Deep Thoughts from Pop Culture

It feels a little silly to quote Chuck Klosterman as some sort of Deep Thinker– this is a guy whose whole claim to fame revolves around the expression of weirdly absolute opinions about pop culture ephemera, after all. Then again, the best political reporting being done these days is done by a pair of comedy shows, so maybe it’s not so stupid.

Anyway, there were two passages in his new collection, Chuck Klosterman IV, that really struck a chord when I read them the other night. Well, OK, there were more than two, but there were two that struck me as worthy of blog posts. Here’s the first:

It strikes me that every wrongheaded sentiment in society ultimately derives from the culture of inherent, unconditional rightness. As I grow older, I find myself less prone to have an opinion about anything, and to distrust just about everyone who does. Whenever I meet someone who openly identifies themselves as a Republican of a Democrat, my immediate thought is always, Well, this person might be interesting, but they’ll never say anything about politics that’s remotely useful to me. I refuse to discuss abortion with anyone who is pro-life or pro-choice; I refuse to discuss affirmative action with any unemployed white guy or any unemployed black guy. All the world’s stupidest people are either zealots or atheists. If you want to truly deduce how intelligent someone is, just ask this person how they feel about any issue that doesn’t have an answer; the more certainty they express, the less sense they have. This is because certainty only comes from dogma

This comes near the end of a 2004 piece from Esquire on the pointless nationalism of the Olympics, but it strikes me as an absolutely dead-on description of, well, a lot of things: why I don’t read Daily Kos, why I don’t follow links to the Skpetics Circle or Carnival of the Godless, why I don’t post much to the “Culture Wars” channel on ScienceBlogs. And, probably, why I don’t get fifty thousand visitors a day.

I’ll post the second blog-worthy passage separately.

Update: I should’ve known the original piece would be out there on the Internets somewhere. This is the full text, more or less, if you want to see the quote in context. Via Who Is Chuck Klosterman?

Comments

  1. #1 GH
    August 28, 2006

    It has some merit but I think you miss the larger point(and so does he) about atheists. Notice he didn’t say the same about a person who expresses any religious conviction. Just zealots.

    He is playing a game. You bought a little of it. All an atheist says is there is no evidence for this God or that God. Thats it.

    If he finds that position stupid but accepts someone saying they are Catholic you have to wonder about his level of intellect.

  2. #2 Aaron Bergman
    August 28, 2006

    How dare anybody care about something. It’s so…tiresome.

  3. #3 quork
    August 28, 2006

    Losterman: All the world’s stupidest people are either zealots or atheists.

    Orzel: And, probably, why I don’t get fifty thousand visitors a day.

    You’re going to get a few when PZ and the folks at Pharyngula get wind of this.

  4. #4 quork
    August 28, 2006

    These people with strong opinions! I refuse to discuss physics with anyone who believes that F = ma, or math with anyone who believes that A = pi r^2.

  5. #5 Aaron Bergman
    August 28, 2006

    Before this gets out of hand, I should say that I agree that I’m not very fond of dogmatism. I think the quote goes beyond that, though, in particular “As I grow older, I find myself less prone to have an opinion about anything, and to distrust just about everyone who does.” That just seems to be an expression of cynicism and was what I was reacting to. I’d rather be around slightly dogmatic people who actually care about something than a “pox on all of them” cynic.

  6. #6 Algerine
    August 28, 2006

    I think the problem is in defining zealot; zealotry is not limited to just religion, it’s someone who’s a fanatic for anything. A militant atheist is just as zealous as the most strident religionist. He should have just said “all the world’s stupidest people are zealots” and have left it at that.

  7. #7 Chad Orzel
    August 28, 2006

    Before this gets out of hand, I should say that I agree that I’m not very fond of dogmatism. I think the quote goes beyond that, though, in particular “As I grow older, I find myself less prone to have an opinion about anything, and to distrust just about everyone who does.” That just seems to be an expression of cynicism and was what I was reacting to. I’d rather be around slightly dogmatic people who actually care about something than a “pox on all of them” cynic.

