Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The threat of difference

-- by Dave

Well, I guess we all knew that Jonah Goldberg is simply incoherent when it comes to thinking through the logic of right-wing politics. This is not terribly surprising, since right-wing politics are really more about irritable mental gestures expressing bellicose claptrap rather than anything based in fact, logic, or reason.

Still, it's hard to top the claptrap that Goldberg propagated in his most recent L.A. Times column:
I find Darwin fish offensive. First, there's the smugness. The undeniable message: Those Jesus fish people are less evolved, less sophisticated than we Darwin fishers.

The hypocrisy is even more glaring. Darwin fish are often stuck next to bumper stickers promoting tolerance or admonishing random motorists that "hate is not a family value." But the whole point of the Darwin fish is intolerance; similar mockery of a cherished symbol would rightly be condemned as bigoted if aimed at blacks or women or, yes, Muslims.

It might be helpful to come to grips with the concept in question here: Bigotry is usually defined as "stubborn and complete intolerance of any creed, belief, or opinion that differs from one's own," and a bigot as "a person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices." Bigotry, as we have known it historically, is not based on rationality or reason -- as the scientific belief in evolution is -- but founded instead on prejudice, inbred beliefs, and supernatural reactionarism.

And what we also know about bigotry historically is that it has largely been a characteristic of the right, particularly the cultural conservatives who enforced the segregation and oppression of nonwhites for much of the 20th century.

That's not to say that liberals and the left are incapable of it. Certainly, evolutionary thinkers, as well as scientists and liberals generally, can be found to harbor bigotry as well. The Christopher Hitchens brand of atheism making the rounds these days probably qualifies as a kind of anti-religious bigotry.

But sporting a Darwin Fish on your car isn't any indication of bigotry. Clearly, the Darwin Fish symbol isn't an attack on Christianity per se -- it's an unadulterated assertion of belief in the Darwinist evolution, in contradistinction to the Creationist brand of Christianity (which is, in fact, a very narrow band of Christian belief).

It's entirely possible, in fact, for a practicing Christian to have one on their car, given that large numbers of Christians in fact also believe in evolution. (I know this from experience; my devout, church-going and elderly mother -- who also thinks creationism is a pile of balderdash -- proudly sports one on hers.)

Obviously, there are belief systems that naturally conflict, and the Creationist view clearly conflicts with evolutionary thinking. And naturally, there is some antagonism toward the opposition inherent whenever each side asserts their values.

But to argue that this constitutes "bigotry" is blithering nonsense. People can and should be able to strongly assert their own beliefs without others feeling threatened by that.

Is it "bigotry" when right-wing conservatives (like Jonah Goldberg) assert that global warming is either vastly overstated or a hoax?

Is it "bigotry" when Republicans insist that Democrats should not win voters' approval?

Is it "bigotry" when Christians insist that the world was created in seven days -- in contravention of every bit of real science known to humans?

Indeed, one might more reasonably argue that the "Jesus fish" swallowing the Darwin fish we've all seen similarly adorning people's cars -- like the one atop this post -- is in fact a form of bigotry, because it clearly is intended as an attack on other people's beliefs. But Goldberg seems either to be unaware of the existence of such stickers, or he simply finds them inconvenient when it comes to his thesis.

But then, as we saw with Liberal Fascism, eliding the inconvenient fact is a central motif of Goldberg's style of argumentation.

Goldberg is like so many conservatives: They see any ideology or idea that falls outside of their own belief system as a threat to those beliefs. So any assertion of ideas outside that realm becomes interpreted as an attack.

This is why so many right-wingers love to attack gay marriage as an "assault on the institution of marriage" -- when in fact no gay marriage on the planet harms a single straight marriage. It's also why so many creationist types insist on trying to remove science education from their children's curriculum.

Now, opposing beliefs often do come into contention, and that clearly is the issue underlying the whole "Darwin fish" matter. It's probably reasonable that someone might fear that someone's opposing beliefs might prove their own hollow, absurd, or meaningless -- as innately an attack on them. And so the easy response to this is to dismiss these as "bigotry."

But the only real bigotry in play here -- the kind that simply cannot tolerate someone else holding beliefs different from theirs, and so they must attack those beliefs on the grounds that they are attacking -- is the kind that Jonah Goldberg is blithely promoting. And of course, consonant with the projection strategy, he's doing so in the name of supposedly attacking it.

No comments: