Maybe you’ve seen it yourself. One of the many pieces of spirit-kitch floating about the net these days is a little gem called The Native American Ten Commandments. It might as easily be labelled an Indian Ten Commandments, or even the Native American Indian Ten Commandments.
…cause extra syllables make it all better.
Either way it’s just the sort of thing that goes with overly staged old photos or pastel-tinged paintings involving beautiful people and lots of feathers. To the left, you can see a poster version of the list. It is short on feathers, but totally cosmic, cause, well, Indians are good for that sort of thing.
That’s just one version of the native decalogue. Here is another! The list looks about the same, but the order seems to be different. Apparently, the order of this list isn’t as important to the Great Spirit as it is to the God of Abraham. I know, I know. Some of you are already saying these are the same thing.
But seriously, I don’t think so.
See, one of the many things that I typically admire about indigenous peoples is that they aren’t the sort of people who normally produce this sort of nonsense.
…or at least they weren’t historically. (Progress ruins just about everything.)
So what’s wrong with a decalogue of commandery goodness? Well we could start with the commandment theme. It contains a whole host of culture-specific assumptions about ethics most of which seem screamingly out of place here, not the least of them being that ideas about how one ought to behave come from some being of cosmic authority. This one of many respects in which the politics of kings comes screaming through the metaphors of modern Christianity. Ten commandments construe morality in terms of fealty to a liege-lord who gets to tell us how to behave. Whatever else the Lord is, he’s also a Lord, which is to say neither a Democrat nor a Republican. He tells us what to do, and doing His will is what defines our own morality. That is the logic of the Ten Commandments. This logic gets softened a bit in the Native American variant. We don’t exactly know who is commanding us. It might not even be the great spirit. One imagines, perhaps an elder who wishes us to show respect for the Great Spirit, which is at least a little more egalitarian than a God who starts his list of does and don’ts with a demand that we pay more attention to him than anyone else. So, yeah, it’s a little more egalitarian.
Tossing the commandment format out altogether would be a lot more egalitarian.
…and as far as I can tell, a lot more authentic. Maybe I’m missing something, like the history behind this particular decalogue. I wonder who produced it, and just what they hoped to accomplish with it. Suffice to say, it doesn’t strike me as having much connection to the traditions of any particular Native American people. It’s language and its metaphors are those of a generic pan-Indian culture, and in this case a pan-Indian culture as envisioned from the viewpoint of an outsider.
Do I object to the principles at stake here? Not particularly. Some of them sound rather cool. It’s the total package that sets off the red flags for me, not the least of reasons being its rather non-native packaging. What bothers me about this is the fact that some people don’t approach ethics in terms of a list of rules, much less imagine them to be the product of a cosmic legislator. The Native American decalogue invites us all to appreciate a kind of difference, but imposes an artificial similarity on the subject even as it pretends to acknowledge that difference.
And why ten? Seriously, can’t your ethics come in five or eights, or maybe even thirty-twos. Actually, I’m not a huge fan of listey philosophicals in general. The numbers always seem arbitrary, and along with that goes a lot of potential for contradiction, and very little potential for substantive understanding. It’s the matter-of-fact nature of such lists that seems to me an invitation to the most mechanical of moral sensibilities.
If there is a good place for such lists, I suspect it’s in less cosmic subject matters. They seem quite appropriate for a professional code of ethics, not the least of reasons that folks don’t usually expect a professional code of ethics to be complete. If your morality is dictated entirely by your job, then most folks would say you work to much. Then we just say; “Thou shalt get a life!”
…and thou better get on it, dammit!
Yes, I know I’m misusing ‘thou’. It’s not the worst thing I will do all day, not even in this post. Trust me!
Anyway, I don’t really mean to pick on native Americans here. They aren’t the only ones to fall for the lure of the decalogue (or perhaps to have someone else fall for it on their behalf). Apparently, there is a Ten Commandments of Colour Theory. Ted Talks seem to have their own, ..um, TED Commandments. Unnamed sources tell me there is a Ten Commandments of Journalism. Actors have their own Ten Commandments. So do bartenders. I would not have guessed, but it appears that even Propagandists have Ten Commandments. Even Nudists have Ten Commandments. Writers have one just for social networking. Is there a secret to a successful marriage? Yep, ten of them. Typography has its own decalogue. Apparently millennials have their own Ten Commandments. Following these Ten Commandments will lead to weight loss. …surely. Computer programmers have a decalogue, though presumably they will work on it sometime next week.
