Thursday, November 20, 2008

pardon me while i wax philosophical for a sec

If there's one thing about DC, or perhaps America, in general, that I could change (besides its overwhelmingly hideous fashion sense) it would be the way most people construe their political thoughts. And in this case, I'm not proposing everyone simply agree with me (although, clearly, that is the best option). Instead, I'm pleading with people to be careful with how they classify other people's opinions that don't coincide with their own.

I first got to thinking about this topic during what I do believe will go down in history as the longest election ever, but never thought it important enough to write about, especially in this forum, in which I've thus far kept a fairly stark line between my retardulous musings and any modicum of serious thought. But today, when I saw the descriptions of other people's blogs on DCBlogs, a site that, I confess, has been very kind to me in the past, I felt compelled to drop some personal life philosophy on your asses.

I am a relativist. That is, when it comes to right and wrong, I feel there are very few topics that fall completely into just one of those two categories. Injustice and random acts of violence are probably the only two unfortunate facts of life that I would always classify as "wrong." On the other extreme, justice and random acts of kindness are probably the only two fortunate facts of life I would always classify as "right." Everything else falls somewhere in between, in my opinion, and, depending on circumstance, some seemingly obvious wrongs can seem more right whereas some seemingly obvious rights can seem more wrong.

To borrow an example from one of my favorite all-time people, linguist and philosopher Steven Pinker, who penned a downright fantastic piece on morality for The New York Times in January, writes:

The gap between people's convictions and their justifications is also on display in the favorite new sandbox for moral psychologists, a thought experiment devised by the philosophers Philippa Foot and Judith Jarvis Thomson called the Trolley Problem. On your morning walk, you see a trolley car hurtling down the track, the conductor slumped over the controls. In the path of the trolley are five men working on the track, oblivious to the danger. You are standing at a fork in the track and can pull a lever that will divert the trolley onto a spur, saving the five men. Unfortunately, the trolley would then run over a single worker who is laboring on the spur. Is it permissible to throw the switch, killing one man to save five? Almost everyone says "yes."

Consider now a different scene. You are on a bridge overlooking the tracks and have spotted the runaway trolley bearing down on the five workers. Now the only way to stop the trolley is to throw a heavy object in its path. And the only heavy object within reach is a fat man standing next to you. Should you throw the man off the bridge? Both dilemmas present you with the option of sacrificing one life to save five, and so, by the utilitarian standard of what would result in the greatest good for the greatest number, the two dilemmas are morally equivalent. But most people don't see it that way: though they would pull the switch in the first dilemma, they would not heave the fat man in the second. When pressed for a reason, they can't come up with anything coherent, though moral philosophers haven't had an easy time coming up with a relevant difference, either.

I'll admit that my first instinct, too, was like most people's. I would have pulled the switch to save the five in the first scenario, but not have thrown the fat man over the rail to save the five in the second scenario. Apparently, deep down, I have something called emotions and knee-jerk reactions. And my answering the questions the same way thousands of other people around the world did shows that feelings and sh*t are often inescapable.

But as a bit of a secret hippie (don't tell anyone), I'm not necessarily against letting emotions influence your life choices and decisions, however, at some point rationalization and a strong wont for understanding different points of view without those knee-jerk, emotional reactions is also necessary. In other words, one man's life-saving decision can be another man's murder and vice versa.

Coming very circuitously back to the original point of this philosophical spewing, I wish more people would view politics through a metaphorical pair of relativist glasses, or pince-nez if you so prefer. Hell, put on a relativist monocle, if that's what you think is right, but don't criticize your fellow man (or woman) for choosing a pair of relativist horn-rimmed spectacles. So when DCBlogs editrix Foilwoman today took it upon herself to classify other people's political-themed blogs as "wacko," to me this seemed a bit unjust, and moreover, rather inappropriate in the DCBlogs forum, which I have come to understand as a simple directory of DC-related blogs, not as a platform for the editors' political opinion. That is, if I wanted to know Foilwoman's personal political leanings, I would look elsewhere, perhaps, to her own blog...

Instead, I didn't get that option. Today, I unwillingly learned from her on DCBlogs that, apparently, anyone who criticizes President-Elect Barack Obama or, more widely, the Democratic Party is crazy. More specifically, Foilwoman called out Sugar 'N Spice as "batsh*t insane" and asked, "What is it about the water in the U.S. that creates these conspiracy theorists?" and Melissa the Misanthrope, noting her opinion as "more on the wacko political belief blog-of-the-day."

We get it, Foilwoman. You're a democrat, I take it? Thanks for sharing on a forum that shouldn't serve as a platform for your opinion.

But that's not even the point. I don't care. Nor is this a defense of what Sugar or Melissa wrote. That is a whole other debate, although I do think Melissa, who was awesome enough to embed Charlie Chaplin's dancing globe scene from "The Great Dictator," got the shortest end of the toolish stick. In fact, this isn't even a treatise agaisnt Foilwoman, who is really just the unlucky woman whose random musings on an inappropriate forum acted as the proverbial pleat that broke the khakis' flat front.

What I'm trying and so failing to get at here is that this whole commonly accepted idea that there is a "right" and a "wrong" in politics is ludicrous. Absolutely nothing about politics is based on indisputable fact. If that were the case, there wouldn't even be an election. The state would be the much-talked-about "black box" and robots that are unable to get bogged down in silly little things like emotions and feelings would make important decisions for us. The fat man would be thrown from the bridge every single time.

But the world doesn't work like that. While it is completely just and, ergo, right to have your own political opinions (my friends know all too well that I have my own), it is unjust and, ergo, wrong to not let other people have their own without writing them off as crazy, wacko, insane, etc. Those words are filled with emotion, not logic.

