Point blank: On insults and logic

Think Progress has a couple of posts up today about Republican politicians, when directly asked if they think President Obama is a socialist, admitting that he’s, you know, not. House Minority Leader John Boehner’s interview is especially telling:

GREGORY: Do you really think the President is a socialist?

BOEHNER: Listen, when you begin to look at how much they want to grow government, you can call it whatever you want, but the fact is —

GREGORY: What do you call it though?

BOEHNER: This is unsustainable. We’re broke.

GREGORY: That’s fine. Do you think the President is a socialist?

BOEHNER: No!

The tone with which Boehner says “no” is, to my ear, exasperation: of course we all know that the President of the United States is not actually a socialist. But it serves the Republican party to spread the lie that he is, because they count on two things: 1) People not knowing what “socialist” means, and 2) Never being asked point blank if they think it’s true. These factors are intertwined: the idea is, anyone informed enough to know that Obama isn’t a socialist won’t bother asking point blank, because we (where “we” includes the lying politicians) all know it’s not true. The people who don’t know that won’t ask, either, because they assume they are not being taken for a ride by the people who give them their news. When asked, point blank, by someone who’d normally fall in the “us” category, Boehner has no choice: he has to answer no.

This connection might be tenuous, but stay with me. Fatshionista’s Lesley (who, let’s face it, is a total rock star when it comes to being both pithy and right) wrote an awesomely spot-on post today about health care and personal responsibility, in which she, too, suggests we quit the bullshit and ask, point blank, what people really mean:

In fact, I have a better idea, one that would likewise save the industry quite a bit of money in healthcare costs.

Let’s just punish all sick people.

Should healthcare only be made available to the virtuous and conventionally-attractive among us? Or to people who aren’t poor and who can therefore afford such things as quality food and gym memberships? Would you argue that only people who are well-educated, or people who are Christian, or people who are able-bodied should get full insurance coverage? Should healthcare only be offered to people who have never failed to report a symptom that resulted in a late diagnosis of a treatable disease? Is healthcare only for people who get themselves screened for breast cancer or colon cancer or prostate cancer at the appropriate ages and as often as recommended?

Is healthcare only for the physically perfect and morally pure?

These questions are a natural extension of the suggestion to restrict the coverage and punish the millions of Americans who qualify as being under that questionable umbrella of “obesity”, for having no self control or discipline, because this argument’s proponents also tend to accept the fallacy that fatness is easily enough managed with a little motivation. And what the “charge fat people more!” comments really come down to, in plain English, is people expressing that they don’t want to pay for certain people’s healthcare because they just don’t like those people.

I know some people get angry when we talk here about debunking stereotypes about fat people, because it tends (especially for the fatphobic people who toss around those stereotypes easily) to spawn discussions about good fatties and bad fatties, or regular fatties and “really fat” fatties — and if we’re fighting for the civil rights of all fat people, then why do we need to say “Most fat people aren’t like X,” when we believe it would be okay if they were? The fact is, we’re very sympathetic to that line of thinking; we are achingly aware of the fact that every time we say “Most fat people don’t eat five pizzas a day,” there is probably someone out there thinking, “Well, how many pizzas do I get to eat before I count as a bad fatty, Miss Most Fatties Aren’t So Bad?”

But what today’s various posts about socialism and health care and fat have reminded me is that it is next to useless to debate with someone who doesn’t share your terms, who doesn’t mean the same thing by “socialism” or “obese” that you do. Why do Republican politicians work so hard to spread the idea that Obama is a socialist? Because to a lot of people, “socialist” is a slur, even though to a lot of other people, it’s a legitimate political philosophy that, in fact, still influences geopolitics. To some people, “fat” is a horrible insult, and they’ll do anything to convince you (and themselves) that they don’t really mean you, or you’re chubby but you’re not obese, or what have you. Here is a list of some things that some people would categorize as offensive slurs, but which I don’t mind being used to describe me from a friendly party:

  • feminist
  • radical
  • queer
  • dyke
  • fat
  • bitch
  • freak

Here’s a list of some words that I still can’t believe are used as insults, because the conditions they describe are not self-evidently negative to me:

  • socialist
  • retarded
  • fat
  • cripple
  • gay
  • black
  • poor

As in, I can’t imagine that everyone who uses those words as insults has actually thought through what they’re saying. Don’t get me wrong; there are people out there who trade in absolute hatred, and who get off on the power they have to demean others. I’m not talking about those people here. I’m talking, instead, about people who may not realize their own privilege or how soaked their language is with it. I’m talking about the people who say “That’s so retarded” and when I say “You know, my brother is retarded,” they apologize because they never thought about who they mean when they say that. I’m talking about people who say “Fat people are going to drop dead any second,” and when you say “Even this fat person? And this one?” they realize they were picturing the archetypal Headless Fatty*. The people who claim that the obesity epidemic (booga x 2) is ruining all our lives, and you say “This obesity epidemic?” they say “Shut up, those people aren’t even fat.” There are people out there who are open to the idea that Words Mean Things, and that they might not know everything already.

I don’t think being a socialist is a bad thing. But I also don’t think that President Obama is a socialist. Those are two things that both need debunking, and I don’t think their debunkings have to be mutually exclusive. Disingenuous people are taking advantage of widespread misconceptions and prejudices and using them to argue something they wouldn’t dare say out loud** if asked point blank: (socialism is un-American) + (Obama is a secret socialist) = “Obama is not a real American.” When they are asked, point blank, about their premises, by someone who knows what they’re trying to do, their logic unravels.

People who argue that fatties are all sick*** and deserving of the death they brought on themselves by eating so many baby donuts are relying on the undercurrents of fatphobia and ableism that aren’t always visible to people who have certain privileges. But when you ask, as Lesley does, “So do you think we should punish sick people?” — well, god help us, but I’d like to think that some of them would answer “No.”

