak, but at least it doesn’t strike me as adding fuel to a fire. If there are better ways to address such atrocities, ways that don’t amount to promoting violence and prejudice in their own right, then I am open to reading about them.
All of this may be much ado about less than nothing. Someone wrong on the net and all, but to degree that any of these criticisms matter, my point is that telling the world you don’t like Islam isn’t all that helpful. Being helpful at this point in history is a little more difficult than usual, but a good number of people could stand to try a little harder.
Cue comments about the “regressive left” in 3, 2, 1…
“When trolling douchebags, take care not to become a douche yourself.”
I’m pretty sure that’s a direct quote from Friedrich Nietzsche. I’m almost certain my man Friedrich was talking about Trump when he wrote that. He was trying to tell us to be careful how we criticize Trump, because Trump is full of idiot and when you argue with idiot, you get idiot sauce all over you.
Make a note of that Hillary!
“Cereal?” You may be asking, but I can assure you that Nietzsche was totally cereal with all of this stuff, cause the man was a totally cereal kind of guy.
…at least about how you should argue with Trump. Or with the idiots who support his Trumpery badness.
Nietzsche’s point of course was that you really should watch what you say about Melania Trump. I know this, because I asked him. I asked Nietzsche straight up. I said; “what do you mean dude?” And he told me I shouldn’t really call him dude. He said Zarathustra would not approve. He then told me the whole damned quote was actually about Melania Trump. He wanted us to know that people should watch what they say about her.
“Surely, you don’t mean,” I said to Nietzsche, “that we can’t criticize her for plagiarizing Michelle Obama in her speech at the GOP convention.”
“No, that’s fair game,” he said. “You can totally criticize her for plagiarism. You can even take a few extra digs for saying she wrote it herself just before blaming the fact that she didn’t write it herself on the ghost who didn’t write it herself either. Damned ghosts anyhow! You just can’t trust a ghost to write new stuff you can take credit for these days. Rich folks ought to be able to take credit for the work of others. It’s the American way!”
I thought he had a point.
Nietzsche added, that you could probably criticize Malania and the whole Trump camp for pretending Obamas are the Devil himself when they actually seem to find some merit in what at least one of them does.
I asked Nietzsche if the devil has multiple personalities. He said only when he’s from Kenya. That’s all Nietzsche was wiling to say about that subject, so we moved on.
I asked the old philosopher if we could criticize Melania for saying she graduated from a place that never spat a degree her direction. He said, surely we could. I also asked Nietzsche if we could raise questions about her immigration status when she came to the country. He told me that was probably okay, but it would really depend on the questions. Did we really want to encourage Trumpery people to think of immigration as a bad thing? I agreed that might not be wise.
“So what’s the big deal anyway?” I asked the old curmudgeon. “What is it we are not supposed to say about Melania?”
“Oh, you can say anything you want.” Nietzsche assured me. “Without gods, everything is totally cool.”
“So then what’s the problem?” I asked again. “Can we go after Mrs. Douchebag or not?”
“Of course you can, but if you go about it wrong, you will become a douche yourself. You’ll be talking along, or tapping away at your keyboard and suddenly your mouth and your fingers will be the mouth and fingers of a douchebag. If you’re cool with that, then it’s all good. But if you don’t want to become a douchebag, then you should watch what you type about Melania.”
I told Nietzsche that I really didn’t want the mouth and fingers of a douchebag.
“Well, then take care of what you type!”
“Okay!” I was getting a little exasperated at this point. I mean, Nietzsche may not be a systematic philosopher, but this was a little cryptic even for the proto-gonz himself. “What exactly is it that I might not want to type about Malania.”
“Don’t slut shame!” he said. “That way lies douchetude.”
I have to admit, I was a little taken aback by this whole thing. I mean, I really didn’t expect a conversation with Nietzsche in the first place, but nobody really expects that. What I really didn’t expect was that slut-shaming would be his biggest concern about election politics in the U.S. Maybe that wasn’t his biggest concern, but that’s what he chose to tell me at any rate. It really seemed to be the main point of the conversation.