Without the yearning to understand where those different than you are coming from, you will never be able to arrive to the destination you seek or currently think you seek. (Whoa...deep!) And if you think you're already there, you should think again. (Yowza...mega deep!) Opinions shouldn't be static. If you are unwilling to open your mind to the plausibility of other people's views, no matter how emotionally unattractive you think they are, then no longer are you willing to learn. I, for one, don't plan on ceasing to seek knowledge until I die. So, Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Socialists, Nationalists -- my ears are open. I may not agree with you, but I will certainly engage in a logical discussion with you if you are willing to do the same. But, then again, that's just my opinion...

But speaking of being open to radical ideas, according to the GenderAnalyzer, which I discovered via blog-God Bike Snob NYC, the The Anti DC is apparently just 72 percent female, meaning a full 28 percent of this blog is male. Hmm, I'm going to assume that 28 percent is a gay male. I dress too well. Right? RIGHT?!


Silhouette of a womanWe think is written by a woman (72%).

Come on, you should know by now that while I may post something just 72 percent female, it most definitely will never be 100 percent serious.



jheisel said...

it thinks i am a chick for some reason.

We guess is written by a woman (54%), however it's quite gender neutral.

Freewheel said...

The fat man must be really huge to be able to stop a run-away trolley.

Gilahi said...

Well, I never thought it would happen, but apparently I'm more female than you are. GenderAnalyzer is 72% certain that I'm a female. If you look at the results page, it appears that they're only right about 54% of the time, so they may as well be flipping a coin.

Scotus said...

I don't disagree that Foilwoman was out of line in regards to where she posted her comments, but I also don't think that Sugar's opinions deserve anywhere near as much respect as you're giving them.

This isn't simply someone saying, "I don't like Obama." This is someone who's regurgitating inane conspiracy theories dreamed up by smear merchants, making cheap shots about Obama taking the oath of office on the Qur'an, and so on. All opinions aren't created equal. Some really are crazy, wacko, insane, etc.

Most troubling, though, is that Genderanalyzer claims my blog is only 64% male. What the hell? I'm going to write the manliest post ever, all about beer and football and boobs, and see if that raises my ranking. I mean, I'm at least 3/4 man.

Marissa said...


But just barely a chick!


In which case, would it be even physically possible to throw him off a bridge?


Oh no, your blog's not more female than mine -- it's the same! Yeah, I don't know what the criteria are for judging the gender of a blog...that's most curious...


That may be true, as I, until now, had never read her blog because the subject matter does not interest me in the slightest. Because of that, I made sure to note that my philosophical waxing wasn't a defense of her or Melissa, as I prefer not to make this blog a public forum for my own political views, or even an attack on Foilwoman (or at least her political views).

I will say, however, that I do personally disagree with whatever Sugar wrote today (I can't speak for anything else since I never read it), but I don't think her opinion is any less valid than mine or yours. Mine and yours may be more logical, rather than emotional, but calling her "batshit insane" does nobody any good. All it does is isolate both sides even further. And even if Sugar is isolating herself, which may or may not be true (again, having never read her stuff, I don't know), the old saying two wrongs don't make a right is apt in this situation.

It could also just be that I'm simply fascinated by people's, how did she come to those conclusions? My hippie status is so out of the proverbial bag now...

LiLu said...

Marissa, thanks for writing this. It's not the first time Foilwoman has used her platform for evil- we all remember a couple months ago when she criticized the entire DC blogosphere for being superficial in their topic choice. I think today proves she doesn't deserve that platform anymore.

I-66 said...

Goose, your analysis is more... analytical than mine. Granted, I've seen this before, where Foilwoman, going through a bit of personal strife, suggested "Basically, the message is: write about something meaningful, and if you can’t, consider it a good time to go search for meaning and cease writing until you find it."

I think it's time for someone to understand the difference between being being an editor and editorializing.

Arjewtino said...

Good post, Marissa, lots of stuff to digest.

I hearda great podcast a few months back on Radio Lab about the trolley question. Great stuff.

Zipcode said...

That makes me batshit crazy too - yay

Stevious said...

I'd definitely push the fattie over the edge if only my puny arms could manage it.

Marissa said...


I mean, I'm all about highlighting the negative...but at least (I try) to make it funny. But also, I keep that on my own blog. She should definitely think about doing the same, it seems.


Sometimes the best response is nllm mlln.



Pinker is excellent for setting up discussion points, even though he didn't come up with the trolley thing. I still love him.


I'd take it as a compliment to be called batshit crazy in this context.


You are a respectable man.

Peter said...

You obviously are not listening very well to our current Pope. We are DROWNING in a SEA of MORAL RELATIVISM! YOU MUST CHOOSE A SI-I MEAN HIS SIDE!

John Foster said...

To be more to the point - good luck pushing me off the bridge motherfuckers! My money is on 4 skinny bitches piled up to stop that sucka... 120% return is okay in my book.

Marissa said...


Pope-pope-bo-bope. Banana-fanna-fo-fope. Fee-fi-mo-mope. Pope!

mr. foster--

You could not stop a trolley! Unless you used the strength in your bare hands, that is!

And while four skinny bitches would be easier to push, I think the kind of corpulence we would need, would require several more skinny bitches. Like 20.

Stevious said...

I should add that I'm not necessarily talking about pushing him to avert some disaster or whatever. I wouldn't even check to see if there was a runaway cart or anything.

TPWP said...

Love paragraph 13 - I'd like to print it out and smack some people in the face with it :) DCBlogs should replace FoilMoron with you

Marissa said...


I would never expect anything less from you.


Thanks! I'm glad I'm not the only one who thinks that...Maybe I should make a sticker and start guerrilla-marketing this message. That, and flat-front pants.