*Who, of course, is still not guaranteed to drop dead from being fat.

**Well, some of them.

***That’s why it’s “morbidly” obese, after all!

74 thoughts on “Point blank: On insults and logic

  1. This is really interesting and a great parallel. And I’ll make a pithy comment about your pithy post (and Lesley’s) when I stop chortling about “booga x2.”

  2. I once had a guy try to insult me over Facebook by calling me a feminist. I laughed! What’s better is when I told one of my feminist friends about it, she got excited. She was all like “Yes! Claim that title!” It was great.

  3. Interesting. I’m going to mentally move down ‘feminist’ from list 1 to list 2. Seriously, who is thinking that term is an offensive slur?

    Sputtering: you, you, you… fighter for equal rights! God, you’re awful!

    Who ever did?

    I think when people are trying to be offensive *about* being feminist is not the term itself, but some of the other terms on your list- bitch, dyke, or that old chestnut, MANHATER!

  4. Today in a discussion in the comments of a friend’s note on facebook, a guy got offended at me for “making abortion into a feminist thing’. I was like, what? it’s about women’s bodily autonomy, that’s pretty much feminist BY DEFINITION.

    People are weird.

    (also, I’m really bad about using the word retarded and I feel guilty about it now. Should try and speechpurge it.)

  5. The thing about this frenetic keyword mining that politicians and the media so love to play off of is that even those people using those keywords, in an informed and calculated way, often don’t realize what they’re saying, or what the words that they are using actually mean. I’m tired of being forced to explain my adjectives, frankly. When did it become required that you be the official and always perfectly researched expert on your own image as it appears to others? I should be allowed to call myself any damn thing I like and the only person it has to make sense to is me. That goes for presidents and fat people too, and even the media and middle america and south america and those 30 people who live in Antarctica. We shouldn’t be held responsible for our own self image, as if its actionable not to be able to explain your innermost understanding to a complete stranger.

    Oy.

  6. I have been hoping and waiting for the Republicans to be hoist on their own petard when it comes to the way they talk out of both sides of their mouths. They *know* that there is a very frightening fringe of their party that espouses wackadoo ideas about socialism etc., and that turns up at tea parties and other events armed with weapons and waving banners that equate Obama to Hitler. But the party leadership won’t disavow those people in clear, unequivocal language, because those people vote for them. It’s shameful.

  7. I always laugh when people use “feminist” as a slur. As if demanding equal rights somehow makes you a bitch/gross/unfeminine/ugly/a man-hater. I use the feminist label proudly.

  8. haha, i love your lists, Sweet Machine. context is indeed everything. though you reminded me just now that i was talking to an 18 year old kid at a party recently and we were discussing social matters, and at some point he said, ‘You know, I’m not a feminist or anything —‘ at which point i had to cut him off laughing because up ’til then he’d been acquitting himself pretty well of a lot of common prejudices young men seem to carry. ‘right! of course you’re not a feminist, because feminists believe women should have equal rights in this world and you know that we can’t have that.’ i laughed some more.

    i don’t remember what happened in the conversation after that, but i remember wondering who it is that people listen to, who exactly is defining this term in the popular vernacular, because i really don’t know. i disagree with nearly everything the popular media has to say about women and culture in general, and i don’t have a tv, and so there’s a lot i just don’t know about how things appear to the casual observer steeped in corporate media.

  9. The thing that makes me crazy about this is the way the right in this country denies fact-based anything, from the contents of legislation to the meaning of words. How can we have a public discourse when we can’t even agree on what is and isn’t fact?

    Joe Wilson apologized for his outburst but said he “disagreed” with Obama. You can’t disagree about this – either it’s a fact that the legislation prohibits public funds going to provide health care for illegal immigrants or it’s not a fact. It can only be those two things. Joe Wilson can’t have an opinion on whether something is or is not a fact. (Leaving aside that at this point, it feels like the Republicans would disagree with Obama stating the sky is blue as a fact.)

    The socialist thing is a similar example. You take a phrase like “family values” – very popular with politicians for obvious reasons. It’s completely meaningless without context, so anybody can get up and claim to be pro-family values and to the listener it will mean whatever zie wants it to mean, without the politician having to actually specify what it is they support. That’s why it’s such a great buzz word in politics.

    But socialist? It has a definition. It has a limited meaning. It’s not a vague word meaning anything you want it to mean. And by absolutely no stretch of anyone’s imagination is Obama a socialist. But the right is so used to taking some word(s) it thinks will play well and using it for their own purposes, the fact that reality is completely contradicting their scare tactics doesn’t bother them – unless they get cornered and have to either admit Obama isn’t a socialist or that we’ve had socialism in this country for centuries (public schools, fire departments) without it ending Western civilization.

    The right managed by repetition to turn “liberal” into a dirty word, which is one reason among many why the left has rebranded as “progressive” in some quarters. Liberal could mean a lot of things, and the vagueness of the term enabled the right to turn it into an epithet. I see something similar happening with “fat” thanks to the fatosphere – a reclaiming of the word to take away its power as an epithet and scare tactic and force people who would use it that way to confront what it is they are actually advocating.

    To sum up: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” ;)

    DRST

  10. Joe Wilson apologized for his outburst but said he “disagreed” with Obama. You can’t disagree about this – either it’s a fact that the legislation prohibits public funds going to provide health care for illegal immigrants or it’s not a fact. It can only be those two things. Joe Wilson can’t have an opinion on whether something is or is not a fact.

    I totally agree with the majority of your post, but I think this issue is a little more nuanced.

    Obama was talking about what kind of legislation he would sign, not about any specific existing piece of legislation. He said that he wouldn’t sign a plan that included coverage for illegal immigrants. Because there is no legislation, there can’t be any objective truth about what that legislation contains. That’s slicing the bologna pretty thin, though.

