Thursday, August 11, 2005
One of the unending ironies of life, as far as I can tell, is that the good shit you do will always bite you in the ass at some point. Take the feminist assault on the canon. In purely literary terms, this meant that many of us were like "What the fuck? Why are we reading Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Whitman and Dumas and all these men and you just toss Dickinson and the Brontes in there for a little decoration and we're all supposed to pretend like that tells us something about the whole human condition? Argh, blegh, grr." Now, let's talk about various feminist strategies as if there are a bunch of guys sitting at the premier table in the lunch room. One very common strategy has been for all the girls who want to be at that table to get their own table and try to convince themselves it's just as good, even though the chair legs are wobbly and the table top hasn't been wiped off in weeks. An uncommon, though loudly criticized, strategy has been for some feminists to go to the table, dump all the men's shit on the floor, and install their own butts in those chairs. The most common strategy has been for us to go up to the table and say, "Excuse me but I noticed that you think this table represents everyone in the whole lunchroom, but you don't have any women." And the men huff and puff and say, "Fine, Toni Morrison, you can fucking sit here, but it means Hemingway's got to go. And, god, that sucks that Hemingway can't sit at the table any more because those god damned feminists think we've got to have some girls here." But the other strategy, and the one I enjoy seeing widely employed and employing myself is this: "Excuse me, but y'all don't have any girls here. Ernest, scoot over, I'm sitting down. Hey, Twain, make room for Oliver. Come on. We can fit a bunch more people here." Then, if some guys want to be pissy, fine. Let them. I'll just wait for them to get settled at their new table and I'll be hauling my chair right over there too. I think one of the important things feminism has done over the last 150 years is to reinforce in the American people a healthy and joyful skepticism of the "way things are done around here." We've been running around poking and prodding and questioning and antagonizing and though we've not yet achieved everything we'd like to, we've done a great deal to nurture and pass along that rebellious quarrelsome American spirit. (You're welcome.) And for how long have we been saying "These are just stories--history, science, economics, politics, etc. All just stories we tell about how things are and we can tell different stories that include everyone. Why can't you tell some stories that include us?" And though you've pissed and moaned, you've done it. But now, we who've done so much to nurture the rebellious and quarrelsome American spirit find that our strategies have bound away from us, like puppies just off the leash, and Conservative Christians have found them and fallen in love with them as much as we love them. If science can expand its scope to accommodate women, why can't science expand its scope to accommodate Intelligent Design? If homosexuals insist on tolerance, why can't Conservative Christians insist on tolerance for their beliefs? (Dan Savage, who is sitting in for Andrew Sullivan this week talks a little about this.) If it weren't so funny, it'd be sad, the way that we liberals have been blindsided by this. And, I think, the reason it's so effective as a weapon with which to blindside the Left is that it exposes our greatest weakness, which is, of course, that we're a bunch of snobs. Yes, yes, we are. We think we're better than the folks who voted for Bush, who live in the "red" states, who listen to country music, who love NASCAR, who don't like the city, who say "ma'am" unironically, who believe what their preachers tell them unconditionally. It's obvious in the way we're all like "fuck 'em." Mike the Mad Biologist calls Matt Yglesias on this very thing. I'm not going to quote the whole post, but I do want to point out that Mike's response to Yglesias's suggestion that it's fine if those people want their kids to learn Intelligent Design because common people don't really need real science, is spot on when he says: "The idea that a basic understanding of the world around us shouldn't belong to the 'little people' is utterly arrogant. Say what you will about us eggheads, at least we think everyone potentially can understand what we're talking about. His attitude is just more stereotypical political-insider arrogance." But you know what? As ridiculous as it is to ask that religious beliefs be taught in science class, it gives me great pleasure in knowing that the paradigm has shifted. Once everyone has started using our tools of persuasion, it establishes our tools as fine tools to use. So, fine, use that rebellious and quarrelsome spirit to your own ends. But don't be surprised when, like us, you find yourself holding an empty leash you thought you'd secured tightly. What do I mean? I mean, you want Intelligent Design taught in science classes by science teachers. Now, I've read through the documents from the Kansas Science Standards website and I can't find any where in there where it says that those science teachers are required to respectfully discuss ID (in fact, from what I can tell, they aren't actually required to mention ID, just required to tell students that evolution is just a theory). No place where they have to treat it with any dignity at all. And no place where they aren't allowed to discuss the controversy surrounding teaching other non-scientific versions of how the world came to be in a science class. I'm sure that ID supporters think that teaching ID alongside evolution will mean that ID will be treated with the same respect evolution is. Maybe in most cases that will happen. I just doubt it will happen in all cases. Still, they want their ideas respected and so they've used our strategies to get their ideas into the classroom. But I don't think they've really thought through what it means using quarrelsome rebellion as a tool to establish the respectful consideration of an idea most scientists find ridiculous. Because, once you've established that quarrelsome rebelliousness is an effective tool of persuasion, it's hard to say "but only we get to use it." Believe me, we tried.