Yesterday, my friend told me an offensive joke. It went like this:
Q: What’s something good about Islam? A: It encourages Muslims to die.
I laughed. It was a terrible joke, and I laughed.
I’m currently visiting my family, and soon after my friend told the joke, my parents walked into the room. I started to tell them the joke – but stopped.
My parents probably wouldn’t laugh. They might laugh a little, then chastise me – and that scared me. I didn’t want to see my parents not laugh at this joke.
Why? Because my parents really, really hate Islam.
When I was about to travel to Turkey last year, my Dad sat me down and told me all about how Muslims are taught rape is normal and that I need to be very careful because they don’t have morality and that they would be happy to do terrible things to an innocent foreign girl. My parents believe Muslims are the biggest force of Bad in the world right now, that their faith is a disease, and that even moderate liberal Muslims are still dangerous because of their beliefs. My parents speak publicly and write popular articles about the dangers of Islam and terror attacks are a natural and normal cause of regular, everyday Islam.
They probably wouldn’t like the joke – because it was too close to being true. They don’t advocate for actually killing Muslims, but their hostility towards the religion might be misconstrued for it. If they laugh at the joke, people might think they actually do want Muslims to die.
But when I laugh at the joke, nobody is going to think I actually want Muslims to die. I can do it safely – and they can’t.
This is why I feel suspicious of some groups that strongly oppose offensive jokes – they have the suspicion that every person is like my parents – that every human “actually wants” all the terrible things to happen. This is why they believe telling offensive jokes carries weight, and this is why they strongly oppose those offensive jokes. Telling an offensive joke, even privately, isn’t ok, because it “contributes to global racism/sexism/discrimination” – but it can only do that if it’s influencing the people who tell and hear the joke to ‘actually believe it.
According to these groups, nobody can be so far distanced from a bad idea that they can make a joke about it, and that feels like an ugly assumption to me. I personally hope we can get to the point where everybody is comfortable making offensive jokes – but we’re not there yet. People like my parents aren’t there yet.
In discussions about monogamy and polyamory, I find I’ve recategorized the two ideas into something that feels more functional for me, and I accidentally try to use them synonymously with the original words. This ends up getting pretty messy, so I’m going to do the obvious thing: invent more words and then explain them!
(there’s a good chance someone has already written about this somewhere.)
Presenting: The Uniamory/Multiamory Spectrum
Your position on the Uniamory/Multiamory spectrum depends entirely on how many restrictions you place on your partner’s romantic/sexual behavior. It doesn’t matter what restrictions are placed on you, or what your partner actually does, or what you actually do, or the functional habits in your relationship.
You are uniamorous if you have rules, expectations, or agreements placed on your partner that state they cannot engage in relationships besides you.
You are multiamorous if you have no rules, expectations, or agreements about your partner’s romantic/sexual behavior with people besides yourself.
Remember this is a spectrum, going from lots of rules (no flirting) to medium rules (you can kiss but no sex) to no rules (you can do literally anything you want). For fun I’m going to provide the Amory Spectrum:
0. Exclusively uniamorous; all extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are disallowed; no flirting, sexting, nude photos; can include forbidding being alone for too long with other people or ‘leading them on’; usually uncomfortable with watching porn or expressing attraction to others
1. Predominantly uniamorous, only incidentally multiamorous; all obvious extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are disallowed, but leniency for flirting or engaging in light touch. Acceptance of expressing attraction to others and porn use.
2. Predominantly uniamorous, but more than incidentally multiamorous. Most extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are disallowed, but with strong leniency; can include approval of nude photos, kissing and light petting, or attending sex/nude/kink parties (as a couple, without interacting with others). Most camgirl’s partners fall within this category.
3. Equally multiamorous and uniamorous: Includes swinging, having threesomes, and occasionally allowance of very casual/occasional extrarelationship interactions, but with disallowance of any serious or regular extrarelationship interactions.
4. Predominantly multiamorous, but more than incidentally uniamorous: general extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are allowed with several rules, such as strongly enforced relationship hierarchy, and can include regulations of number of partners allowed, the frequency of their interactions, or moderate restrictions on their sexual activities
5. Predominantly multiamorous, only incidentally uniamorous: the majority of extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are allowed with few rules; can include light prescriptive hierarchy or minimal regulation of sexual behavior.