  11. I am a proud feminist (= women are at least as worthy as men), and I think socialism would really help out my poor state of South Carolina. If the (federal) government owned the means of production, we might actually get some jobs down here. As it is, the Joe Wilsons of our state are so busy worrying about denying health care to illegal immigrants (who pick the peaches in his district that locals won’t) and our Governot is having “trade missions” to Argentina, a leftist regime the feds won’t deal with.

    I am a married straight, but given the state of straight marriages around here (see Governot, above), gay marriage can only be an improvement.

  12. Finally! I have a coworker that insists on screaming socialism! at least a few times a week and I keep getting that pain in my eye. You know the one? :-)

    It’s going to be so good to rub this one in his face.

  13. An interesting related issue is “Lifestyle changes.” I have a friend who insists that when she says “Lifestyle Changes” she really just means changes in lifestyle and not a diet. Except that she is always implying that these “changes in lifestyle that are not a diet” will cause you to lose weight. Which means that it is a fucking diet.

    I think she’s too far gone into the FOBT. I should send her that post.

  14. My favorite thing about people who think socialism is a synonym for bad are when it’s local people who think that. I’m from ND, where we are the reddest red red state… but we have a state run elevator, a state run mill AND *gasp* a state run bank.

  15. I was listening to a conversation the other day in which there was some discussion of I think a Federal Judge (may be making this up) said ‘are we going to let bureaucrats make these decisions?’

    And I thought… um… yes? Because that’s their job?

  16. To continue the Obama analogy, debunking the idea of “the obese” is exactly like when people were insisting (I say “were” as though they aren’t still) that Obama was a Muslim. It was a difficult point to argue, because you wanted to simultaneously make the point that a) Obama isn’t a Muslim b) so what if he were? And because of all the baggage that the people making the argument had surrounding what it meant to be a Muslim, a lot of people gave up point B in favor of the more pressing and probably easier point A. We left the long-term “demolish people’s faulty assumptions about Muslims” project for another day, and focused on the fact that those assumptions shouldn’t even be coming into play.

    The same dynamic plays out with the “fatties don’t just sit on the couch eating donuts and they are not all disabled by their fat” approach. Sure, some people don’t exercise and some people eat mostly donuts and some fat people are disabled for various reasons some of which may be weight-related, and so fucking what? But “so fucking what if I don’t want to have ‘healthy habits'” is a really complex point — I’ve rarely seen anybody handle it as well as Lesley did, because she’s probably the clearest thinker I know. The simpler, more easily illustrated point — and perhaps the necessary stepping stone — is that your (generic “your”) idea of what fat people are like does not describe most fat people. We can focus on “so the fuck what if it did” once you’ve grasped that.

  17. I have been dying for a tattoo forever, but it’s hard to figure out exactly what I want to have on my skin for the rest of my life. Words Mean Things: yes! Yes exactly yes yes!

    And re: DRST’s comment

    Joe Wilson apologized for his outburst but said he “disagreed” with Obama. You can’t disagree about this – either it’s a fact that the legislation prohibits public funds going to provide health care for illegal immigrants or it’s not a fact. It can only be those two things. Joe Wilson can’t have an opinion on whether something is or is not a fact. (Leaving aside that at this point, it feels like the Republicans would disagree with Obama stating the sky is blue as a fact.)

    The problem here is an attitude among some on the political fringe that lies are somehow representative of a bigger truth. The concept was best explained by the former governor of Alaska, who stated in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, in reference to the discredited allegations of death panels, “Establishment voices dismissed that phrase, but it rang true for many Americans.”

    The fact that many Americans think it’s so does not make it so. It can mean that many Americans are wrong, misinformed, prejudiced or just plain dumb, but it doesn’t make a false accusation into a larger truth. This isn’t strictly directed at a single political party, by the way; it used to drive me batty to hear Dubya described as a fascist, because that word, y’know, actually means something besides Bad Person.

    I should say, by the way, that there are apparently a large number of Americans who are just fine with allowing health care rationing that eliminates health care for the sick and poor. Because, let’s face it: that’s the system currently in place.

  18. a) Obama isn’t a Muslim b) so what if he were? And because of all the baggage that the people making the argument had surrounding what it meant to be a Muslim, a lot of people gave up point B in favor of the more pressing and probably easier point A.

    Right, and Muslim, obese, socialist – meaning BAD THING WE ARE A’SCARED OF – *isn’t* necessarily true, even if Muslim, obese, socialist IS true. I mean, there are scary Muslims, obese folks, and socialists, but it’s not inherent in the definition. So part b) is about confronting and getting rid of a fundamental fear, and that practically requires psychotherapy. The word is just substituting in for that fear.

    And no fat person, no matter how many pizzas they eat, is really the five-pizza-eating headless-fatty monster of people’s psyches. That headless-fatty monster is sitting in people’s minds as the darkness at their door, just like the Muslim-monster or the socialist-monster or the colouring-outside-the-patriarchal-gender-lines-monster (a particularly multifaceted monster, that.)

    So saying NO, He/She/They aren’t X is about denying the monster. Obama could be socialist, and he still wouldn’t be what they mean.

  19. BTW, I have no idea if you meant to get the song Point Blank stuck in my head, but if you did, you succeeded. Two sections keep nagging at me:

    You grew up where young girls they grow up fast
    You took what you were handed and left behind what was asked
    But what they asked wasn’t right
    You didn’t have to live that life

    “You have to diet”
    “If you had a boyfriend you’d be worthy”
    “Sex means you’re a grownup”
    “You aren’t any good at [thing you love]”

    Like little white lies you tell to ease the pain

    So much “we have to appeal to our base” rewording and repositioning is about easing the pain of uncomfortable truths.