    I don’t think the problem is people who care about stuff, the problem is people who are sure that they have the Answer to really complicated questions. Which is why the atheist comment is only one example in a list.

    At least, that’s the way I read it. To my mind, the key sentence is “If you want to truly deduce how intelligent someone is, just ask this person how they feel about any issue that doesn’t have an answer; the more certainty they express, the less sense they have.”

    (And the key qualifier there is “that doesn’t have an answer,” which is what separates abortion from F=ma…)

  8. #8 natural cynic
    August 28, 2006

    Oscar Wilde said it better:

    I used to be appalled, now I am merely amused

  9. #9 quork
    August 28, 2006

    Despite the rather weak disclaimer, I hope you still get a lot of unpleasant posts about this. I could go into the whole atheism isn’t dogma schtick, or the presumption of disbelief, but instead I’ll just focus on the use of the word “stupid”, which you haven’t disowned. I don’t know many stupid atheists at all. I suppose Larry Darby would come closest, but I would be inclined to think of him as insane rather than stupid.

  10. #10 Dave Carlson
    August 28, 2006

    I’m an atheist. Previously, I thought that I was using my powers of reason to the best of my ability to come to a tentative answer about a question that millions people the world over consider to be of great importance, but now I know that I am really just being dogmatic, and quite possibly stupid. That there is some helpful knowledge.

    Sarcasm aside, for what it’s worth, there are quite a few questions–many of them important questions–for which I have no definite answers, but I simply do not see any reason to plug in “God” as the answer to all the questions that remain a mystery.

  11. #11 coturnix
    August 28, 2006

    Moderation is the most dogmatic ideology. No need to have an opinion on anything, yet looking down the nose at anyone who does. Does not require thinking, but it puts one on the pedestal. Even-minded = high-minded. At least people with convisctions may have thought about the issue and made their decisions by getting informed. Moderation does not require even that kind of effort.

  12. #12 GH
    August 28, 2006

    don’t think the problem is people who care about stuff, the problem is people who are sure that they have the Answer to really complicated questions. Which is why the atheist comment is only one example in a list.

    See this is why these things make me laugh. Atheists aren’t sure they have the answer, I’ve rarely met a dogmatic example. But they are adamant there is no evidence for a God or a specific God let alone all the claims made by religious folks.

    To equate this position with a certainty is rather uninformed.

  13. #13 coturnix
    August 28, 2006

    Here it is as related to politics.

  14. #14 Brian Ledford
    August 28, 2006

    I understand the no capital D Democrats or capital R Republicans thing; I’d lump it into a “I don’t vote for laundry” philosophy. And assuming he’s talking about aggressive capital A Atheists, I can understand what he’s saying. Not that I agree, mind you. But if he is unwilling to discuss abortion with anyone who is pro-life or pro-choice, who precisely is he willing to discuss it with? What third option is there?

  15. #15 tacitus
    August 28, 2006

    It’s idiotic to lump all atheists in with zealots. It’s simply not even close to being accurate. While there are some atheists who will zealously proclaim that there cannot possibly be a supernatural god of any kind, most atheists are much less dogmatic and restrict their atheism to a more narrow definition.

    I am certainly an atheist when it comes to a Christian God as defined in the Bible. After years of wrestling with the issue, I have come to believe that the Christian religion does not hold up to scrutiny, in the same way that I believe that the Face on Mars was almost certainly not created by intelligent aliens.

    Does that mean I have all the answers about why we are here, why the Universe exists at all? Of course not. I would not be so foolish to claim such a thing.

    Does that make me one of the “world’s stupidest people”? Well, I will leave that for others to judge, but the bald association of atheism with stupidity says much more about the intelligence of the author than it does anything about atheists.

  16. #16 flame821
    August 28, 2006

    I’m hoping this is a cheap marketing gimic to drive more visitors to your website.