6. Exclusively multiamorous: all extrarelationship romantic/sexual expressions are allowed; no rules or requirements are instituted, and no prescriptive hierarchy is instated
Also: rules for the purpose of sexual safety, such as getting tested regularly or using condoms, do not count towards the multiamory spectrum.
If you date someone for twenty years with no rules about what they can or can’t do, but they never actually get involved with anybody else, then you are multiamorous but functionally monogamous.
If you prefer relationships that tend to be functionally monogamous, you can actively search for monogamous partners while both of you remain multiamorous.
If you insist that you and your partner will only love each other forever, that neither of you even experience the desire for others, and you also have rules that your partner can’t act upon desires even if they do have them, then you are both uniamorous and monogamous.
If you have no rules about your partner’s behavior but they have rules about your behavior, then you are multiamorous dating a uniamorous person, in a monogamous relationship.
Uniamory instituted out of fairness does not count; if you are level 6 multiamorous but dating someone who is level 2 uniamorous, and your partner agrees to not take advantage of your level 6 leniency because it wouldn’t be ‘fair,’ and instead acts as though you are level 2 uniamorous too, then this does not make you uniamorous.
Polyamory and uniamory aren’t really compatible, but sometimes you see poly relationships that rank low on the amory spectrum. If you consider yourself poly but are a 3 on the amory scale, then you might be on the uniamorous side of polyamory.
Basically, I think putting “restrictions placed on partner” into a highly defined, separate role to be a strongly illuminating way of looking at relationship structures. Frequently I find people citing monogamous motivations to explain their uniamory implementations (e.g., “We’re level 1 monogamous because neither of us find anybody else to be attractive!”)
Most of my friends have been on the internet, and I’ve spent many years as part of various internet communities, many of which I have moderated as either part of the mod team or the sole creator. (this also applies to irl communities, but the pattern is more obvious with online ones)
There’s a pattern that inevitably emerges, something like this:
Community forms based off of a common interest, personality, value set, etc. We’ll describe “people who strongly share the interest/personality/value” as Possums: people who like a specific culture. These people have nothing against anybody, they just only feel a strong sense of community from really particular sorts of people, and tend to actively seek out and form niche or cultivated communities. To them, “friendly and welcoming” community is insufficient to give them a sense of belonging, so they have to actively work to create it. Possumstend to (but not always) be the originators of communities.
This community becomes successful and fun
Community starts attracting Otters: People who like most cultures. They can find a way to get along with anybody, they don’t have specific standards, they are widely tolerant. They’re mostly ok with whatever sort of community comes their way, as long as it’s friendly and welcoming. These Otters see the Possum community and happily enter, delighted to find all these fine lovely folk and their interesting subculture. (e.g., in a christian chatroom, otters would be atheists who want to discuss religion; in a rationality chatroom, it would be members who don’t practice rationality but like talking with rationalists)
Community grows to have more and more Otters, as they invite their friends. Communities tend to acquire Otters faster than Possums, because the selectivity of Possums means that only a few of them will gravitate towards the culture, while nearly any Otter will like it. Gradually the community grows diluted until some Otters start entering who don’t share the Possum goals even a little bit – or even start inviting Possum friends with rival goals. (e.g., members who actively dislike rationality practices in the rationality server).
Possums realize the community culture is not what it used to be and not what they wanted, so they try to moderate. The mods might just kick and ban those farthest from community culture, but more frequently they’ll try to dampen the blow and subsequent outrage by using a constitution, laws, and removal process, usually involving voting and way too much discussion.
The Otters like each other, and kicking an Otter makes all of the other Otters members really unhappy. There are long debates about whether or not what the Possum moderator did was the Right Thing and whether the laws or constitution are working correctly or whether they should split off and form their own chat room
The new chat room is formed, usually by Otters. Some of the members join both chats, but the majority are split, as the aforementioned debates generated a lot of hostility
Rinse and repeat—
One problem is when Otters misinterpret Possum ideology. In Otterland where everyone has Otternorms, everyone is welcomed with open arms no matter who they are, and it takes seriously grievous offenses to get rejected from Otterland.