“Why?” Nietzsche asked, “Why would you go after her anyway? Hasn’t the man himself given you enough cause for complaint to fill countless servers with perfectly sound criticisms? Does the image of Trump himself not make you want to claw your own eyes away from your face? Does his voice not make traitors of any ears foolish enough to pass along the sound of it? When you have Trump University, why would you bother about Melania’s degree? When you have Trump saying stupid things on a daily basis, why would you care if Melania chooses to channel Michelle like some drunken psychic who mistakes a radio for a ghost? Sure, you can make some good points about Melania, but the real story is always going to be the festering bloodfart beside her. Why on earth would anyone take the time to score a little field-goal against Melania, when you could score a game-winning touch-down against Trump himself? He’s the candidate for POTUS, and he is way worse than his wife will ever be? He’s worse than anyone’s wife will ever be. Hell, the Donald is worse than worse. He’s a singularity of worsitude? There is absolutely no reason to cap on Melania when her husband himself is such a bundle of dumbfuckery that the heavens themselves have been screaming “you’re fired” ever since his campaign announcement. Seriously, you have to ask yourself, why anyone with that much material on the Donald would instead choose to go after his wife? That just smacks of misogyny. I’m saying that, and I’m a notorious misogynist.”
“That’s true,” I said. “Your writing about women is pretty bad. And when did you start using football metaphors?”
“When you decided to write me into this damned blog post.”
He had a point.
I’ll spare you the rest of the conversation. Nietzsche was getting a little belligerent at that point. Also his Superbowl predictions seem a little far-fetched to me. Really, you just don’t want to know.
My main point, Nietzsche main point, is that one ought to think twice about attacking Trump through the use of Melania’s nudie pics. It’s become a rather common game on certain social media circles. Some people like to circulate racy photos of Melania Trump along with a comment or two about how she could be our First lady. Yesterday the #TrumpsMexicoTripSayings even had someone suggesting a donkey show for Melania, thus mixing racism with misogyny. It’s an ugly argument, and one that doesn’t do a damned thing to show just how bad Trump would be as a President.
The problem here isn’t really fairness to Trump, or even Melania. Neither Melania nor Donald will suffer much as a result of such idiocy, and these memes aren’t going to cost him the election, but the notion that a woman deserves punishment for her own sexuality is toxic as Hell. It does hurt people. Maybe not the wives of billionaires, but hurts people just the same. An objection to commercial nudity is also pretty damned hypocritical when coming from people who consume such images themselves, all the more so for those spreading such images while criticizing Mrs. Trump for appearing in them.
With enough mental gymnastics, you could probably concoct a respectable-sounding argument about the topic, but at the end of the day, you are still using a woman’s body to attack her man. That way does lie douchebaggery. Nietzsche is right about that.
So, anyway, that’s what Friedrich Nietzsche has to say about this election. I asked him if I could share his thoughts on the subject. He said I could, but only if I did so by means of a completely ridiculous literary device.
The internet is full of pages providing us with numbers.
Numbers and tips!
Numbers OF tips.
That’s right. The internet is full of posts containing a designated number of little advisatory gems. I don’t know how much use there is in reading these lists, but I’m convinced there must be a point to writing them. I reckon the wisdom must reside in the numbers. So, the secret to providing advice online must be to put the advice in the form of a list of useful tips. Most importantly, you have to number them. Then put the number in the title. Netizens love numbers. They will read all the tips you want to give them as long as you put them in a well-numbered list.
Anyway, I’m gonna give it a try. I do have a list of my own. It’s totally full of good advisings too. At least I will have such a list when I type out a bit more of this post. Here are my tips! My, …um, [INSERT NUMBER HERE)-point list of how to do [REPEAT NUMBER]-point lists. Yeah, that’s right. I don’t even know the number of points on my list, but I will have a number when I’m done writing my list, and you’re gonna read it to.
The number anyway. You’ll probably skip the rest. Dog knows, I would. Anyway, here goes…
First! Number one! The main, first-most, and totally beginning number on my list list of numbered things on the list that is totally numbered. The point of that number is to, …um …Number you tips! Yep. You gotta totally number them. Otherwise people won’t know the count, or maybe they will forget your advice as they read through it. Plus, it might be that your advice really sucks, but at least the numbers will make sense, so if you give bad advice, you can at least give good numbers. That’s why you gotta make sure you give people tips and make sure you number them so people can count as they read your tips.
And anyway, numbering your tips makes them way more important.
“Look before you cross the street?” …Meh!
“Number 1: Look before you cross the street.” …Dude, that is so totally profound!
Trust me, numbers profundify the lamest advice, and if that isn’t enough for you, then I just don’t know what else to say. Just fricking number your tips, okay dude!?!
Two: At least half your advice can be totally obvious or completely meaningless. In fact, it’s probably better that way, because it leaves less for people to disagree with. You just have to use the right words. If you are giving advice on how to do a bang up blog, for example, then be sure to tell people they should produce ‘quality content’. That may sound to you like an obvious call to write good stuff, but that’s because you haven’t grasped the full nuance. See, words like “quality content” are just so qualitative, they will make people feel all somehow, and then they will think you’ve actually said something, and they will respect you more. Plus, think how important that advice really is. Your readers were probably planning to write something that sucked, but you totally steered them in the right direction with that advice. Isn’t that cool?
Oh, what do you care? It’s a hit to your website one way or another!
Drei: Use your advice to drag people by the nose through your website. This isn’t hard to do. You just add all sorts of links to each piece of advice, hinting each time that they can learn more about whatever they’ve just read if they click the link. This way the vacuous nature of your not-so-helpful advice will work to your advantage. People will think; “Oh, I just haven’t found the real information yet. I have to go to that link where I will learn everything I need to know about this and it will finally make sense.”
If you’ve figured out that nothing at the link has to actually make sense, then you are catching on. The point is that this practice will generate extra hits on your website, which will totally drive up your search rankings. Your readers won’t learn a damned thing, but fuck them anyway, right? Your advice is good because it’s good for you, good for your rankings, and good for your blog. It’s probably also good for Jesus, all of your fellow countrymen, and if you can swing the suggestion, starving children somewhere in Africa.
…don’t forget to shed a tear as you write that last one. Also finish your dinner.
Quatro: Try to include at least one useful piece of information. It doesn’t have to be original. It doesn’t really even have to be all that relevant. Hell, you can steal it shamelessly from someone wiser than yourself. The point is that you want your reader to have something to hold on to. That way when they remember your post and can’t remember all the other stuff you said, because – CAN THE CAN, HONEY – after all you really didn’t say anything in most of your advice post, but when they think about that, they will hopefully remember that one thing, which probably didn’t come from you anyway, but they’ll remember it just the same. Then when their buddies ask why anyone should go visit your site, they’ll say; “Oh I learned that one cool thing and some other stuff. If you go to the sight, you’ll see that one thing and all the other stuff too, and then you can remind me about all the stuff I forgot.” …which is of course totally cool for you, especially if their friends start following the links. No-one will remember the useless non-advice, but they’ll remember the one good point and think there were others that they forgot. If your lucky, they will even come back to check.
I know, I know. You’re worried that you may not have any really good advice to give, right? Don’t worry about it. All you have to do is find someone else who is worth listening to and use them as a source. The advice they give will be the one that matters. So, just pick something that seems superficially relevant to the topic. Don’t worry. It doesn’t have to be actually relevant, just as long as it doesn’t stick out like a sore thumb and make people think it doesn’t belong in your post at all. Then you’re sunk.
Ashdla’: Be sure to write in short sentences. Also make sure that your grammar is nice and standard. It’s best to avoid run-on sentences. For instance, most of what I wrote in bullet point Suzi? That kind of writing is right out! (Seriously, don’t write like I do. It’s bad for the economy.)
Now you might think that the point here is to communicate more effectively, but you would be wrong to think that. The real reason is that your 8th-grade English teacher will haunt your fricking dreams if you don’t follow this advice. You don’t want that, now do you? I know I don’t. Seriously, Just leave me alone Mrs. Lawrence, will you please just leave me alone!
5) Some bullet points can be really brief. People won’t mind the break. Reading is hard.
Tallimat) Oh, brevity? That’s a good one! Reading is hard. Remember that point when you write stuff. People don’t like to read, which is one of the reasons that writing is hard. Writing is hard, because reading is hard. Maybe writing is actually hard, because reading seems hard, or maybe there is a lesson about laziness here, but the point is writing is really rude. I don’t know about the rest of this paragraph, but I am totally serious about this point. Writing is definitely rude. When you write something, you are asking someone to read it, and no-one wants to do that. So, don’t write anything, you rude mother-fucker!
…Alternatively, remember that whatever your write, your readers are just waiting for an excuse to stop reading. Why they started reading in the first place is a mystery to me and to you, and probably to them as well, but they are just waiting to bust away from your damned blog post and go do something fun. So you have to keep it brief, and you have to do stuff to keep their attention. Words like ‘fucker’ help with the last part. When I figure out how to keep it brief, I’ll write another post to let you know. I’ll probably even add it as a link to this post.