As I understand it, a list of Ten Commandments for Atheists has been floating around for awhile, though I assume the commandery parts of these Commandments is meant to be taken with a grain of salt. Actually, it seems there are a few decalogues for non-believers out there. Richard Dawkins seems to have produce one such list in The God Delusion. Penn Jillette has one too. I don’t remember reading it, but I’m told Bertrand Russell produced such a list long before him. Hitchens has his own list, so now his face appears on memes beside such a list. The guy at Daylight Atheism on Patheos blogs is not to be outdone. Oh look! The Atheism Reddit seems to have a Ten Commandments.
…probably not a fan of the atheist reddit.
Hey, there is a Ten Commandments of Logic! Hm…
There is a Ten Commandments for Musicians. Better yet, Captain Beefheart once produced a Ten Commandments for Guitar Playing. Classical Musicians have their own Ten Commandments. Drummers have a list of Ten Commandments, but honestly, I think they have machines for that now.
How many commandments do RPG Gamers have? Ten. It appears that Gamemasters have ten of their own. Do game designers have ten commandments? Of course. But there is a different one for educational game designers. There is even a Ten Commandments specifically for video game menus. Game Inventors have one of their own.
Do Republicans have their own Ten Commandments? Yes, but apparently they didn’t write it. Or this one. Liberals don’t seem to have written theirs either. Elizabeth Warren once issued 11 Commandments for Progressives, cause apparently one of them is breaking the frame. Mostly, Republicans and Democrats argue about the Ten Commandments, but let’s not get into that.
I can only hope that I’ve broken at least three of them, but you can damned well bet that there is a Ten Commandments for bloggers. Actually, there seems to be two of them. No, Three. Make that four. Okay, five. Six? Okay, that’s really enough. No really, stop it! Seriously, stop it! I said STOP!
Someone here says that cats have a Ten Commandments, but they only follow it when they feel like it. Dogs have their own take on the Ten Commandments. I would look for a Ten Commandments of tropical fish, but I imagine it would just go like; “1) Gloop, 2) gloop, gloop.” Horses have a Ten Commandments. There is a Ten Commandments for pets in general.
Oh Hell, I haven’t even got to all the interesting or well known decalogues! This could take all day. …maybe even ten of them. But you get the idea. What’s fascinating about the proliferation of decalogetry, at least to me, is the seeming arbitraryness of the whole thing. Even within the Abrahamioc religions, the Ten Commandments have less to do with actual scripture than pop-Christianity. Compared to its source material, the Ten Commandments are simplified and trimmed of questionable content (one might even say that ‘politically correct’, but of course that phrase is only to be used in attacking liberals). Still, the notion caught on, and caught on so well it just keeps generating itself, time and again. Some of its children are meant to be taken more seriously than others, but an awful lot of people seem to fall quite easily into the notion that ethics begins with a list of ten principle to be declared into existence by someone (with or without the authority to do so).
The Ten Commandments of Decalogue Building
1: The Number of Commandments Shall be Ten.
2. Ten shall be the number of the commandments.
3) Thou shalt not have 11 Commandments, nor 9, except that…
4 – No Monty Python References!
5 ~ Numbers 2 through 5 are bullshit. Start over!
2b -> …or not to be. That is the question.
3b, Okay, I’ll let you get by with that one.
4b That which is numbered shall be commandments. Simple oughts and issez shall not count in the counting except insofar as one reconstructs them into shalls and shall nots, or even to fuck offs.
5c = No, not fuck-offs, dammit. Do this right!
6 This is hard.
6.2 –You’re wasting time. Do that one over!
6.3 …Okay, …No matter the subject, all that is deemed worthy of the counting shall end in an exclamation mark
7)) All commandments are to be read in the voice of Charlton Heston. Of course!
8:: The decalogue will not be televised.
(10) I really can’t do this.
11 Cause my rules go to 11.
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.