Possums with Possumnorms don’t have this system. In Possumland, not sharing the core culture is all it takes to get kicked out, and it’s not considered a grievous offense.
So when Otters enter Possumland, they see someone get kicked out, and get upset that Possums treat “dissenting thought” as a “grievous offense.” Possums, of course, don’t view it this way at all. They think the people they kick out are great and would love to interact with them in every context… outside of Possumland.
Otters and Possums tend to get into the “is elitism good” discussion – Otters will generally say things like “I want an inclusive and tolerant environment” and “I don’t want people to have to watch their every step” and “The thought of testing or filtering people for being good enough for admission here makes me really uncomfortable.” Otters tend to have experienced a lot of rejection in the past, and don’t want anybody else to suffer that feeling.
Possums are on the other side, saying “but you can’t just have a free for all,” or “this community is here for a specific purpose and it’s ok to get rid of people who don’t want it” and “I like having strict admission standards” and “we shouldn’t have to tolerate people who actively detract from conversation”
I think at the core of this is Otters interpreting Possum censorship as something personal, because their standard for feeling a sense of belonging is just ‘human decency’, and it’s difficult for them to empathize with a motivation of exclusion based on things beyond ‘human decency.’
I don’t really have a point with this, but I am interested in methods we can take to help preemptively solve this inevitable Otter vs. Possum clash and the dilution of group members. One idea is to have a periodic ‘chat splitting,’ where every 3-6 months (or when membership hits a certain number) there is a new forum/chatroom made, and people have to choose which group to join. This would help separate the Otters from the Possums in a way that is inevitable, thus hopefully creates no hard feelings. It could also be a giant explosion of drama, who knows.
Also, possibly normalizing the social differences between Otters and Possums and loudly labeling chatrooms by their spectrum on the Otter-Opossum scale. That way, if someone knows they’re stepping foot into Possum territory, they know that being kicked is more likely, and it’s also probably not personal at all.
There’s also lots of ways to try to filter out Otters from joining in the first place, like tests for entry, interviews, and trial periods. Otters tend to have little problem finding cultures in general to join, as they aren’t very selective, so I don’t think keeping Otters out of heavy Possum territory will actually be problematic for them at all.
I was homeschooled my whole life by a professionally evangelist father and a stay at home mother. My media was censored, my computer use secretly monitored, and my friends vetoed if they were not also sufficiently close to the Christian homeschooler sphere.
My science books derided evolution as a baseless idea. I was taught that the founding fathers were Christian and founded the United States for God. I attended a Ken Ham seminar. I protested abortion clinics. We switched out Bill Nye for a Christian version. For years we had Bible study 5 nights a week and went to church 3 times a week. I managed to get all the way to adulthood without once uttering a swear word.
I believed in Jesus and the Bible with all my heart – but this wasn’t an unquestioned belief. We studied ‘logical Christianity’, and I had many nights where I would discuss my doubts about Christian philosophy with intelligent theologians. I was surrounded by people from the Church who were open to any question, invited doubt, and presented answers in gentle, rational tones.
I wanted to be rational. The existence of other heretical, yet devout religions served as a huge, constant warning light to me in the back of my mind, and I feared that whatever fooled them might be fooling me now. I was aware, somewhere, that I might be wrong, but I had a lifetime of mental systems with which to handle that. I debated constantly. I studied atheist arguments and had my own refutations to everyone. I thought I knew.
I lost my faith shortly before I turned nineteen, and it wasn’t any one thing that did it.
I mean, I guess there was one thing that did it, but an echo in the mountains does nothing if there’s not already a bunch of snow built up and ready to fall.
Losing my faith was horrifying and painful. I refer to it as my
‘faith’ and not my ‘religion,’ because religion is a word we use from the outside, as the observer watching the person bowed in prayer. For me, the person bowed in prayer, it was my faith, and to call it a religion feels like it undermines the meaningfulness of the feeling of “loving God”.
Nearly-nineteen, sitting there in that dorm room, I could feel my faith slipping away from my fingertips, and it was like trying to avoid a car crash in slow motion. No, no no no. I scrambled for answers, but all the ones I had studied so well suddenly seemed far away. I cried out to God to save me, because I couldn’t do it myself. It was a desperate, last plea to my beautiful savior and friend, and the silence I got back was utter despair.
The life I had known died right there. The way I knew the world – my education, my society, my purpose, my understanding of ethical behavior, of sex, obedience, submission, logic, origin of the universe – all of it crumbled around me and I suddenly knew nothing.
People sometimes ask the question of why it took so long. Really I’m amazed that it happened at all. Before we even approach the aspect of “good arguments against religion”, you have to understand exactly how much is sacrificed by the loss of religion.
People in bad relationships rationalize all the time. Relationships give a sense of purpose, of meaning, love, and stability. Breaking up really fucking sucks, and requires laboriously putting the pieces back together. We all tend to put off breakups for far too long, and we all probably know someone (maybe us) who has come up with a thousand reasons why the relationship is ‘actually fine’ while their life is getting slowly poisoned.
Expand the notion of a ‘relationship’ to your ‘entire life story’ and ‘connection to your entire community,’ and you might understand exactly why Christians are coming up with a thousand reasons as to why their faith is ‘actually right.’ Our brains are incredibly talented at making us feel like we have logical reasons to avoid pain and social exile.
Onto the arguments.
Christianity isn’t ‘wrong,’ really, or not obviously. For every objection I raised, there was an answer. It sometimes wasn’t an amazing answer – but then, science isn’t always full of amazing answers either. After enough questions and answers, I formed a general structure, complete with patterns and themes, “around” my sense of self, if you will oblige the metaphor. My mechanoid belief structure worked. With it I could deal with my community, my life, and my existential questions.
When other people attacked (why did God of the Bible kill innocent people?), I could fend off their assault on my structure with little pew pew shooty ‘don’t judge god with human morality’ guns (which had been preemptively installed by a sermon at age 12). I viewed things from my structure. My primary focus was building, maintaining, and defending my structure.
What the nonreligious get wrong a lot of the time is the idea that if you can just lead a Christian along the right logical path, they will realize that they are wrong. This is generally bullshit. Christians (and humans in general) are incredibly talented at organizing their structure in such a way that logic works to their favor. If a ‘good argument’ could bring down a Christian’s faith, then it would have happened a long time ago.
What brought down mine was not a good argument. It was a semi bad one, in hindsight, or at least weak in the idea that Christians have figured out some defense guns against it. I won’t specify it here, mainly because I’ve talked about it elsewhere and it would be too identifying.
What the argument did do was, for the first time, allow me to consider that maybe I was wrong.
If you’d asked me before to “consider you’re wrong,” I would have answered that “I have! All the time!” I would insist that I seriously considered other view points. I genuinely believed that “I was wrong” was an option in my mind.
But it wasn’t really, not like this. The argument jolted me so badly that I saw my own worldview from the outside, and it was all suddenly apparent to me how much patchwork I had needed for my defense, how teetering it was, all of the rationalizations I had pulled and twisted every which way. I was living in a structure built for defense, to which function came secondary.
Did it function? Yes, but I’d never before seen how ugly it was.
There are a few things I think that prepared me for this event. One is that for the last year or two I had increasing exposure to nonreligious communities. Somewhere deep down in subconsciousland, I began to realize that, ethically speaking, they weren’t much different than me. I could look at an atheist and feel, deep in my bones, that they were smart, that I could have been born them, that they were aware and thinking just like I was, and they didn’t seem to be evil.
I was “exposed to sin.” I saw people sinning (being gay! stealing a pencil! premarital sex! swearing!), and they were happy and fulfilled, sometimes even more than I was. Christians talk about “being a witness in word and deed,” but this is exactly what the nonChristians were doing to me.
The combination of reducing religious exposure and increasing nonreligious exposure was like starting to spend time away from an “abusive relationship” in the company of “new friends.” Even though I had no conscious intention to “break up,” somewhere subconsciously, the thought of leaving became a more viable option, less terrifying.
I’d also seen a LOT of atheistic arguments against Christianity. I could refute each one, but it took a little bit of effort and rationalization each time. This caused me to (again, very subconsciously, I never would consciously have admitted this) associate ‘effort and rationalization’ with my belief system, which primed me for leaving.
The argument itself had a few traits that made it a good trigger. One was that I hadn’t heard it before, and thus had no preconstructed defenses to ward it off. I wasn’t near my Christian community, so I didn’t have a pastor to quickly refute it for me.
Second is that the argument was nontrivial. It didn’t challenge something like a minor biblical inaccuracy, it challenged the very nature of God himself.
I was already primed, environmentally, to feel safe stepping outside of my structure, and a new argument was just the right thing to jolt me outside.
Once I saw my structure from the outside, that was the end of it all. There was no way I could step back into it, even if I wanted to. I left, and without me inside to hold it up, it crumpled into a thousand pieces that I could never put back together. I felt naked.
For a year I tried to salvage the ruins and ended up clothing myself in some ideological remnants like deism and evolution denial. Eventually I turned full skeptic-atheist, and then a few years later ended up attracted to zen, or a system of thought that seems similar to zen.
Belief systems aren’t “the things we’ve logically concluded about the world.” They are structures that give us a way to interact with our environment.
I can interpret my previous religion as something which allowed me to function in the environment in which I was raised. It’s amazing that something so motivated by function can result in beliefs that feel incredibly real. I have memories of sobbing on my knees, alone in my room except for the presence of Jesus. To me, my faith from the inside was powerful and tangible.
But it was this internal passion that was the necessary fuel to keep the teetering, haphazard structure of my belief intact. Religion would never have survived if at least some people didn’t feel it with all their might.
If you want to ‘deconvert’ someone, view it as if you want your friend to leave an abusive relationship. All you can do is be there for them, give them love, acceptance, and a safe space. Sometimes your friend might be receptive to arguments about why their relationship is bad, but usually they’ll just be defensive. Maybe one day they will leave, maybe they won’t. Remember that the relationship, no matter how bad it is, is fulfilling something for them. Try to be that fulfillment for them.
I just read a comment on an Uber fundraising page for a lady with cancer. It said, “Uber should provide healthcare for all drivers instead of doing gofundme pages!”
I’m not here to debate whether or not that would be better, but rather to point out a phenomenon of sacrifice-blindness.
My friend sent me an article today about a kid falling out of a window on LSD. She doesn’t like that I do LSD. I told her that LSD was really safe and that more people fall out of windows on alcohol. She said,
Frequently we point out things that are Good Ideas Motivated by Goodness, such as:
*Everyone should have access to health care
*Nobody should fall out of windows
*Avoid war no matter what
*Jobs should pay enough to cover all basic financial needs
*Terminal illnesses should be researched and cured
*Nobody should be racist
*Our culture should be protected from criminals
*We shouldn’t have our freedom infringed
*Provide the homeless with housing
*We need more after-school programs
*Employers should provide medical benefits to employees
I don’t disagree with the desires expressed by all these things, and I suspect almost nobody would. If I could press a button and magically everybody gets health care without any cost to anybody, I absolutely would.
And I don’t mean to make this an argument against the individual ideas expressed. Whether or not universal healthcare should be instituted is a whole different idea. What I am arguing is to eliminate sacrifice-blindness.
I am on a birth control that puts me at significantly increased risk for stroke. A few years ago I would have never considered taking this birth control, because “avoiding all things that increases health risk is a Good Idea Motivated by Goodness.” Good health was paramount above everything.
But really? Above everything? Even all the positive benefits the birth control pill gave me? By blindly accepting this rule of Goodness, I failed to consider what I was sacrificing to follow this rule – medication that would improve my quality of life. And once I stopped to actually consider the practical results of the options I was facing, my choice changed.
Preserve Human Life No Matter What is a frequently touted Good Idea Motivated by Goodness, but we don’t act according to it. We drive our families around in cars, putting them at risk of car accidents and death. Realistically speaking, the law we follow is more like Preserve Human Life As Long As It’s Mostly Convenient For Us.
And this is fine. Outlawing LSD to preserve safety might be a Good Idea Motivated by Goodness, but it ignores the sacrifice made for this – human autonomy in their own safety and all of the benefits of LSD.
Now, you can look at this evaluation and make a choice, and I’m not going to tell you you’re wrong. If you’re fully aware of all of the things you are sacrificing in order to gain “nobody falls out of a window,” then I cannot blame you, and now our discussion switches to one of personal value.