  20. I’m from Sweden. We have a socialist party, sadly not currently in government. We are not communists. It drives me FUCKING NUTS when (some) Americans can’t distinguish the two.

    And for what its worth, the American democrats are conservative enough to be to the right of our most conservative party (sadly currently in government), ideologically speaking, that is.

    Just a small FYI.

  21. And for what its worth, the American democrats are conservative enough to be to the right of our most conservative party (sadly currently in government), ideologically speaking, that is.

    Oh, totally. It drives me batty that this meme of Obama being a radical takes off when he’s actually so centrist. But I think part of it is the idea that Europe is also “other” to Americans; Obama is supposedly a Muslim radical, and you can tell because he supports those dangerous European ideas about socialism! Which is what all radical Muslims want!

  22. The devaluation of codified knowledge is SOP for this crowd and its the very reason why we have blue collar workers voting for politicians who are anti-labor. As long as people like Palin can distract with the big 3 of Gays, Guns, and God there’s no need to create factually based public discourse.
    Understanding socialism, feminism, etc means that 1. you have the time, and believe that you’re wisely spending that time, to read boring stuff above an 8th grade level. 2.you’re willing to give credence to other people’s knowledge- ie admit there are people out there who are smarter than you. 3. You are willing to take the chance that you might just be WRONG. That is a tall order for people who align themselves with pundits who actively denigrates higher learning with scornful phrases such as ‘elitest intellectuals in their ivory towers.’
    Plus we have a a system which historically encourages average Joes and Janes to actively participate in the political system. So you endup with public town halls full of overworked people who hate fancy book learning speaking out because its their ‘right’ as citizens.
    Hell people went out and stocked up on guns following Obama’s election even though he never once used gun control anywhere in his platform. Why? Because Rush is more fun to listen to than NPR or New York Times and this is where they get their inormation.
    And finally for the poster who likened these folks to liberals who claimed Bush was a fascist- I’m not sure whatelse you would call a regime that rules without being elected, establishes the Patriot act where librarians may be obligated to show your checkouted titles, signed a record number of executive orders, tortures people, and raises exclusionary patriotism to unprecedented levels.

  23. FJ – I totally agree about the “I’m/he’s/we’re not _____, but so what if I/he/we were?” thing, and it’s something I struggle with here, actually. By BMI I’m obese; by body fat percentage I’m “normal.” I don’t look fat, and I think I’m still a little scared to since I’ve been gaining weight recently. But really? So what if I am. There’s nothing wrong with me.

    Something else I don’t get – what the hell is so terrible about socialism?!?! The United States has often had programs that could be called socialist. I don’t think Obama is actually a socialist, but I also wouldn’t think it was a big deal if he were.

    And I’ve been called a feminist as an insult. Actually, it was a “stupid, butch feminist.” Huh. I’m not stupid. I’m not butch (or a lesbian for that matter) – but so what if I was? And I’m not embarrassed to be a feminist. Ridiculous.

  24. @smartfatchick: Plus we have a a system which historically encourages average Joes and Janes to actively participate in the political system. So you end up with public town halls full of overworked people who hate fancy book learning speaking out because its their ‘right’ as citizens.

    You obviously seem to have a problem with this. What alternative do you envision? Keep the avg. Joes & Janes quiet, keep ‘em at home, where they won’t get to express their frustration? I mean, they aren’t as educated, so why should they get a say? While we’re at it, let’s take back the popular vote for senators! Those dumb average people don’t make good choices anyway. They never vote in a way that’s good for them.

    You know, I’ve heard this argument in various forms, and every time, I’ve found it offensive. And yes, it’s elitist. It’s an argument that assumes that one’s “betters” know what’s best.

  25. So you endup with public town halls full of overworked people who hate fancy book learning speaking out because its their ‘right’ as citizens.

    It is their right as citizens. I mean, god knows our political process is flaws in so many ways, but I can’t think people’s right to speak out about the issues of the day is one of them.

  26. I do wonder if there’s an additional issue here, which is that so many of the activities that are supposed to be associated with being fat are not public. That is, no one can prove that I don’t go home from eating a salad and devour five pizzas every night of the week. (Although when I eat at Chili’s or a buffet, I’m a randomly-sampled piece of scientific proof of my own fat complicity.) And since we can only see our own habits (and maybe those of the people that live with us, although even those are suspect and limited), it’s really easy to fall into the idea that the Diet Advice Givers are correct, and I eat an outrageous amount of food all too frequently. Or, even if somehow, despite all odds, I become convinced that *I* am not eating an outrageous amount of food, there’s nothing to keep me from believing that I am a statistical outlier (except at Chili’s.)

    If you’re a Real Socialist, you’ve probably had some experience and community with other Real Socialists. Maybe you’ve read Marx, and found him to be radical, but hardly the frothing straw maniac that usually appears in Straw Socialism. If you’re fortunate, you have some examples of actual political parties and their goals and methods to turn to, no matter how flawed, and some actual living other socialists.

    But while Real Socialists ™ tend to have some experience with what Real Socialism is, and know some other Real Socialists, and can confidently call bullshit on the bugbear of Straw Socialism (even if it doesn’t do any good), I don’t think that fat people have that same confidence. It’s made worse because we’re told that we lie to ourselves – that if the weight-loss isn’t working for us, we must be lying about the strenuousness of our exercise and the quantities of food. In short, we are told that our laziness and gluttony are bigger than even ourselves imagine. It’s kind of hard to call bullshit on that when you’re not part of a larger community that shares its experiences and trusts each other not to claim to being doing yoga while actually sitting around snarfing baby donuts on sticks.