You see, I look at this meme, and a part of me wants to shout; “Yeah Boyeeee!” (…preferably in the face of some believer who has just suggested one of the alternatives). It’s damned frustrating to deal with that kind of commentary. You know how it goes; “The only reason you don’t believe is blah blah, blah…” …Blech! Seriously I’ve heard that line way too many times (and apparently so did someone else). So, it’s nice to see a bold affirmation that one’s own judgement really is the basis of, …well, ones own judgement!
…as opposed to some dismissive third person narrative.
Still, I wonder, would this look any different from any other religious perspective? If I asked for ‘Reasons I believe in God’, used the exact same sentence for the red color, and then made just a few strategic changes to the decoy list (Peer Pressure, Social Conformity, Afraid of Death, Raised That Way, Mental Disturbance, Haven’t Really Thought About It), I imagine we could present this to a few believers and generate exactly the same sense of vindication that I feel looking at this meme right now. “Damned right,” I can just hear them saying about that red line. …some might even add a “Praise Jesus!” or something like that, but my mind’s ear just doesn’t really want to go there.
My point is of course that trivializing generalizations are a stick in the side of lots of folks, not just atheists. This is just the tip of the iceberg, a larger problem looms beneath the surface. And no, I didn’t just choose that image, because I live in Alaska; I actually thought about it and decided that it would be the best metaphor I could… well, anyway… the point is that this is part of a larger problem.
In the classic formulation of the problem, humans seem to possess a nearly universal tendency to explain other people’s actions (particularly those we don’t like) as a function of some consistent feature of their own personality while explaining our own actions in terms of situational factors. This tendency has generally been described as the Fundamental Attribution Error, or alternatively, as a function of Actor-Obeserver Asymmetry. What does this mean? Well, it means the reason you didn’t pay your bill on time this month is because of those unexpected medical expenses, the repair bill for the car, and well, it was little Johnny’s birthday, and you had to get him something… (You know the story). The reason your friend didn’t pay you the money he owes you? Well, he’s just a lazy bastard!
Okay, so that’s classical attribution theory, at least if you add a little salt to the vocabulary. Recent studies have shown that this basic contrast between situational versus dispositional explanations doesn’t quite explain the full range of data on this topic. Not to worry, a replacement theory is available, and it seems to illustrate the same point, albeit with a little less flair. The folk-conceptual theory approaches this same phenomenon by suggesting that people apply a range of different folk models to explain their own behavior and those around them. Depending on just how much one identifies with a person whose behavior they seek to explain, he/she is likely to adopt radically different descriptions of the behavior in question. One of the variables, for example is a difference between offering a reason for a behavior as its explanation and offering a history of reasoning as its explanation.
Case in point?
Saying; “I don’t believe in the Christian God, because the problem of evil renders this notion incoherent,” or conversely, saying; “I believe in God, because aspects of DNA coding appear to be irreducibly complex, and hence they require more of an explanation than chance evolution could provide.” What both of these explanations for a belief have in common is that each serves to explain a belief and at the same time to advance an active case for it. Conversely, saying “That guy Johnny, well he believes what he believes, because he has a deep fear of death (or Hell).” This latter sort of explanation describes a stage in a causal chain of behavior, one which doesn’t actively make much of a case for Johnny’s beliefs. In fact, the explanation undermines his credibility. The bottom line here is that we are looking at two different types of explanation, and the choice of which type to offer depends an awful lot on the disposition of the speaker towards the behavior/belief in question.
People thus have different ways of explaining behavior that they value and behavior that they don’t, and those differences serve more to shift the narrative around our feet than they do to set up a straight-forward evaluation of the issue. I really do think this is the key to the problem addressed in that meme above. People use dismissive explanations for beliefs they don’t identify with while presenting the reasons for beliefs they do identify with in terms of their own judgements.
You can see this consistently in the sphere of religious and philosophical discussions wherein you and I can supply all manner of thoughtful reasons for the judgements we’ve made, but that guy over there? Well, you know where he was raised and how his parents are! And all those people in the church on the corner? Well, they just have to believe in something; it fills a void somehow; they really are just brained washed aren’t they!?!
…and so on.
I’m including you in the good and thoughtful narrative of course, dear reader, but that’s just because you are reading my blog. When you’re gone I’m going to tell my other friend that you just had a traumatic experience.