With the example of Uber and medical benefits – would it be a Good Idea to make Uber provide benefits to its employees independent contractors? Yes. But what would we be sacrificing in order to make this happen? Would this raise the cost of Uber, making Lyft a better option and putting Uber drivers out of business? Or making it less affordable for poor people in communities to have easy transportation? Or raise the barrier of entry for people who want to be Uber drivers, thus reducing the number of potential income sources that a desperate person might need to feed their family? Would requiring Uber to give out healthcare actually end up hurting poor communities the most? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe even if it did, it would still be worth it. But whatever our final choice, let’s not be sacrifice-blind.
I find that in the majority of political discussions I see, parties from all sides engage in sacrifice-blindness in pursuit of touting Good Ideas Motivated by Goodness. I suspect that if everyone knew exactly what would be sacrificed if their idea was actually perfectly implemented, people would agree with each other much more often.
Equality is a pretty word, but for a thing that everyone agrees upon is desirable, nobody seems to agree on what it looks like.
I want to divide equality into two concepts – context and contextless.
Contextual Equality is equality that tries to equalize the outcome while taking into account all the associations of the situation – history, culture, demographic, etc. – or “contextual body.”
For example: Joe and Marsha go to high school. Joe has a hard life – abused by his parents, a learning disability, not a morning person. Marsha has a pretty good life – loving parents, intelligent, eats vegetables.
Joe and Marsha both fail a test and come to the teacher begging for a retake. Should they be treated equally? Maybe – but contextual equality would take into consideration the fact that Joe’s failure of the test is more understandable, and that allowing him to retake the test would be more helpful to him. Marsha has no good excuse for her failure – she has everything going for her already – a good ‘contextual body’ – and refusing her a retake might be the best option.
Contextual equality is behind ideas like power structures, privilege, and affirmative action. It does not view human interactions as happening in isolation, but rather more like two huge contextual bodies summarized in a small point of contact. Calling a black person a racial slur is worse than calling a white person a racial slur, because black people (in the US) were enslaved and white people weren’t. Contextual equality is less for equal treatment and more for equal outcome – if the treatment does not result in similar outcomes, then we must modify the treatment to get everybody in the same position by the end.
Contextless Equality is the exact opposite. It doesn’t care about the surrounding history and culture, it cares about a process that works independently from the personal stories of the people going through it.
Contextless equality would say that Joe and Marsha should both be denied or approved the text retake. Sure, maybe Joe would benefit more, but that’s not the point. The point is to give the children an escape from the weight of their contextual bodies, an environment where it doesn’t matter. It encourages solidarity and community between children by treating them the same, and to promote the feeling of fairness. So many aspects of the world are blind to your personal stories, so getting used to it now will help later on.
Contextless equality is behind ideas like blinded hiring practices – hiding the names on resumes to prevent bias in hiring for jobs. It’s behind standardized testing, behind tolerance of all religious clothing regardless of the oppression it might symbolize. It is more for equal treatment, not equal outcome. It cares about the interaction itself, and whether that interaction is consistent with all interactions. It views the contextual body as irrelevant.
I think the solidarity that comes out of contextless equality is underappreciated by the more liberally minded. Have you ever entered a system where your past didn’t matter, where the standards for you were the same as they were for everyone around you? Various forms of ritual does this – religious ceremonies and military training, for example. Cutting off your contextual body can be incredibly freeing and allow strong bonding with those around you.
I also think the empathy and recognition that comes from contextual equality is underappreciated by the more conservatively minded. Privilege and discussions of power aren’t always an attempt to shame, they’re attempts to recognize and comfort those who feel unheard. It’s how people with ‘worse’ contextual bodies voice their hurt at the difficulty of being around people with ‘better’ contextual bodies.
I personally suspect that intimate interactions are better done with contextual equality, and large systemic interactions are better done with contextless equality. The strength of contextual equality is that it is warm, personal, and it’s very difficult to maintain that effectively on a larger scale. The strength of contextless equality is that it promotes a sense of systemic unification, which can seem very cold when seen close up.