    I think the good fatty/bad fatty stuff makes me super uncomfortable because I’m not really a good fatty. I have some good habits and some not-so-good ones, but a part of me holds this completely irrational belief that I am the opposite of the statistical outlier – that I am actually every datapoint in Chili’s, while everyone else is all over the map. Which reminds me that: 1) I have a lot of work to do on self-love, but also 2) it would be nice to have more of a sense of communal spectrums. There’s no real way to know this kind of info, short of a in-depth survey, but I think it might ease some of the sense of being the one bad fatty in the world. (Well, maybe me, Homer Simpson, and Gilbert Grape’s mom.)

  27. >>>Obama is supposedly a Muslim radical, and you can tell because he supports those dangerous European ideas about socialism! Which is what all radical Muslims want!<<<

    Sweet Machine, I just snorted eggs out of my nose at this. Not in a cool magician whole eggs clean way either. I want YOUR radical Muslims to take over the US!

    It always shocks people when I say I'm socialist, when it's really just the consequence of having committed union parents. I think that workers should own the means of production, because it seems like the shortest route to real social equality. Nobody's work is more valued *financially* than anyone else's. That doesn't mean you can't be more grateful for the existence of dentists than waitresses when you have a toothache, only that they should equally be able to feed their children.

    And of course in practice nearly all my coworkers have believed in the value of socialism. At least to judge by the constant bitching about how actual front line expertise and ideas for reform are routinely ignored by administrators. They have no stake in our ideas, because they have more money and job security regardless of outcomes.

    And now I want to see my Socialist Obesity Monster Booga Booga.

  28. I’m a feminist. And a socialist. And fat. I’m your worst nightmare. BWAHAHAHAHA!

    One of the ones that really *pisses* me off is when people use “girl” as an insult. Do that around me and you WILL get your ass flayed.

  29. If its elitist to say that people should actually know what they’re talking about before they debate then I plead guilty.

    And I should clarify. My beef isn’t with average Joe’s and Jane’s speaking out. Its with the populist fervor that underlies a lot of these townhall meetings. When you get people riled up with false accusations of death panels and faked birth certificates it makes a mockery of real discussions about our nation. Its the same with people who claim there’s an obesity epidemic. Dr Oz says there are too many fat people so I’m going to use that in my argument against a public option. Its silly and demeaning.

  30. Oh boy I could comment all night on this one!

    As an aside – I find it hilarious that some Americans have trouble with the idea of socialism, considering that at it’s nub it is basically about all people being equal… sure, it leaves out the ‘under God’ bit, but otherwise …

    I’m sensing some interesting undercurrents re my fat with my hubby’s family at the moment. While I’ve been fat the whole time he and I have been together (14 years or so now) I’ve only been ‘morbidly obese’ (damn I *hate* that descriptor!) in the last 5 – 7 years. He is, and always has been, average weight, but he has two very skinny sisters who obsess over their bodies to varying degrees and a Mother who is a nurse and is full of the whole ‘fat kills!’ belief. Meanwhile I’ve moved from hating my body towards a more FA approach (not all the way there yet – I have some bad days). And I am also a ‘bad fatty’ in my habits and I’m trying *really* hard not to apologise for it! But when one SIL starts taunting the other – in front of me – about how much she;s eating now she’s preggy and how she’ll get “sooooo huge”… or I end up gently disagreeing with MIL and FIL who believe I’m about to drop dead any second… I get discouraged.

    Because they’re not even doing the whole “Oh, I didn’t mean *you*!” fat-taunt thing; they *do* mean me, and are embarrassed by it to the point where my weight becomes the metaphorical elephant in the corner but not embarassed enought to keep their crap to themselves.

    Funny moment though – years ago I had a younger male colleague who was lazy and disrespectful. He had the gall to complain to me once “You’re just a feminist! You hate men!” to which I replied “No, darling – I *am* a feminist, and I can’t stand *you*”

  31. I’m a fat, smart, queer, feminist freak with a disability who believes that a little socialism would be good for this country.

    I am constantly amazed at the level of discourse.

    During the 2008 elections, my neighbor, a relatively smart guy, and I were having an Obama discussion. I explained that, indeed, I wanted a president that was smarter than I am. He asked, “Do you really believe that Obama is smarter than you?” I was floored. Yes!!! He was president of Harvard Law Review. I could not have gotten into Harvard much less been president of the Law Review (not denigrating my intelligence, I went to a fine Univ.)! But this guy, who watches Star Trek, lives in Los Angeles, is upper-middle class believed all the hype. It was an eye opener for me to see that, despite their silence, there are people who believe that way in my city, it’s just a small and very quiet minority.

  32. @ Anita –
    You said a lot of good stuff, but ‘frothing straw maniac’ is absolutely my new battle-of-the-bands name. Either that, or a truly refreshing chaff-based beverage.

  33. @smartfatchick, MamaD, and LilahMorgan: If there is a dead French Social Theorist heaven, Alexis de Tocqueville is up there, watching the exchange you’re having, and going “see! See! I told you! I TOLD YOU!”

    According to his 19th c. self, this is the heart of American democracy. He wrote a lot about equal citizenship under the law in tension with exceptional capability/ merit-whatever-that means.

    I don’t agree with what he actually argues (that people with exceptional skills get buried under the average Jane Joes and thus have a reduced role in political life). Largely, I think this is because most people are actually pretty smart, so if they’re engaging in what you could call “averagism” it’s not for lack of what he called “natural” superiority of smarts or skills. (And I could go on and on about that but shouldn’t.)

    “Americans are so enamored of equality that they would rather be equal in slavery than unequal in freedom” is one of ADT’s.

    (Watch me have posted that, only to find out you all are poltical science professors and de Tocqueville scholars… oh well… Maybe I should say it’s interesting to me how you’re making de Tocqueville have something to bring up in the bar of French Social Theorist Heaven today.)

