Flash mobs of stupid conservative bigots are monopolizing our headspace
OCCASIONALLY, DEAR READER, I AM FORCED to come up with a statement of principles. This usually happens when I’ve been online, getting exasperated by and attempting to respond to the comments of conservatives who are all in a panic about some class of people they disapprove of, like gay people or liberals or women, being happy and exercising their rights.
If there’s something a modern-day conservative hates, it’s people they disapprove of being happy and free and shoving their equality down everyone’s throats. Man oh man—!
My incessant life’s work is grappling with, untangling and decoding conservative “logic.” Conservative logic is an act of contortion that the Cirque de soleil would have rejected for its latest Vegas show as being too demanding, for conservative logic is always trying to prove that some minority’s insistence on the right to live their life with the same rights, benefits and protections as anyone else constitutes a denial of the rights of conservatives.
The assumptions underlying this logic are never clearly articulated, either because conservatives are too entitled to bother thinking through the implications of what they’re saying, or because they understand the implications perfectly and sense how outrageous they are.
These assumptions are that only a select class of people, the best people—the aristoi—have rights; and that these best people are by definition WASP, heterosexual and male. To allow other, non-best people—the demos—to have rights devalues those rights.
It’s like a conservative’s wife seeing her immigrant housemaid dressed in a replica of her Christian Lacroix ballgown, a cheap imitation that the maid constructed herself during her coffee break using plastic tablecloths from Dollarama. And here’s the galling bit: it looks better than his wife’s, because she’s happy wearing it.
Relentlessly co-opting street culture and sucking it dry of meaning, the conservative’s wife runs out and buys a plaid Vivienne Westwood number bristling with sterling silver safety pins and randomly-placed zippers that have no function and calls herself a punk, even though if the conservative saw an actual punk approaching their front door he’d grab his assault weapon and shoot them.
This is the analogy. Anything the grimy hands of a non-conservative touches is tainted forever. So, if I, a gay male, get to marry my partner, I’ve spoiled conservatives’ exclusive right to and definition of marriage: “One man, one woman.” (Unbelievably, no one consulted me about this definition.)
For women to get equal pay is to destroy the idea that men’s work is inherently more valuable, usually expressed as “all of the businesses in the universe will tank from the expense of paying women equally, so, like, we can’t.”
Included in this argument is the lie that “there isn’t enough money,” because there’s always room in the savings account for a nuclear warhead or a gerrymandering project, to name two.
Missing from this argument is the concept that people’s rights aren’t subject to budgetary constraints. They’re not expendable if they are expensive. They need to be recognized, and now.
Conservatives are depressingly similar: a tight-assed gang of spoiled brats and shrieking bullies in Lacoste polo shirts who can’t bear to think about women having abortions, me getting married to a dude, gender identity, anthropogenic climate change, up-to-date sex education in schools or national anthem kneelers; anything that reminds them that they’re in the twenty-first century.
We do try. We want to be good parents to these maladapted children. We strap them into the high chair, we feed them the nourishing creamed spinach of inclusiveness, “this is the airplane coming into the hangar!” but they spit it right back in our faces.
My doomed attempts at educating the insistently ignorant and the perpetual onslaught of their thin-lipped rage has caused me the type of frustration that can only be relieved by bending forward and smacking my face repeatedly on the surface of my desk.
The more I do this, the more I resemble a fourth Trump son, sibling to the two Frankenstein Foreheads. Frankenforehead the Fourth, who you don’t know about because they keep him hidden in the White House attic, is the Washington, D.C. version of the first, mad Mrs. Rochester, except instead of emulating her and setting fire to the place, he stomps around with a lighted candelabra at the stroke of midnight and whispers tweets and other assorted sound-bytes in Donald’s ear.
“Psst! Don’t forget to call the Swedish Prime Minister and guarantee bail for A$AP Rocky! Even though Sweden doesn’t have bail and their leaders are forbidden to interfere with the legal system, but they’re SURE to make an exception for you!”
“Psst! Homeboy! When you make your Fourth of July speech, don’t forget to include how George Washington closed all the airports during the American Revolution! Yep, just throw that in any old where! Oh boy oh boy! This is gonna be even bigger than your inauguration! Biggest audience in, like. The history! of Time?!”
So that’s how the process goes that leads up to my statement of principles. I beat my forehead on the desk. I push back, I untangle. I decode. I attempt an answer. I beat the forehead again.
Also I cry. Let’s not forget the crying. And I’m not talking polite, “excuse me for a moment while my lips quiver and I sincerely hope my suicidal ideation and free-floating misery wasn’t too much of a downer, eh?” apologetic, Canadian-style crying, either.
I’m talking Man-Sobs: great, honking, moist, gasping, choking, snot-flying asthmatic gulps and mucus-y snorffles that would make you back away in alarm, fearing that this heralds my projectile vomiting onto your Yves St. Laurent smoking jacket, whilst literally an entire St. Lawrence Seaway of tears and saliva and invasive species pours down my face.
When I Man-Sob, my face looks like an open lock on the Welland Canal, if the locks on the Welland Canal were made of aging human flesh and covered with patchy, unkempt hair.