The bottom line is that it’s difficult to disentangle the full range of human motivation, and when we do this for religion, the tendency is to do it in a way that privileges one’s own judgement while trivializing that of others. Folks we identify with can enjoy praise by association, and those that we don’t, well damn them anyhow, right? They really need to learn to think for themselves!
So, why do I like this meme? Well, it took me down that path just now, and lucky you, I brought you along for the ride. I guess this is yet another instance of ‘liking’ something not quite meaning that I agree with it.
This meme is a good answer to half of the actor-observer bias.
…and it’s a damned good illustration of the other half.
I suppose that is something of a win-win situation.
Do you remember the first time you heard this little Gem? If you’re like me, you might even remember going on a little mental roller-coaster ride from “Okay, good” to “I guess that’s reasonable” to “no it’s not” to “not even close actually” and then on to “fuck you asshole for saying that shit!” all in the space of less than a second.
Okay, so I take that particular roller coaster ride all the time, but let’s not dwell on that! The point is that this particular line of reasoning has a certain seductive quality to it. If you are lucky, you escape its wiles within a moment; if you are a Fox News Fan, you probably still think it’s gospel.
And yet, I hear the voice of Nietzsche calling back to me, reminding me of the dangers of staring into a void, and suddenly I feel naked, and I want to say; “you stop staring back at me you damned void. You just stop that right now!”
And I somehow manage to squirm free.
It was John Stuart Mill, and he did say ‘most’ rather than ‘all’ in that last part, and he definitely meant something different by ‘Conservative’ than I was thinking when I started down this route. …and I’m really not sure if all those caveats help or hurt my case, so we are just moving on now.
Hell, I’m not even sure if the quotation is all that accurate.
Okay, this post is getting to be a guilty pleasure, I know. But the point is that we can turn this logic around and apply it in all sorts of different directions. If it hasn’t escaped you that I have failed to apply it to my own political camp, well then let’s just treat that as an object lesson in how this particular gambit works. You apply it to your enemies, silly, not your friends.
It does get sillier!
Seriously, do I have to provide links to the American Nazi party? Cause I’m not gonna.
You’re just going to have to get the point. And you know, it’s entirely possible that is even the point of this meme (or even the last one), because that damned Nathan Poe dogs my every judgement.
Besides everything else, this one is completely out of date, but what else can you expect from a thinking dinosaur. Not all anachronisms are philosophical lizards, but all… nevermind!
Maybe we could take this quotation in a positive direction? This sounds wonderful and warm and smart, and …well I should probably verify the quotation and discern it’s context and what not, but that would take time away from basking in the glow if literositude that this one kindles in my heart. I just want to sit here and think about how leading and reading go together like carrots and cake.
Or Christmas and BB Guns. Or lingerie and a live wallaby.
…I’ve said too much.
But hey, let’s get even more positive. Boy you just read this one and you can’t help but feel the love. Doesn’t it just make you want to reach down inside your soul and let the good stuff out for a walk in a park called Success.
Seriously folks, you just gotta let your awesome blossom!
That’s all I’m sayin’.
And who the Hell is Mark Gorman?
Okay kids, that was a rhetorical question. I just googled him and the only thing I learned is that I really don’t want to know anything more about him at all. We are moving on again.
No really, it does.
Honestly, I’m not sure what to do with this one. It’s actually rather clever. I might even like it. But I don’t know much about Hentai, or porn, …or one of those anyway.
Not me! Huh uh!
er, not all men watch porn, but… nevermind!
Okay, that one doesn’t even begin to make sense, and I probably should have left it out. But you know, you turn over a rock and see something gross underneath…
…so, you post it on the internets for all your friends to see,
…and to feel just a little creeped out by the whole thing.
Which is fine with me, actually, I believe in sharing the misery.
…in case you hadn’t noticed.
But part of what makes this so fun is that it breaks the mold a little; gender politics aside, this is a nice little exercise in creating an expectation and then violating it. …which is very cool in a joke-I-just-killed-by-explaining-it kinda way, but the point is that the whole meme rests on a manipulation of expectations. You start by repudiating a generalization, thus leading people to expect a smarter wiser replacement and hope they won’t notice that you left them with a whole new pile of dumbitude sitting there in place of the one you repudiated. This one just takes that approach and drives it to Hawaii.