  34. If its elitist to say that people should actually know what they’re talking about before they debate then I plead guilty.

    I think my issue with this statement is that knowing what one is talking about is a pretty broad thing with many gray areas that is open to interpretation a million different ways. My doctor, who spent many years in med school and residency and all that, no doubt thinks that he “knows what he’s talking about” when we discuss obesity. I on the other hand, who never had any of that training, but do know a thing or two about graft… uh, ehr, I mean “academic research funding,” think he lives in la la land. Should I be shut out of the debate because I lack his medical credentials? Or should he be shut out, because he’s never done academic research for a living? And who gets to decide?

    As for how all this applies to the OP. It’s certainly true that sloppy logic makes me crazy, especially when people seem to be just spouting some party line they’ve been fed without ever following the argument to it’s logical conclusion. I’ve argued this again and again with friends. If they really want fatties to pay more because it’s “all our fault” then people need to be prepared to pay more for anything and everything the insurance company can somehow say wasn’t just an act of god. Athletic injuriy? Why were you playing football at your age anyway? Car accident? Were you on your way to work, or going to the mall for no good reason? Mugged? What in god’s name were you THINKING walking around there at that hour??

    I think I’m going to get the words “firs they came for the communists” tattooed on my ass.

  35. Oh and my monster looks like a big green one-eyed (is there any other kind?) penis. Pretty cool… though I do envy that hostess cupcake monster.

  36. I’m a bit disappointed that they’re just going for socialist. I mean, at this point, it’s just not that inflammatory, and honestly all of McCain’s “He’s going to spread the wealth!” rhetoric probably helped Obama more than hurt him. I wish they’d just go big and say Obama is a big old godless commie. Let’s insult people like we really mean it, not like we’re just kind of misinformed about various economic and political systems. If we’re going to go the insult route, that is.

    As it stands I’m just anxious waiting for the socialism I’d been promised Obama would usher in, and I’m not seeing it. I feel cheated.

    And, just as a side note, unfortunately I think SM’s post points to how these sorts of insults are not isolated to any one side of the political spectrum, because in general the people screaming about socialism are not the same folks screaming about the obesity epidemic. In all cases it’s just so much easier to construct an imaginary enemy then to actually engage with people whose ideas or lives or bodies are different from your own.

  37. cassi-yes, knowing what you’re talking about is a pretty broad term, and it can be subject related. There are political debates I won’t have saying “i don’t know enough about that to be sure” Good question on who gets to decide, though.
    and AnthroK8-I don’t know, that seems to be the theory in my family-no, nobody else is smarter than me, I know all about them illegal immigrants. what? no, I haven’t met one. why should I? I don’t know. You may be right that in the end people who are smart don’t get bogged down by average Joes and Janes, they get bogged down by other smart people setting against them. But I do think we have a problem with averageism. I have that issue grading all the time-if a C really is for the average student, most students should be getting them. but I can’t give that when I teach. oh no. parents complain. And don’t get me started on the gifted program at my K-7 school district.

  38. Oh, totally. It drives me batty that this meme of Obama being a radical takes off when he’s actually so centrist. But I think part of it is the idea that Europe is also “other” to Americans; Obama is supposedly a Muslim radical, and you can tell because he supports those dangerous European ideas about socialism! Which is what all radical Muslims want!

    I’ve had this thought before, but it reminded me again…

    The imagined, radical socialist faction that Obama belongs to in the minds of consevatives has entirely different goals than the radical Muslim faction that he also, according to them, belongs to. Not only are socialism and Islam totally unrelated, the stereotypical radical extremes of both groups have goals that can’t be reconciled.

    In short, to call anyone a radical Muslim lefty socialist doesn’t even make sense.

  39. I think I’m going to get the words “firs they came for the communists” tattooed on my ass.

    Except, I’ll probably ask the tattoo artist to, you know, spell check the thing first. Oy.

  40. RE: comment from KB

    “You may be right that in the end people who are smart don’t get bogged down by average Joes and Janes, they get bogged down by other smart people setting against them.”

    I didn’t quite mean that, and didn’t want to get out of control with the posting. I think “smart people without the skill set of critical thinking (that can among other places be acquired through education) setting against them” is what I mean.

    And I agree- average is average, and that’s what a C is supposed to be. I just think our “average” is not as sharp as it could be. We can’t do a lot about how smart people are naturally, but we could do a lot lot more to make sure a high school educated person had a more finely honed set of tools in the box. We could modify de Tocqueville and say people deliberately don’t want to be a lot more wise than they are already because of averagism. And, so, we design a system that makes things that way.

    fatsmartchick: yep. That’s why cultural anthropology is good for something. Bring an outsider’s view to a world and see what you see. That goes for our own society as much as anyone else’s. He was astonishingly astute; I recognize the America de Tocqueville describes.

  41. Maybe it’s because I am German, btu what drives me absolutely batty is when people say that Obama is a socialist and therefore a Nazi.

    Do American schools really teach that the Nazis were socialists? Because I am pretty sure all the socialists who tried to keep Hitler from getting into a position of power, who got arrested and sometimes killed for being socialists or communists, would disagree. And yes, I know what NSDAP means, but come on. Look at the facts, not just the names they gave themselves.

    At school, one of the things we spent a lot of time in History classes learning about was how the old elite’s fears of the socialists were one of the things that allowed the Nazis to gain control of the government. The couldn’t, for various reasons, have the socialist party abolished again, so in order to control the angry workers, who were suffering from the consequences of the financial crisis, they decided to go for the lesser evil, the Nazis. The belief back then was that they would be easy to control, and unlike the SPD and the communist party, they would not take away the elite’s money. The SPD was a common enemy.

