Monday, February 19, 2007

Bigotry and subversion

by Dave
Bill Donohue's "gook joke," from back in September of 2003, has been making the rounds lately:
DONOHUE: Look, just hold on here. You had your time. Look, the kid's a phony and here's why. I dealt with him earlier today on an MSNBC show, and I said we could hypothesize that there'd be a Columbia University ping-pong team made of Asians, and somebody goes out there and says "All gooks go home." So I — I asked him about my gook joke. And guess what? Andy's — Andy's sense of humor just collapsed. He found that offensive. You see what you are? You're a phony. You're a typical Ivy League little brat who thinks it's OK to dump on Catholics, but you don't like my gook joke. Now, what's wrong with a gook joke?

HAO: Can I respond?


HAO: All right. Here's the thing. I mean, first of all, it's completely a false analogy.

DONOHUE: No, it isn't! You attacked my religion!

A lot of commenters have observed, naturally, how this incident is a prime example of the highly selective claims of bigotry that have been part of Donohue's modus operandi for many years now. But if you examine it a little more carefully, you can see how Donohue and the Catholic League's larger argument rests upon a logical fallacy -- namely, he equates subversion with bigotry, when in truth subversion is more often than not a weapon against bigotry.

Let's be clear: There is such a thing as anti-Catholic bigotry, and there is a history of it in America. Most notoriously, the Ku Klux Klan of the 1920s was in fact only incidentally anti-black and anti-Semitic, its chief attributes today; back then, it was first and foremost violently anti-Catholic.

These events occurred in a context in which, in fact, Catholics were an "out group" minority, often Irish immigrants against whom British-style bigotry was a commonhood beginning in the mid-19th century. The Klan and other nativistg bigots were fond of raising conspiratorial fears about the "papists" who, it was argued, served at the behest of the Vatican and were therefore unfit Americans. It was in response to this kind of bigotry, in fact, that the Catholic League was originally formed.

It is the nature of bigotry, in fact, that it represents the cultural majority's assertion of dominance over minorities, particularly those minorities that might undermine or subvert that dominance. And it typically does so in crude and violent ways. It is in the nature of bigotry not only that it unleashes the worst of human nature -- the viciousness of the bully as he victimizes the "little guy" -- but that it is profoundly damaging to a healthy democratic society.

However, there is an even broader context involved here -- namely, the Catholic Church's long history as a bigoted force itself, related to its centuries-long status as the dominant cultural and political force in Western Civilization. This includes its history of persecution of certain minorities in the name of ostensible religious beliefs, as well as its suppression of women and their roles in and out of the church. These range from pogroms against Jews dating back to the Crusades to the persecution of Protestants in various regions of Europe in later ages, and has continued well into the current age -- from Father Coughlin's rampant anti-Semitism earlier in the 20th century to its ongoing discrimination against homosexuals and suppression of women's reproductive rights.

Over the centuries, the Church's dogma and doctrine, as well as its behavior, have been criticized on many grounds, most especially because of their larger social harm -- embodied, perhaps, by the backwardness inherent in its various wars against the advance of science. Most of the time, this criticism has been a form of subversion -- the polar opposite of bigotry.

Whereas bigotry is always about the bullying majority inflicting itself upon the "little guys", subversion is about the individual working to undermine majoritarian oppression. Most critics of the Catholic Church throughout history have been opposed to bigotry and in favor of individual freedom -- and often suffered persecution for it.

Somehow, Donohue has managed a neat trick: converting subversion into bigotry, pretending that subversive criticism of Church doctrine, intended to fight oppression, is actually a form of bigotry, also a form oppression. Simultaneously, he openly practices bigotry -- and pretends that it's just an expression of his individual freedom.

It is a classic case of Newspeak -- twisting language to convert the real meaning of words into their near-opposite, thereby rendering them meaningless. When it comes to obvious bigots like Donohue, the motivation for rendering a concept like "bigotry" meaningless couldn't be more clear.

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