VII: Promise them money. I don’t mean that you should offer to pay your readers, though that might work. …No, it wouldn’t. (No-one wants to read.) Anyway, my point is that you should allude to financial success. Hint that people will earn a lot of money if they just follow your advice. Ideally, you should get that hint into your title as well, and into every other bullet point. In fact, you should probably get it into every bullet point, just to be on the safe side. Just keep suggesting that you’re offering people the keys to a successful career in whatever, and you’ll be fine.
Now you might think the point of this advice is to get readers to think they can make money by following your advice, but that is totally not the point. Seriously, no-one is that stupid! The point of doing this is to convince other internet advice-bloggers to think that you are in the same business they are, and hopefully that you are really good at it. If you can sell that image to them, then those guys are totally gonna start coming to your blog, commenting, and hopefully referencing you on their own blogs. That will totally drive your hint count up, at least as long as you do the same for them. You won’t make any money off any of this, but it’ll be a gas to think that people came to your blog, even if most of them only did so in the hopes of getting you to come to theirs. They didn’t read your posts. Don’t forget that. No-one reads blog posts. But they will count as hits, and that’s cool.
See, no-one really believes advice on how to make money online, but some people evidently believe that others believe you can make money online. THAT, my friend, is your target readership!
восьмой: Wrap it up and hit the ‘Publish’ button. Seriously, just get on with it!
No seriously, just hit the damned button.
…No fair, using this advice for 10-point lists. It’s only meant for 8.
One of the most beautiful gifts of the internet is the ability to learn at a glance the wisdom of America’s founding fathers. In fact, one can often find these pearls of wisdom beautifully packaged in nice visuals. They are perfect for a tweet or a quick illustration, and so very informative. Most of all, they are ever so conveniently one quick google away.
Take for instance the warning these men left for us regarding the evils of big government! Thomas Jefferson is particularly valuable in this regard. Why you could almost imagine him to be commenting directly on current affairs couldn’t you? Isn’t Tom just swell?
(You may as usual click to embiggen any of these quotations)
Thomas Jefferson was particularly keen on the importance of political dissent.
Thinking along similar lines, our founding fathers spoke directly to the issue of gun control. I mean, these comments are just so perfect. You’d almost think some of these quotes had been written by folks working for the NRA. Check it out!
More than that! Our great founders were no friends of the nanny state. They were quite clear that people shouldn’t expect too much from government. It’s there to give everyone a chance, but folks really shouldn’t expect any more than that. You read some of these things, and you can’t help thinking it’s almost as if they were actually thinking about the New Deal. I guess these guys were just prescient or something.
James Madison wouldn’t have any truck with this notion of a living constitution. He’d school the modern liberals right quick about that nonsense!
On religion, let me tell you, the founders of our great nation were clear about the importance of the Christian faith!
Oddly, the founders were also pretty damned clear about the evils of Christianity. Apparently, they had strong views on that too.
…It’s just a little strange.
I know this is getting to be a tiresome theme in this post, but the wisdom of Thomas Jefferson is not to be outdone. At times, he could almost seem to be a contemporary motivational speaker. Watch out Tony Robbins!
Not to be outdone, even George Washington carved his legacy into this little gem about taking responsibility for one’s personal mistakes.
Honestly, the wisdom of the founding fathers would seem to be amazing at times. Sometimes their prescience is uncanny. It’s an amazing thing to see just how well-suited their statements can be to present-day matters. Luckily, that wisdom was not limited to the original founders. It was around in the civil war era too. Could anyone possibly be more on the mark than Abraham Lincoln?
Listen to Abe folks.
Sometimes moving to a new location can change your place in history as much as it does your place on the map. I first noticed this a day or two after arriving in Barrow as I watched a small child drive an ATV down the street. No-one seemed to notice, not that time or the next. I’m pretty sure that it’s as illegal here as it is most places I’ve lived, but law on the books and law in daily life aren’t always the same thing. So, I saw this for the first time, and the word ‘frontier’ came to mind.
…and I smiled.
Of course, the notion of a ‘frontier’ (with all its ideological baggage) would seem to place Barrow on the cutting edge of history. That notion comes up from time to time, especially in the context of oil exploration and drilling, but also with scientific research, and other topics that people like to project onto a scheme of ‘progress’.