  42. Do American schools really teach that the Nazis were socialists? Because I am pretty sure all the socialists who tried to keep Hitler from getting into a position of power, who got arrested and sometimes killed for being socialists or communists, would disagree.

    I can’t speak for every school in America, but as a general rule, no, they do not. I think the conflation comes much more from the fact that “socialist” is a go-to insult for the right and “Nazi” is a go-to insult for everyone rather than ideological confusion.

  43. Also, regarding the difficulties of debunking prejudices while at the same time making it clear that even if they were true, this would not be a bad thing; I think there are comparable issues with a lot of prejudices.

    “All feminists are lesbians” No. And also, being a lesbian is not a bad thing.
    “All gay men are queens” No. And there is nothing wrong with being a queen.
    “All women are guided by their emotions” No. And listening to your emotions is not a bad thing.
    “All blacks are always angry”. No. But if they were, they would have a lot of good reasons for it.
    It goes on and on. Leaving aside accusation of a “criminal nature” (such as “all gay men are child molesters” or “all imigrants are dealers and thieves”), most prejudices against any marginalized group demand that kind of two-step approach. And it can be incredibly hard to do both steps.

  44. Alright, I’m not particularly suited to having a conversation about de Tocqueville so I’m going to beg off that part of the conversation. Though I will note that this very conversation has brought up two at least somewhat contradictory memes that come up all the time in discussing American popular culture – that smart people are looked down upon and average rules and that everyone insists that they could never be average and are a special snowflake – and which makes me think that we shouldn’t be throwing either around in an unquestioned manner.

    But my objections to the statement about uninformed people thinking they have a right to sound off at town hall meetings is not about me thinking that jerkoffs who whip people into an uninformed frenzy about death panels aren’t unequivocally bad. It’s that under our constitutional system people ACTUALLY have a right to be uninformed at town hall meetings. They don’t think they have a right; they do (not of course absolute, but close enough for government work). This isn’t a case of the First Amendment being thrown around to refer to private censorship; this is actually the core of what the First Amendment is about. And I guess we can debate whether that should be how our constitution works, but in the meantime, while it does, I think it’s worrisome to lose sight of that fact. Because frankly, if you put it to a general vote, I suspect more people would vote that *we* don’t have a right to be spouting out “dangerous, obesity epidemic” propaganda than that we do, and I’m sure well-credentialed “experts” would be leading that charge.

  45. The problem I have with people getting into an uninformed frenzy at town halls isn’t that they’re going it: as LilahMorgan notes, it IS their right. What bothers me is that the Republican leadership mealy-mouths about “freedom of expression” without bothering to note that some of the views being expressed are flat-out wrong. The leaders of the party, who do know better, won’t take any responsibility for the scarier stuff that the far-right of their party espouses, because to do so would alienate potential voters. It’s intellectually dishonest.

  46. Lilah Morgan: “…that smart people are looked down upon and average rules and that everyone insists that they could never be average and are a special snowflake…”

    The ways in which these mutually exclusive values seem to putter along in our social world is the amazing contradiction of American life.

    “It’s that under our constitutional system people ACTUALLY have a right to be uninformed at town hall meetings. They don’t think they have a right; they do (not of course absolute, but close enough for government work). This isn’t a case of the First Amendment being thrown around to refer to private censorship; this is actually the core of what the First Amendment is about.”

    I will never disagree with you about this. I may wish (for their own sakes and everyone else’s) that people were informed. No one can be informed about every subject, and that’s okay. Everyone can be informed about how information is presented, how arguments are made, and how persuasions are strategized. And, we don’t.

    I wish we all looked at those things in The Obesity Epidemic BOOGA BOOGA (TOEBB). And health care reform. And Obama is a Muslim BOOGA BOOGA (OMBB). But however much I wish people would recognize a discourse bait and switch when they are served one, I wouldn’t ever, ever say “thus and such a person should not have the right/ is not entitled to say whatever they want in a First Amendment appropriate way.” In the same way I never, not jokingly, not seriously, never, say “thus and such a kind of person shouldn’t be allowed to have kids.”

  47. Annie F: Yeah, I’ll get behind that frustration. And, to pitch it back to the town hall audience, I am frustrated they will object to health care reform/ imagine an epidemic/ envision a muslim president based on THINGS THAT ARE FALSE.

    As opposed to objecting to health care reform or the president or… well, I don’t know what about the non-pidemic… because of some reason that’s based on things that are true however much I don’t agree with them.

    Do they have the right to show up at a town hall to object to Death Panels That Don’t Exist? Sure. Is it productive? I am sure it is for someone, but it’s not productive in solving the problem to which the objecters object.

  48. AnthroK8: Completely off-topic quibbly kind of point, but I’d say that there is one kind of person that shouldn’t be allowed to have kids: People who abuse them.

  49. Shiyiya: There’s prolly an argument for that position. I think my dad, whose father was verbally, emotionally, and probably also physically abusive, would take exception to it.

    He is, as are his siblings, to a person fine and wonderful human beings who don’t as far as I am aware abuse anyone. They do appear to have decided deliberately to live different lives than their dad’s.

    I will agree that not everyone who has kids should get to keep them.

  50. It was a fairly vague phrase :P But yeah, don’t think anyone should be prevented from making babies. Though some people probably shouldn’t – like, say, people who would be passing down horrible genetic conditions – still not going to stop them. Tempting an idea as eugenics seems sometimes.

  51. Though some people probably shouldn’t – like, say, people who would be passing down horrible genetic conditions – still not going to stop them. Tempting an idea as eugenics seems sometimes.

    And who decides what “horrible genetic conditions” are? And even then, does having a “horrible genetic condition” mean your life is so worthless that you shouldn’t have been born at all?