…Yes, I said drives.
So anyway, I guess you can file all of this under the category of, “Shit we oughtta know better”
Case in point?
Look to your left.
The thing about this gem is that it skewers a pretense for which I have absolutely no sympathy. I’ve been asked far too many times why I don’t commit great acts of cruelty dishonesty, or outright villainy, all on the assumption that failure to believe in God apparently means you are well on your way to doing the worst things imaginable. It’s a pretty common theme in the amateur apologetics camps, and some folks keep coming back to it no matter how often (or how reasonably) you answer their questions.
And yes, the people who insist that all sense of morality goes out the window once you walk away from God scare me, …more than a little bit.
So, I have no sympathy for the mindset mocked by this little meme, none whatsoever.
But Wonka’s argument here is a little troubling in itself, because of course nobody really does figure out that murder is wrong, all by themselves. It might be easier if the category in question were simply ‘killing’, but it isn’t. It’s ‘murder’. And murder is a social construction. (How many people are really against ‘killing’ in all its forms anyway, or even ‘killing sentient creatures.’ No. Most of us are quite willing to kill under the right circumstances, even if we might find it difficult to do so.
If you’ve ever tried to sort the difference between killing that is acceptable from killing that isn’t you can see how very quickly a simple question leads to a very complex maze of possible answers. Issues of self defense, defense of others, and military or police service all skew the simple answer in a variety of ways. Add in possible mercy killings and a mix of government and business polices that lead accidentally or by design to deaths of innocent people in one part of the world or another, the whole damned thing gets that much more messy.
I’m not even suggesting that you can’t sort the mess. What I am saying is that social conventions are a big part of the means by which this mess does get sorted. We don’t figure out that murder is wrong all by ourselves; we learn what murder is from those around us. Others are actively involved in helping is form an orientation towards the prospect of killing another person, helping us decide when and under what circumstances we would be willing to do so.
It’s worth noting that references to God(s) serve as a pretty common part of that social process by which this and other moral questions are sorted out for a lot of people. One could question, as I do, whether or not gods are an essential part5 of that equation, and even conceding the role that gods do play in communicating ethics for many people does not entail belief in the literal existence of any of them. But there is a big difference between suggesting you can be good without God, or even questioning the role of divine entities in ethical lessons and the pretense that it’s all so perfectly obvious you can settle the whole matter all on your own.
It’s a particularly obnoxious fellow that insists we would all go conky-wobble with each other in the absence of God. More reasonable theologians have asked whether or not non-believers can produce an adequate explanation for the ethics that we do have. …I think the answer is yes, but that’s a response to a different kind of discussion. It’s hard to tell what to do when one runs into someone who insists that we are all one god shy of an shoot-out at the K-Mart Corral. Their position is crap, and their arguments are profoundly disturbing.
Still, it isn’t quite true that each of us handles the moral questions of life on the strength of our own individual conscience alone. We get a lot of help from our friends and loved ones.
The answer to both Wonka and the target of his abuse turns out to be the same; it’s more complicated than that.
I suppose it is too much to ask that folks distinguish the varieties of gun control from an outright ban. The way the gun rights crowd raises the specter of a completely disarmed populace when speaking about any variety lesser measures smacks of dishonesty.
It would hardly give away the farm to distinguish such things from one another. There are plenty of legitimate questions about the efficacy of lesser gun control measures, especially when applied to a population already so well armed as we are here in the U.S. But that is an interesting and well focused discussion some folks don’t seem to want to risk.
But what is really fascinating about memes like this is the slippage between a right to bear arms and a prescription for doing so. The second Amendment was alive and well when the internment of Japanese occurred in the first place. So, that right and that right alone simply is not a cure for the evil that this pic wants us to think about. The meme only works if we are to imagine a population which is not merely in possession of the right to bear arms, but which actively uses that right even to the point of preparing for war against its own government.
And can anyone really imagine Japanese immigrant population of the west coast doing this in the years leading up to World War II? Can anyone imagine the response from their neighbors?