At other times, the logic of history places us behind the curve, so to speak. By “behind the curve” I mean that we fall behind someone else’s idea of the direction history is supposed to be going. It might seem more reasonable to think of the issue in terms of straight-forward disagreement, people do things that others don’t approve of, but the point is that people sometimes filter such disagreements through ideas about the general arc of history. It may be a history they urge on the public, or it may be a history they take for granted, but people often plot their values on some sense of an historical timeline. It’s not real history that I’m talking about; it’s an ideological projection of the way history ought to proceed.
I was reminded of this quite clearly the other day when a student of mine recently shared the video below. It starts with some beautiful outdoor shots of Barrow, AK, but (readers be warned) it continues to show the butchering of a Bowhead whale. The video might seem a jarring journey to some, but for most of us (I believe) here on the North Slope, the transition seems quite natural. A whale harvest is a joyous event as it means food for a lot of people. Much as the serene images at the start of the video, a whale harvest is prone to make us want to smile.
I asked what kind of comments, the video had gotten. A moment of scrolling later, I received my answer. The images of whaling had drawn criticism both on the video and on my student’s Facebook account. On the video itself one individual had written; “It’s really strucked up about how cruel people are to animals. It would be great for all animals and humans to go vegan and to respect each other.” I smiled and laughed as I recalled the first time I posted images of a whale harvest to my own Facebook account. I’ve since learned to post warnings and what-not.
This is one of the many ways that life in Barrow (and much of Alaska) differs markedly from that of the lower 48; hunting is a way of life for many people up here. It simply isn’t for the majority of people down there, and at least some of those people imagine all of history moving towards their way of life. The many artifacts of subsistence hunting are bound to rub such folks the wrong way. A friend once commented about the necessity to remove one’s furs before hitting the Seattle airport, and we both laughed. Surrounded by folks in all-manner of furs, I could only imagine the reception some of the day-to-day outfits of the North Slope would get in other places.
I remember once trying to find a gift for a friend who likes Native American art. A vegetarian with significant interest in animal welfare, she would not have appreciated the ivory earrings or baleen etchings locals produced, nor the many varieties of fur. Most of the native artwork here involves dead animals of one form or another, and that really should come as no surprise in a community where hunting is for many people a fundamental part of their way of life.
The issue isn’t simply a question of whether or not to support or oppose hunting, fur, whaling, and so on.; it’s also a question of how you frame the issues. There is a big difference between the commercial fur industry and the hand-made clothes of locals who’ve eaten the meat previously kept warm by that same fur. Likewise, there is a big difference between a whale taken for commercial purposes and those whose blubber will be shared out to the community. Whether or not that settles the issue is another question, but quite often I think people simply fail to notice the difference.
Which brings us back to whaling!
There is a world of difference between the significance of whaling up here and the meaning given to it in other places. This problem was all over a New York Times article on Spring Whaling published a few years back. Its author framed the whole issue in terms of ‘tradition’, then proceeded to worry over the use of technological innovation in pursuit of that tradition. I also recall a discussion of the Makah whale hunt on a random website (I can’t find it now). Participants simply dismissed the idea that native whaling could be anything but a token gesture, a practice akin to preserving a museum exhibit. A similar view can be found in one of the comments to this post, Whaling Camp: Frozen Seas and Ice-scapes at the blog, Cutterlight. In response to this post, a woman named Kirsten Massebeau wrote:
There is no humane way to kill a whale. Today we know whales and dolphins are higher beings. Sometimes these whales suffer for up to 5 hours after being harpooned. Isn’t it time we stop letting the word “tradition” be an excuse for doing something so wrong. Please stop murdering the people of the sea! You are obviously wearing store bought clothes and shoes. Surely you can see your way clear of murdering our ocean friends.
Don’t get me wrong, I think this woman (as with others) raises some legitimate concerns in her comment, but I also think there are legitimate answers to those concerns, and I think the whole thing thrown askew by a certain refusal to take the Native Alaskan population seriously.
What all of these examples have in common is a refusal to allow or even to imagine the practice of whaling in the modern world. They cannot even fathom the possibility that such a thing could occur in the present world. To many of these folks, whaling (or at least the indigenous version of it) is by definition a thing of the past, a mere tradition, and one gathers an empty one at that. This seems to be a common perception of whaling on the North Slope, and that perception injects a great deal of prejudice into any subsequent discussion. It is a prejudice shaped and defined by people’s ideological views about history as much as anything else.