  52. I really really really really like this post.

    How far does this extend? Can I just take any word, strip it of its original meaning, decide that it now stands for a bunch of things I don’t like but don’t want to say, and then use it in normal conversation as though no sleight-of-hand has taken place?

    Because in that case, OBAMA IS A RHODODENDRON! And by rhododendron, I mean “person who missed some opportunities to stand up for LGBT folks, and who therefore frustrates me, even though I can appreciate that he’s in an almost impossible situation. But still, dude.”

  53. Do they have the right to show up at a town hall to object to Death Panels That Don’t Exist? Sure. Is it productive? I am sure it is for someone, but it’s not productive in solving the problem to which the objecters object.

    Definitely. I think in the case of health care reform, it’s productive for insurance companies. It’s clever, in a diabolical way, how they’ve figured out how to make the system work for themselves. Get people angry about something that isn’t real, and make sure that the “voice of the people” is perceived to be driving the anti-change viewpoint of Republican (and some Dems) Members of Congress. The Senators and Congresspeople get inoculated, in a sense, because they can claim that their “no” votes on important legislation are driven by their constituents, but of course they’re actually the product of the cozy relationship between Congress and industry.

  54. Carla, I should probably either not say things or put a huge disclaimer that i’m tired and not thinking very well. I mean things that would make someone’s life a living hell, or would mean the child was a vegetable maybe? Dunno, brain not working so well, and again, no right to prevent it. Only point trying to make is that children/people being in pain sucks and is bad. Doing a bad job of making it. Shutting up now :P

  55. I mean things that would make someone’s life a living hell, or would mean the child was a vegetable maybe?

    Yeah, there is no way to talk about “vegetables” without stepping into a big pile of ableism. I think probably you should stop now.

  56. *channeling some sort of

    A Sarah: Sadly, if rhododendron means “dropped the ball on a hard play, but then again, he’s a talented player so wtf?” we can’t do this: Obama is *not* a rhododendron. He is a *poinsettia.* But if he were a rhododendron, there would be nothing wrong with that at all.

    Because rhododendron as you define it is not something he would choose to be, I expect. Although, maybe he would. But I doubt it.

  57. Oooh, I am really enjoying this discussion. You guys rock, and this is the sort of thing that I hope makes all the moderating worthwhile for the Powers That Be Awesome.

    I love the rhododendron analogy, but take it further: you make up a meaning for rhododendron and assign it to Obama, and then the talk radio on your side of the fence begins fulminating about how the Constitution prohibits plants from being President and shouldn’t someone bring up a bill in Congress? Maybe Michelle Bachmann?

    The question of democracy and intelligence and education and privilege is a fraught one. I think it was Winston Churchill who said that democracy is the worst possible sort of government, except for all the other options. (And if not, it does sound like the sort of thing he’d say, don’t you think?) The problem with limiting anyone for any reason is that however sensible it seems in theory, in practice it becomes a way for the powerful to disenfranchise the less powerful. You see this in the property requirements that left Britain with MPs from rotton boroughs (ones with no actual voters, or only one or two) during the Victorian era, and the reading requirements that were used to disenfranchise black Americans during Jim Crow. As soon as real people rather than an all-wise theory get their hands on the power, everything goes to hell.

    I completely heart the ACLU because of their defense of the KKK marching in Skokie, IL. Not in spite of, because of. The KKK is the sort of organization that, were I God, I would cheerfully wipe off the face of the earth. But outlawing icky speech is a huge problem because it’s real people who decide what’s icky and what’s not, and I don’t want my protected speech to be on the chopping block next. I know lots of democracies have chosen a different route–Germany prohibits certain kinds of speech pertaining to the Nazis, for one–but I do love the absolute right Americans have to speak their minds, whatever the hell is or is not in there.

  58. And AnthroK8, can I say that you’re absolutely right? Your statement got me thinking, “But what about–?” and then realizing that there is no hard-and-fast rule for who ought or ought not have children. One of my grandparents was seriously mentally ill. I’d say in theory that abusive psychotic schizophrenic people (btw, I am using psychotic in its actual clinical sense) should not have kids, and in fact I think that’s a fairly good rule of thumb for abusive psychotic schizophrenic people, both for their own well-being and that of their children. But prohibiting? No. Never. Who decides? Who enforces? What happens if or when they get better? What happens if or when they get worse?

    And when it comes right down to it, having a mother who was unfit to care for them did not destroy her three daughters. A potentially bad outcome is not a sufficient reason to rip away someone’s right to control her own body.

  59. The ways in which these mutually exclusive values seem to putter along in our social world is the amazing contradiction of American life.

    That, or there’s something so resonatingly worrisome and terrifying about those two things that we continually feel the need to project them onto other people and groups of other people.

  60. Do American schools really teach that the Nazis were socialists?

    Honestly, I don’t even think the socialist thing comes into it too much, in this line of thinking. There seems to be a contingent of Americans who believe that the truly notable things about Hitler were that he was a popular democratically elected leader who gave inspiring speeches. OMG, Obama is like that, too! Clearly, the past or present world leader Obama must be most like is Hitler.

    I’ve heard that both Hitler and Obama avoided staring directly into the sun and that both liked puppies and ice cream. How could we NOT see that Obama is clearly just another Hitler?

    I hope none of you live in cities where the trains run on time, because if you do your leader is obviously Mussolini. That was the most notable thing he did, right?

  61. Mussolini also had tea with little old ladies. (That was what the movie was about, right?)

    I don’t get the rhododendron metaphor. Is it because they sometimes change color as they get older? Because they’re the flower of West Virginia? Because they were hugely popular in Britain right before the Revolution? Because they have a funny name? I mean, seriously, why pick on the rhododendrons? Wouldn’t hydrangeas make more sense? They change color based on whether you put them in acidic or neutral or basic soil.

    In other news – Happy International Bisexuality Day, everyone.

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