This is not merely a defense of the Second Amendment, it is an argument for the expansion of private gun ownership well beyond anything previously imagined in American history. To make this argument work, we need more than just the right to bear arms, we all need to have the arms, the training to use them, and enough firepower to make them an effective counter to the powers of the United States Government.
Is the author suggesting that gun owners could stop such a thing as internment? Perhaps, but would they?
It’s a pretty common claim from the gun rights crowd, the notion that the Second Amendment puts the teeth in the rest of our civil rights. It is through gun ownership, so the argument goes, that people are protected from abuse by government officials. It is the most important means by which our rights are protected.
Pardon me, …from ‘thuh government.’
But gun owners did not stop the internment of Japanese.
Or of Aleuts during the same war.
Neither did they stop lynching of blacks.
Nor did gun owners secure the right to vote for African Americans.
…or for women.
…or Native Americans.
Gun owners did not stop the Federal Government from kidnapping Native American children to be taken to schools far from their families.
They didn’t stop police harassment of homosexuals.
They didn’t improve treatment of the mentally ill.
They didn’t stop the Zoot Suit Riots.
…or legacy provisions precluding Jews from owning homes in some neighborhoods.
Gun Ownership didn’t stop Jim Crow laws.
It was not gun owners that secured for any number of minorities the right to an education or any other protections by states or the federal government.
In each of these instances, the rights in question were won by protestors, and lawyers, and people who talked a hell of a lot, even if their main opponents didn’t. In many of these instances gun owners were actively involved in the very repression suffered by those in question. Since the founding of the country, Gun violence has played a far greater role in the repression of civil rights than it has in protecting them. There are exceptions to be sure, but this narrative is not built on the exceptions. It is built on a fantasy that skips any active consideration of how these things actually work.
Herein lies the biggest problem with this fantasy scenario; it presents us with the image of a government acting on its own, independent of the public will. That could happen, I suppose, but is far less likely than the countless times in which government policies actually have facilitated repressive measures popular with the American people, or at least a large segment of it. And in such moments, the victims of repression have rarely been sufficiently well armed to make an effective stand against those who wanted a piece of their liberty.
In real world history, those who have suffered the greatest deprivations did not merely face the threat of Federal Authority; they also have had to contend with the prejudice of an American population content to have them suffer.
…one that sometimes even demanded it.
We can imagine the victims of repression better armed, yes, but only if we also imagine the majority better armed as well. This is hardly a story which leads to a successful defense of liberty. I would call the scenario anarchy, but I don’t wish to sully the term ‘anarchy’ with such a vision of violence and destruction.
It’s damned hard to read these self-indulgent fantsies when considering the actual history of people struggling for their rights. It’s hard to give credence to this juvenile narrative, knowing what it took for the people in these camps to survive, what it took the Freedom Riders to earn rights enjoyed by gun-toting whites in the South. And it is especially hard to hear such arguments from those with so little to say about such things as Guantanamo Bay or the countless encroachments on Fourth Amendment Rights we’ve seen over the last few decades.
What pisses me off about this argument isn’t the defense of gun ownership, or even opposition to gun control. Frankly I don’t think this kind of crap even touches either one of those issues. It sheds no light on those issues whatsoever, and leave us with a whole different discussion to have if we can ever get clear of noise like this. What bothers me about this stuff is the scorched-earth tactics; the vision of politics as warfare and questions about rights as an invitation to shoot at one another. It’s a vision of government as a faceless evil empire in opposition to private citizens, and begging for opposition from heroic gun-owners everywhere. Folks telling this yarn have no sense of how such things actually happen. But they are happy to tell stories of gun-toting heroes squaring off against a government turned inexplicably on its own population. How that will work is a Hell we can only hope we will never see.
And it’s a Hell as likely to be brought about by gun-owners defending their own rights (as they define them) as anything done by a corrupt and tyrannical government.
While others have struggled and died for some of the most basic human rights imaginable, so many in the gun crowd openly fantasize about acts of violence over basic policy disagreements and the possibility of restricted access to a commodity. The pretense that this commodity is the key to civil rights plays a big role in these fantasies. The end result is a tantrum born of paranoia and privilege and a gun culture increasingly dangerous to the rest of us.