If only I could figure out how to make all of this aerobic. Or, failing that, just monetize the shit out of it.
PUBLIC DISCOURSE HAS BECOME POLARIZED to the degree that it’s scary and stressful to broach certain subjects with people, even worse when someone you thought you knew, your mom, for example, or your co-worker, initiates an exchange clearly assuming you hold the same bigoted views.
And I’m pushing back with less and less energy. I’ve lost some of the, how can I put this, spunk. I have less piss and vinegar. My responses are weary.
Instead of just slipping into my nuclear-grade conservative-proof overalls and flailing my hands at the keyboard, or in the face of the bigot, I first pause and consider what I might be getting myself into.
Do I want to be rolling on the ground at the bus stop, mud wrestling with a supporter of Andrew Scheer as we each attempt to bite off our opponent’s nose and pull out handfuls of each other’s hair?
Was it really on my agenda to have my face shoved into my plateful of gazpacho and my ears lobbed off with a vegetable peeler?
Did I willingly wake up this morning to the delighted realization that “I promised myself that today I will deliver a sharp, corrective thrust of my Doc Martens to the groin area of a Christian who’s decided gay men are Satan’s secret sauce! Yippee!”?
There is very little consensus remaining about our fundamental rights. When Lyndon Johnson kicked off a War on Poverty, or Pierre Trudeau affirmed Canadian multiculturalism, people supported them, or if they didn’t, at least they didn’t let on. These were not controversial ideas, they were mainstream.
I know that everyone says it’s Trump’s fault that there’s more polarization now, less agreement, more hatred and bigotry and stupidity, but that’s not entirely correct.
Don’t blame Trump for bringing bigotry into the world. The bigotry was there. The stupidity was there. He just took out his Stupidity Wand and went dowsing for Kellyanne Conway; he put on his hard hat with the lamp on it and went down the historical mineshaft to extract humungus ante-bellum boulders of bigotry.
Trump did not add to the sum total of bigotry and stupidity. He validated the bigots and the stupid people who’d been there waiting for him. He role-modeled, he set the gold standard for bigotry and made it super awesomely cool to be stupid.
For stupid, bigoted people he was aspirational. Now stupid bigoted parents could look at their stupid, bigoted kids and say, “Look, Thelma! Maybe one day you could be stupid, bigoted President! Isn’t that nifty? Oh, except that will never happen because, you know. Girl.”
Previously all the stupid people and bigoted people were in the closet, figuring out ways to “pass.” They had a suitable sense of shame about their condition.
They cocooned, developing economic theories that proved the market would effortlessly provide all of our needs in just the right quantities and at just the right price points if we stopped regulating it. This was the Stupid Theory of Economics, now taught worldwide, cooked up by Milton Friedman, a Stupid Economist.
This theory, incidentally, is the reason you and your extended family are now migrant workers sleeping in an abandoned railway car underneath the Bloor Street Viaduct.
Because stupid people get bored easily they need to fill every last minute of their waking lives, and then some. In the old days, traveling incognito, they would dress up like “Libertarians” and “Neo-Liberals” and convene in small groups to study the Second Amendment. These became the members of the Stupid NRA, who were astonished to discover that, although this Amendment is on the surface clearly referring to an 18th-century volunteer militia using muskets as a last-ditch effort against an oppressive, warring government, it is also effective at subtly conveying the Founders’ unmistakable intent that everyone in America should be issued a recreational automatic weapon at birth.
For geekier, computer-type fun they’d log on to ICQ chat rooms and make thought-provoking statements like, “I don’t think the earth can be round because we would just, like, fall off, I know, right? Pass it on.”
Now? The stupid bigoted people, swarming on Twitter in a new Day of the Locusts, have taken their cue from The Big Man, The Great Mouth Breather. They’re empowered, they’re vocal as hell, they’re no longer ashamed, and they’re gradually drowning out all but the most persistent liberal voices. They’re not going to take it anymore, whatever they’ve decided “it” is.
This is the kind of transformation that can happen when the leader of the most powerful nation on earth endorses something, like steaks or hooker sex or capital punishment.
Or stupidity and bigotry. Shares are through the roof!
ONE OF THE MANY WEIRD CONCEPTS going around is that freedom of expression is under attack and that people are being censored and silenced by the intolerant left (a concept usually expressed by someone speaking to their audience of millions on YouTube). The idea is that expressing an opposing viewpoint to a progressive is like thrusting a head of garlic and a cross into the face of a vampire, that we’ll explode, or whatever it is that vampires do in those circumstances.
Hence our “safe spaces,” our “political correctness” our “snowflakiness.” YOU are the fascists, the right says to us.
I don’t have time to personally address every single stupid and/or bigoted person, though I know some of you walked miles through a tornado then grabbed an Uber to get here today. Please try to understand, though I’m not holding my breath. I need to make this shit scalable.
I want to provide a public service at this point and define for you what is, and what is not, a difference of opinion.
Here’s Example One:
“I think we should provide healthcare by allowing people to keep their private insurance if they want.” / “I think we should provide healthcare using a single-payer model, like Canada and Britain.” / “I think government should stay out of the business of providing healthcare. The market will provide the best price and options if we just leave it alone.”