Whaling here on the North Slope is first and foremost a native matter, but it affects us all. The effort to bring in a bowhead is not limited to the crew of a single boat. Extended families and friends all work together to outfit and support a given crew, and the entire community of the North slope accommodates the needs of those involved. Time off from work is granted without question when it’s time to cut a trail through the ice. Homework deadlines are extended when it’s time to butcher and cook the blubber. Blubber and meat are shared throughout the community following a successful whale harvest. Whaling is no quaint tradition on the North Slope; it is one of the most important economic activities taking place up here.
Seeing the importance of whaling to an entire community, the condescension of some of these random comments can be quite maddening. Of course these are merely random comments on social media, but they provide a telling glimpse into the way that the larger public closes itself to local realities. Folks just can’t seem to find room in their view of the present for activities such as whaling and subsistence hunting. Presented with evidence to the contrary, it seems a common response to construe such things in terms of a museum exhibit.
…even when that exhibit is real people going about their daily lives, very much in the present day.
Epilogue: The disconnect between people’s perceptions of whaling works both ways. I recently received a charming example of this when a student of mine who teaches in one of the local villages passed information about the New England whaling fleet of the 19th century onto her own native students. They wanted to know how the meat and blubber would be shared.
What is the difference between a Christian philosopher and a Christian apologist?
Quite simply, marketing.
When I think of a Christian philosopher, I think of someone genuinely engaged in thinking through the issues, someone who makes his bread and butter by addressing alternative viewpoints in a direct and reasonable manner. His career depends on his ability to challenge others with cogent arguments to the topic at hand. He writes and he speaks with an audience in mind that includes non-believers, even dedicated opponents of his own position. Good Christian philosophers give me pause; they make me think twice, and I enjoy reading or listening to their thoughts.
When I think of a Christian apologist, I think of someone whose real audience is already sitting in the church, and they have no intention of going anywhere else on a Sunday. That audience is happy to take in some argument fresh out of a can, telling them why the other guys (people like me) are wrong. They don’t really need convincing, just reassurance, and they certainly won’t be asking any tough questions, at least not without accepting any token answers that may come along. When I think of apologists I think of endless circular arguments and enough straw men to earn a visit from the fire marshal. Apologists can do this, precisely because they are not really making an effort to engage non-believers, they are just making a show of it for the benefit of the faithful.
The philosopher has a potentially hostile audience, and he knows it; the apologist is preaching to the choir, and he knows it too.
When I think of Christian philosophers I think of Alvin Plantinga. When I think of apologists I think of Ray Comfort and his damned banana. (Then I think of Dunning and Kruger, but that’s a rant for a different day.) Don’t get me wrong, there is no hard and fast dividing line between these practices, but one cannott help noticing the differences at the far ends of the continuum. Some folks are making an honest effort to engage people with different views, and some folks are just going through the motions.
An entire industry falls on the less-than-worthy side of that distinction, producing stock arguments for the benefit of believers everywhere. Diehard consumers of this literature often become adept at identifying the issues, naming the conventional arguments, and applying the necessary responses, or at least the labels thereof. Being tone-deaf to the particulars of any given conversation, such folks are happy to point you to a book or even supply a link to some guy who answered your argument (or at least another argument that would fall under the same label). “Just go there and read it and you’ll see…”
Damned irritating is the nicest thing I can say about such people.
But all of this is just background material. What has me thinking about this is the possibility of an emergent apologetics tradition within atheism. Now some might take it for granted that everything I just said about arguments for Christianity would be true of non-believers as well; if one side of a debate is doing it, so a kind of popular wisdom goes, you can sure bet the other side is doing it too. But that just isn’t always the case. (Allow us please the possibility of a different set of vices.) In this instance the difference lies in the relative absence of a viable market for such messages.
For most of my life being an atheist has been a rather lonely experience. Oh sure, I could find lots of people happy to bitch about religion, and plenty more who could tell me (their faces beaming) about the time their minister got mad at them for asking too many questions. But with few exceptions, these same folks stop well short of denying the existence of God altogether. Most have little better tom say about atheists than they do the preachers of those stories.
