A Tip of the Ass Hat

If I were a celebrity, I’m sure I would suck. Not (necessarily) at my job, whatever that would be, but as a person to the general public. I would be, not an asshole, but an asshat. Alas that “asshole” scans better, that I thus utter it when inattentive. An asshole is a very much non-negative body part, and thus poor synechdoche as a body-shaming slur. Without assholes we’d fill up with shit and die. An asshole, or a dick, or a cunt, is, if not a blessing, at least functional, like a stomach or bone marrow. Body-shaming slurs, let alone those that are gendered or ableist, have no place in discourse. But having one’s head up one’s ass – wearing one’s ass atop one’s head like a Trilby – is a personal choice, not a consequence of genetics and developmental biology, and as a slur is both literally and figuratively not body-shaming. There is surely a place for “asshat” in incivil discourse (e.g. certain blog posts and comment sections), and possibly in civil.

But why would I be an asshat if I were a celebrity? Let’s turn that question around. Why are some celebrities asshats? To be well-known in public is to invite attention from strangers. If the celebrity is not naturally gregarious, as I am not, this increased attention becomes besetting. Dealing patiently and civilly with besetting strangers will quickly use up all of my socializing resources, leading to exhaustion and stress. Being brusque as a general persona might well be less draining, even if guilt-engendering. Even a highly gregarious celebrity, especially if they achieved fame through workaholic overachievement, will reach a limit, if only in time spent with the nice people they enjoy interacting with, perhaps intentionally blowing people off just so they can get back to what they’re doing.

I suppose I would still be a loner if I became a celebrity, but I assume if I actually did become one it’s because I would have gotten off my (good! functional! not body-shaming!) ass and made metaphorical shit happen. And knowing about how people love being part of the following of a charismatic personality, but not wanting to acquire such a following (OK, this pretty much writes off me ever being a celebrity except by accident), I think I might become a deliberate asshat. Premeditated asshattery as a defense mechanism. I do hate being rude, but when driven I will do it, albeit at as low as possible of rudeness level, initially. I probably won’t tell somebody off, but I may just go back to my reading or doodling, or walk away, or otherwise start obviously and actively ignoring them.

I don’t actually think I will become a celebrity. I am not even the kind of person who can keep up with non-celeb career-maintenance stuff such as being on committees, connecting to people on LinkedIn, or improving my scientometrics. I have nothing against all that stuff per se, only a personal dislike of doing it. High school socializing writ large. I have never participated in that stuff enthusiastically, and after participating, never reaped the emotional high or whatever that keeps others doing it and getting good at it. I have acquired the occasional following, and even received advice from mentors and advisors about how to capitalize on it, but it is simply too much social effort for me, and social effort is a lot more draining than technical effort. If I were a genius or a workaholic, I could get a pass from doing that stuff, but as possibly blogged elsewhere (can’t be bothered to check; perhaps I’ve also blogged about my sloth!) I simply don’t spend my time draining my precious energy for social position or even career advancement. A betrayal, of myself and others. If it’s your thing, or you can at least handle it, my hat’s off to you!

Reachable Reds

The car is a vile public nuisance. The car as a vile public nuisance. Sentence One is normative, like 2 + 2 = 4, asserting a matter of fact. Sentence Two is interpretive, eliciting discussion about matters of taste. Normative communication about matters of taste, controversial positions, or unsettled questions is a sophomoric meme spat, not an argument. Popular among folks who make a big deal about how conservative they are. Some call such normative efforts “debate”, even claiming that “debate” is well known to be the best way to settle disputes. This attitude is bullshit (see Brandolini’s Law). Charisma trumps content in what is nothing but adversarial mental masturbation, meant not to settle disputes, but to promote perfidy. Trolling.

It is so hard to put together traceable facts and arguments and so easy to spew appealing nonsense. For a fact user to participate in a debate show is to lose the charisma battle in advance. The audience is only there to cheer the witticisms of their hero. Even when the fact user is also a charismatic communicator, there is little to gain unless articulate witticisms can be concocted that might give some of the audience pause. Even so, said charismatic fact user would probably spend their time better communicating in other ways.

The best way to assemble normative communications is to gather reliable, reproducible evidence and ask what kind of declarative statements it supports. Winning in this context entails everybody moving towards consensus, ideology be damned. Datasets, visual elements, written words. If half your audience rejects facts and logic, they won’t listen to anybody who isn’t glib and appalling. But maybe some few ideologues are potentially amenable to change. Perhaps their fascist-adjacency is due to ignorance, unresolved resentments, and exposure to toxic media. Splutteringly certain about who The Devil and The Saints are, but susceptible to a small number of facts, if provided with a spoonfull of sugar or crystal meth.

To respond directly to an ideologue is to submit to seizure of context. To parse the concealed assumptions contained in pretended questions is to succumb to defensiveness. Instead, to carefully contribute to “the debate”, you must go meta. Scan the blather, perhaps via webscraping and voice-to-text followed by word-frequency analysis, to get an impressionist picture of the gendered, racist, and ableist slurs being deployed, the deliberately ignorant and innumerate mockeries of logic, the misogyny, victim-blaming, bigotry. Then develop your piece, not as a response to any specific instance of negative-sum ideolatry, but as a positive editorial that nevertheless demonstrates a knowingness about the fascist wanking.

Seize context rather than interlocute. Aim to forestall eye-rolling. Troll only if you’re another Galileo, who won because facts and logic were on his side, not because he was trolling (note to conservitrolls: comparing yourself to Galileo because you’re trolling is like comparing yourself to Superman because you’re walking around in your underwear; it’s more likely that you are simply an exhibitionist). Note: my “vile public nuisance” example comes from The Glass Plate Game, by Dunbar Aitkins, a local mid-Willamette celebrity whom I and some D&D friends sometimes chatted with in the late 70’s and early 80’s, when we adventured in Corvallis and happened to go to The Beanery or otherwise encountered him. The Glass Plate Game is designed to sponsor open communication, similar in motivation to David Bohm’s idea of Dialog.