This is why I like the idea of blind hiring practices (contextless and systemic) but not affirmative action hiring practices (contextual and systemic). It’s why I like using trigger warnings with my friends (contextual and intimate) but not telling my friends they should just deal with it like everyone else (contextless and intimate).
I think usually those who look like they’re against equality are really just for a different sort of equality than we are. Most humans want good shit, in the end.
Years ago, a very liberal media source interviewed my very fundamentalist Christian father about his very fundamentalist Christian views on homosexuality. The outcome was a well-edited mash of audio-visual tricks that made my father look like a buffoon, saying and responding in uncharacteristic ways that highlighted the stupidity of what he was saying.
I did not feel sympathy. Even if the interviewers were not directly and literally honest, they communicated the “truth” behind his words – that of judgement, of intolerance, of irrationality – which I knew, from living with him, that he actually did feel – calling gay people ‘fags’ and ranting about the ‘gay agenda’ in private. In a way, I thought the interviewers sacrificed literal facts in order to reveal a greater truth. After all – my dad presented ‘literally’ would have showed him selecting his words carefully, making use of persuasive rhetoric, making his position look reasonable – and I believed that his position was obviously not reasonable. So really the interviewers, through their artistic use of interpretation, were actually doing good work with their alternative use of facts.
Several months ago I was stalked and chased down some deserted alleys in Istanbul. When the man charged at me, I screamed, and he stopped and fled, without touching me. When I told the story to my neighbors (who were going to help me translate to the authorities) they insisted that I lie and say the man had grabbed me – because if he hadn’t touched me, no crime had been committed and he couldn’t be prosecuted. And since we knew he was bad, and that he should be prosecuted, we should be dishonest about the literal facts in order to truthfully illuminate his badness.
My point is that we have an idea that sometimes facts aren’t the same as truth. That even if you say things correctly, you might give a false idea, and that sometimes saying things incorrectly is necessary in order to creatively reveal the true nature of reality. We sometimes forgive dishonest portrayals as necessary, particularly if we feel strongly or morally about the outcome.
It’s why we tolerate/love mockery and satire, or impassioned and exaggerated speech. It’s why we’re okay setting aside the ‘rational fact checking’ parts of our brain when ‘badness’ is happening – because deep down, we feel the facts no longer matter. Facts, even if true, can be misleading, can slow us down, can catch us in petty arguments over statistics or history, can distract us from things like protecting gay people or prosecuting would-be rapists. They can be used as weapons against us – if you’ve ever had a debate with an obviously-wrong person who is more technically informed than you, you know this frustration. Facts do not equal truth, at least not deep down in our gut.
And I don’t mean to say that this is bad or good. Was it a bad or good thing that I agreed to lie to the police about my stalker in Istanbul? I don’t care about whether or not this was moral – this is not the question I am trying to answer. Shutting down “caring about facts” has its benefits and drawbacks. All I am trying to say is that we do this. All the time. And to pretend that facts are facts are facts and that we only care about facts is an outright lie. Facts are useful when we can wield them for good, and misleading or distracting when others wield them for bad. We frequently care more about the feeling of truthiness, not the feeling of factuality, because truthiness always feels morally right, and sometimes facts feel morally wrong.
And so when I see outrage and disbelief about how people can support Trump after he repeatedly lies, contradicts himself, or displays a general disinterest in factuality, I feel like those outraged fail to understand this key concept. People supporting Trump are sacrificing facts in order to illuminate their ‘deeper truth’ in the same way I was sacrificing facts when I supported the pro-gay interviewers, when I lied that my stalker had touched me. They genuinely feel that the liberal agenda is ruining the country, and that sacrificing literal accuracy is a minor detour on the path to saving themselves and America. They are doing exactly the same thing that we do, except against us.
It is not a war of fact against fact, but rather truthiness against truthiness, with facts being used as weapons against each side.
If we want to step away from this, we have to be consistent. If I want to condemn Trump supporters for being tolerant of his lies, then I have to stop sympathizing with the pro-gay interviewers and I have to defend my father’s presentation of his views as he gave them. I have to tell the police the truth, even if it means a would-be rapist goes free. If Trump supporters do not get to pick and choose their own truth, then I don’t get to pick mine either.