Bullshit By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet

STORY BY David Eskridge

Published: May 1, 2013

The next time you sit in traffic because of a rubbernecking delay, think about this:  there’s no such thing as rubbernecking.  It’s a coy euphemism invented to confer legitimacy on a selfish, thoughtless, and counterproductive act because the perpetrators lack the courage or the means to defend that act.  If the traffic reporter called it what it really is—grown adults slowing down on a crowded highway to gawk at smashed cars like spoiled children—instead of talking about it with the same everyday air that he would a natural, inevitable phenomenon like a thunderstorm or a downed power line (as if it was just an unlucky frustration of the commute), people would smell the bullshit from miles away.  We wouldn’t have stand for it any more than we stand for smoking in an elevator or sneezing into someone’s mouth.

So why do we fall for this?  Why do we allow ourselves to be convinced that this is a real thing that must be tolerated in a civilized world?  For the same reason that we tolerate “intelligent design” in our schools or “enhanced interrogation” from the CIA:  because a white guy in a suit told us to. 

When a group wants to advance an ugly, indefensible agenda that will not stand up to rational scrutiny, it doesn’t need to convince the country that it’s right.  It only needs an educated, well-dressed white guy with enough rhetorical prowess to trick us into a debate.  A debate carries the assumption that both sides have a legitimate point to make; that neither party can be dismissed out of hand; that, even if one ultimately trumps the other, both represent real opinions that a reasonable human being could hold.  A debate declares that this, like “rubbernecking”, is a thing in the world, not bullshit made up to allow people to indulge their baser instincts.  Would we debate someone who believes that a black man shouldn’t marry a white woman?  Should we take his opinion seriously enough to invite him onto a nationally televised news program and consider it against ours?  Then why do we do this every day—in our homes, in our media, in our Congress, in the Supreme Court—with the opponents of gay marriage?

There was a time in this country—not long ago—when, if you wanted to oppress a minority, in addition to creating laws to segregate him and deny him basic rights, you called him a vile name, told him (and the world) that he was inferior, and, if he resisted in any way, you publicly burned and hanged him.  I won’t pretend to be an expert on that era (or even to have lived through it) but our recent indulgence of similar bigots by allowing them to pretend that DOMA or California’s Proposition 8 is about anything other than fear, hate, and the imposition of religious values on a secular state leads me to wonder whether today’s reactionaries learned some lessons from the Civil Rights movement of the mid-20th century.  Did they see that the bold, naked aggression of firehosing people and setting dogs on them eventually led to the Equal Rights Amendment, the repeal of Jim Crow laws, and a black President?  Racism is far from dead but I think that it’s safe to say that on the large, concrete political issues—segregation of schools, miscegenation laws—the bad guys lost.  You cannot debate a lynching—you can only dismiss it, and any opinion associated with it, as disgusting and unfit for human society. 

Outright violence failed; they have chosen instead the subtler Trojan horse of sending men like the lawyer Chuck Cooper to argue before the Supreme Court that Proposition 8 protects the state’s interest in encouraging responsible procreation (because God knows that you see a lot of concern for responsible procreation in, say, a Las Vegas chapel).  They hope to trick people, via well-heeled attorneys and religiously-tinged pseudo sociological terms like “sanctity of traditional marriage”, into, if not wholly siding with them, at least accepting theirs as a legitimate option for sane people—as much a part of our daily lives as rubbernecking delays.

Believe what you want to believe but don’t insult us by pretending that it makes any sense.  In a way (and only in this one way), I have more respect for the guy on the courthouse steps holding a sign that says “God Hates Fags” than I do for Chuck Cooper.  At least he’s up front; he’s not asking for debate nor claiming any logic.  He makes no pretense—he has the word “hate” right there on his sign—and this makes things a lot easier.  We don’t have to waste time trying to be open-minded or even-handed or to see “both sides” of an issue that has only one—we can dismiss him as easily as we do the Holocaust-denier or the Klansman.

This country has more than enough problems.  Let’s dismiss rubbernecking, and denial of climate change, and opposition to gay marriage, and the rest of the bullshit for what it is, too, and get on with debating this country’s real problems. 

Other Stories by David Eskridge
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