Perhaps, my experiences have been atypical, but I don’t think so. Near as I can tell, unbelievers haven’t generally run in crowds all that much, not in the western world at any rate, not the least of reasons being that we have a hard time finding each other.
Had, that is! …had.
The Friendly Atheist, Hemant Mehta, once suggested that the invention of the internet has served to empower atheism in important ways, perhaps even given us an edge over believers in public discourse. I have my reservations over Mehta’s full take on the subject, but there is something about his observations that ring true for me. I do think the net is a bit of a game changer even if the outlook of this new game may be less than clear at this point.
The whole issue reminds me of an evening spent surfing the Apologetics page at Christianforums.com only to find the only other people on there were atheists like me. I challenged one of my fellow heathen to debate me anyway, suggesting we flip a coin to decide who would play the part of a believer, but he just wrote ‘lol’. The internet had no love for an argumentative guy that night. Anyway, that was my first taste of the power of the net to draw the unbelievers out into the open, or at least the virtual equivalent thereof.
I live and work in a remote village in the Bible hat of the country. I’ve met three self-professed atheists (that I know of) since moving here, and that’s three more than I met the dozen or so years I worked on the Navajo Nation. In this respect my experience is clearly not typical, but here is my point, I still count dozens of atheists as my friends, and I can interact with them as often as I want to. I have only to go online. That, for me anyway, is the difference between unbelief with the net and unbelief without it.
And yes, that strikes me as a good thing.
What worries me is the possibility that with this form of empowerment, some of us have picked up a few vices, not the east of them being a penchant for crafting arguments with less probative value than inflammatory potential. You can often do both at the same time, and maybe there is good reason to rally the troops on occasion, but sometimes people do make a choice, even without realizing it. There is something deeply inauthentic about fielding an argument that just doesn’t confront the other side in a meaningful way.
It is concerns about this that have me looking sideways at some of the memes circulating through the unbelieving corners of the net. Don’t get me wrong, I laugh at (and hit the ‘like’ button) on lots of these, but some are just genuinely foolish or outright deceptive. I did find it a little disturbing one day when I realized the front page of the atheist reddit consisted of nothing but memes, and I shudder to think at the 140-bit mindset developing on twitter. One can hope that people are learning and developing more complex messages in other contexts, but the medium of expression does shape content. And I can’t help thinking the sound-bite quality of some internet media will have an impact on the sorts of messages circulating about in them.
But of course I am not simply talking about a non-believing net. Recent years have seen the rise of countless conferences for skepticism, secularism, and non belief. Numerous unbelieving organizations, including a range of student groups have come into being, each pursuing a range of closely related agendas. Once again, there is tremendous potential in this. But at least part of that potential is a capacity for group-think and a chance to build a reputation (perhaps even a career) out of interactions with mostly like-minded people. In itself, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it doesn’t hep if one’s goals are at least partly to engage with others.
The recent Palin-Billboard debacle over at American Atheists would be a nice case-in-point. Everyone makes mistakes, but not everyone puts them on a billboard, or doubles down on the subject when questioned about it (or brags about high standards when finally correcting the mistake). No, not everyone does that, and David Barton is NOT good company folks. But of course the point here is hardly that someone made a mistake and was slow to correct it. The problem is that such behavior becomes much more likely when your bread&butter does not rest so much on your ability to issue a credible challenge to believers as it does on your ability to comfort those already in your own camp.
No, this post is not about being nice, and it’s not about compromise. It’s about taking the time and effort to do more than tell dirty stories about the stupidity of believers, and to field arguments that will do more than make other non-believers feel good. We are all hit or miss on the topic, even with the best of intentions, but some folks may not even be making that effort.
When your intended audience is in your camp, it is amazing how easy it is to field a compelling argument.
But that is a path that leads to Comfort and bananas.
The point here is that those of us who just say ‘no’ to gods can communicate our views more effectively now than ever. We can reach more people and we can insert our views into more conversations than previously possible. It would be a damned shame if these new possibilities were wasted on the production of in-jokes and arguments appealing only to confirmation bias.
I’m not against Schadenfreude either; I don’t much care what people laugh about three beers into a night out with the guys. But one ought to know the difference between a cheap shot and cogent argument. And one ought to be able to sober up when the time comes and field a case for one’s own position, a case that actually moves the conversation with others forward in some meaningful way.
I do think a few folks could work on that a bit.