Those are differences of opinion. Although I strongly disagree with the last one, (because the evidence doesn’t support it) vive le difference, it makes the democratic world go ‘round. We’re smart enough — I think — to weigh the evidence and vote accordingly.
“First-past-the-post voting is a disaster, because the party that gets into power doesn’t always have a majority of the votes.” / “Proportional representation is a disaster, because you end up with coalitions that give the third-level party undue influence on policies.”
Those are differences of opinion. They’re both concerned with a fair outcome to elections, an outcome that would best represent voters’ wishes.
With me so far?
Now let’s look at the following examples:
“ Women who have abortions should receive the death penalty. They should be hanged.”
is not a difference of opinion.
“If people want to criticize the government, they’re traitors.”
is not a difference of opinion.
“If you don’t like it here, you should go back to your shithole countries.”
is not a difference of opinion.
“Homosexuality is a sin and the gays [sic] shouldn’t be able to marry or adopt. They’re bringing about the downfall of society.”
is not a difference of opinion.
I feel almost embarrassed to have to spell this out, but:
If we want to live in a democratic society, if we want to work together to expand the scope of rights, equality, dignity as our understanding evolves, we have to agree on certain fundamental, inalienable human rights, and to do this, we codify these rights in an authoritative document from which flows the entire rule of law: a Constitution, a Charter of Rights and Freedoms, a Bill of Rights, a Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
We have differences of opinion when we discuss how to implement these fundamental human rights we have agreed on, these rights that may evolve, but which by common agreement can never be rescinded.
Rights may be expressed in the broadest terms, but their implementation is always specific, their meaning clarified within a matrix of situation, context and community. Always the question is: does this law, does this judgment, finally include whoever has been excluded, relieve the oppressed from their oppression, provide justice where justice has been denied?
If you don’t believe that women should control their own bodies;
if you don’t believe in the free expression of non-violent protest;
if you believe that some people are less than human or less than equal because they are different in their sexuality, gender expression, skin color, religious beliefs or any other trait and you counsel others to oppress and discount and exclude them;
if you advocate violence against a class of persons,
you are not expressing a difference of opinion.
You might actually be engaging in hate speech. This follows from the concept, noted by the Ontario Human Rights Commission in their literature about balancing conflicting rights, that “the private expression of the right is more protected than the public expression.”
Yes, there is freedom of expression. You are free to express in private whatever you care to express, no matter how reprehensible, but when you express the same idea publicly you may be causing a whole lot of mischief. Your right, exercised in public, to call for death to women who’ve had abortions may not be judged to be in the best interests of society.
More bluntly, if you publicly advocate violence against a class of persons, the restriction of that right may be justifiable. The harm of restricting your freedom of expression may be negligible compared to the harm that is caused to the target of your bigotry by its public expression.
My rights, your rights.
So please, conservatives, Christians, conservative Christians, the whole lot of you: Enough with the cant about freedom of expression and the misguided (to take a charitable view) or disingenuous (my actual view) attempt to rehabilitate statements such as those listed above, statements that indicate that you, the speaker, do not hold with the fundamental values of a democratic society. There is no dialog possible with people such as you and nothing to engage with in these statements.
When you engage in your convoluted conservative logic it makes you look incredibly foolish, and it makes the rest of us wonder about your — to appropriate one of the right’s favorite loaded words — agenda.
If you can’t come on board about the fundamental principle of democracy—namely, the equality in dignity and worth of all persons—I have a suggestion. Maybe you could find your own island somewhere, hopefully free of shithole-ness, and populate it with yourselves until your island is positively busting a gut with great-again-ness.
Then you can relax, secure in your fundamental beliefs, and the rest of us, relieved of your hateful rhetoric and privileged whining, can get on with the business of creating a more fair and more just society for everyone.
Conservatives have a repertoire of sneering insults which they direct at liberals whenever they can get away with it. This usually means that no bona fide news organization is watching, in loco parentis, so think Twitter or Facebook.
Gay men used to be called “queers” and there is something about the sound of the “q-u” followed by the fluting double “e” that still makes me catch my breath in fear and shame. But we took the word “queer” and we owned it, using it as a badge of pride that we were odd, eccentric, creative or just plain ornery. This idea of “queer” as rejecting stereotypes and gender norms switched the focus to society instead of sex. Hearing “queer” used as a positive or at least neutral descriptor was surprisingly liberating.
Queer has lost its edge of sexual deviance and now begins to sound spirited, and happy-go-lucky, like a charming iconoclastic leprechaun who could cast a spell on your first-born but who is too busy dyeing the shamrocks pink to bother.
Conservatives call Liberals “snowflakes,” and we could start our rehabilitation of the word, rescuing it from the cycle of abuse and maybe sending it on a little vacation to Antarctica where it can tell itself, “Goldarnit—I’m snowflake and I’m OK!”
I think snowflakes are beautiful, unique crystals which can be fragile by themselves, but can make a pretty effective blizzard when they agitate with the other snowflakes.