No. I’m not talking about the weapons. I am talking about the mindset of people who produce memes like the one above. People who make such arguments are not interested in protecting anyone under serious threat of government repression. The gun rights crowd did not protect the Japanese during World War II, and I for one don’t believe they will be there the next time someone decides to create camps like this.
…unless of course it is to close and lock the gates.
I enjoy a good meme as much as the next guy, but sometimes it’s a guilty pleasure. Other times, it’s just damned irritating to see what passes for smartitude in various corners of the net. Case in point?
This little bit of net-douchery. It certainly does sell a seductive message. What thinking person couldn’t identify with that sense of standing alone against a crowd of idiots, all bent on some tragically wrong-headed notion with all the certainty of gravity. And who among us who has gone that far hasn’t indulged in the thought that all those in the crowd weren’t just a bunch of gullible morons, no more and no less?
Could it be that simple?
Well, it appears that whoever put this meme together thinks it is, or at least he wants the rest of us to think so. But it’s all just a little too self-indulgent for my tastes.
I have no problem with the first sentence… Wait a minute? Yes, I do.
Oh, I certainly agree that the notion that majority rule does not make the majority right. But does this point really need to be made? Why say it? I’m not entirely too sure how many people really believe that majority consensus constitutes objective truth, though it’s a common enough claim in the heat of an argument. This is an interesting problem itself, mapping the relationship between specific claims onto something like a belief, …pardon me, Belief. It isn’t at all clear that there are a lot of people out there who think that majoritarian principles constitute a procedure for getting at the truth. At the very least, I think it is safe to say that the number of people using ad populum arguments far exceeds the number of people prepared to vouch for the existence of some epistemological principle that justifies them. So, the first statement strikes me as a bit of grandstanding.
If only it were limited to that.
That first sentence serves also to engage in a little bit of cognitive priming. Having suggested what majority rules do NOT mean, the meme proceeds blissfully onward to tell us what majority rules DO mean. Apparently, it means that the majority are gullible.
And if you bang your head against a table enough times, perhaps that inference will seem plausible. Alternatively, you could visit the atheist reddit and keep reading bullshit like this one until it starts to pass for normal.
Bashing your skull against a solid object / reading the atheist reddit
Tomaeto / Tomahto!
It would seem that the author of this bit hoped we would be so happy to reject the epistemological certitude of majority rule that we wouldn’t notice he had slipped en entry of his own into the competition for supreme foolishness on this subject. Even if we assume that the majority in this fantasy scenario is in fact gullible, it is by no means clear that the one leads to the other in any substantive manner.
But of course the meme gets a lot of mileage out of the expectations of its intended audience. Many of the atheists encountering this meme will be only to happy to think of believers as gullible, all the more so when they are depicted as a formless mass of people menacing the lone nay-sayer in the image. Poor guy! Who wouldn’t be happy to think ill of the collective bunch of bullies in that caricature? So, it’s easy to give the inference a pass, to accept the logic because we are easily tempted to agree with its conclusion.
It should also be said that many of us unbelievers will identify with the feeling of being alone against a tide of believers, though I suspect quite a few believers could point to similar experiences. But of course underdog elitism is far less effective when you let too many people in the kennel of kicked puppies. Far more satisfying to pretend the experience is unique to one’s own kind.
And herein lies the real danger of preaching to the choir, as this meme does. It suggests that the real difference between the believer and the non-believer is an innate quality, something we don’t really have to work at. Whether that quality is intelligence or moral courage, or both, the meme presents a just-so explanation of the difference between believers and non-believers. They are gullible and we are not. Yippee! We are in the good camp
…and also very convenient.
But here is where the medium does not fit the message. If there is something of moral courage, intelligence, and honesty in the position of the non-believer, it is not present in the smug assertion of some monopoly over these qualities. These qualities are not present in the asinine assertion that all of these qualities are miraculously absent in the multitude of believers. These qualities are present in the slow, patient process of sorting claims against evidence and logical support, of constructive dialogue and small careful adjustments to one’s views on this and myriad other subjects. They are present in anyone who is willing and prepared to engage in that sort of process, regardless of what side of the line they fall on for this particular question. And they are present in messages that open up such dialogue and invite others to come and play in the sandbox of reason, so to speak.
These qualities are not present in self-congratulatory sound bites that invite us to point and laugh at the other guys.