    Does anyone have the list of atheists handy? You know, all those numbskulls like Einstein

    list 1 http://www.celebatheists.com/index.php?title=Main_Page

    list 2 http://www.wonderfulatheistsofcfl.org/Quotes.htm

    list 3 http://www.cafepress.com/affable_atheist/602851

  17. #17 jepalmer
    August 28, 2006

    That’s silly. Having “opinions” is not a symptom of stupidity. A well-considered opinion, like a hypothesis, is based on evidence and can change. Grappling with uncertainty and trying nevertheless to construct a workable worldview is far more difficult than taking no position at all. I don’t respect people who blindly follow dogma, but I equally refuse to respect someone who is too lazy to get up off the couch.

  18. #18 Michael
    August 28, 2006

    You guys can argue about the atheism thing, to me it is this quote which is dumb-ass to the extreme:

    As I grow older, I find myself less prone to have an opinion about anything, and to distrust just about everyone who does….Whenever I meet someone who openly identifies themselves as a Republican of a Democrat, my immediate thought is always, Well, this person might be interesting, but they’ll never say anything about politics that’s remotely useful to me. I refuse to discuss abortion with anyone who is pro-life or pro-choice;…

    It’s hard for me to begin to describe how stupid this is.

    We don’t need to claim we have THE answer, but we better have AN answer. Think of this as a multiple choice test. Klosterman is apparently saying that we should leave all the answers blank. What a boring debate that would be. “I don’t know, what about you?” “I don’t know either. Oh well.”

    I believe the exact opposite: know what you believe, know why you believe it, be open to new information and repeat.

  19. #19 Chad Orzel
    August 28, 2006

    I understand the no capital D Democrats or capital R Republicans thing; I’d lump it into a “I don’t vote for laundry” philosophy. And assuming he’s talking about aggressive capital A Atheists, I can understand what he’s saying. Not that I agree, mind you. But if he is unwilling to discuss abortion with anyone who is pro-life or pro-choice, who precisely is he willing to discuss it with? What third option is there?

    I think he means a sort of captial-letter Pro-Choice and Pro-Life, in the same manner as the other examples. People who very strongly self-identify with either view, as opposed to those who can sort of see some merit in both positions.

    In terms of voting, I end up voting the “pro-choice” line, because the full package that comes with the “pro-life” position includes a lot of really noxious stuff. But I wouldn’t enthusiastically identify myself as “pro-choice,” either. In much the same way that I’m on record as saying I will not vote for a Republican in the forseeable future, but I’m not enthusiastic about identifying myself as a Democrat.

    I think to much is being made of the word “stupid” in the line about atheists, probably because people aren’t really that familiar with Klosterman’s general style. It’s a exaggeration for the sake of being provocative, which is pretty much what he does.

    Does that mean I would “disown” that particular phrase? Not really. There is a strain of capital-A Atheism out there that makes me just about as uncomfortable as fundamentalist Christianity does. As I’ve said before, when I read Fred Clark writing about policits and religion, I feel like there’s hope for the Republic. When I read PZ Myers writing about politics and religion, I feel like going to church.

    But I’m just naturally contrary.

  20. #20 Rob Knop
    August 28, 2006

    It’s idiotic to lump all atheists in with zealots.

    Which, of course, wasn’t done. “Stupidest people are zealots and athiests” is not logically the same statement as “all zealots and athiests are stupid.”

    And, indeed, there are athiests (who are fine) and religious haters (poeople like PZ, who like to go on about how all religious people are stupid, and indeed sounds zealotous on the topic himself).

    I like the quote in general. My views on abortion, or example, are very complicated, and I drift around a lot. Indeed, on most issues, I know enough to know that I don’t know enough to really have a fully informed opinion. Which doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions on lots of topics, but I’m at least rationally aware that mots of my opinions are not informed enough.

    -Rob

  21. #21 Chris
    August 28, 2006

    Atheism is not about certainty or dogma.

    See Dawkins:

    or Asimov:

    “I am an atheist, out and out. It took me a long time to say it. I’ve been an atheist for years and years, but somehow I felt it was intellectually unrespectable to say one was an atheist, because it assumed knowledge that one didn’t have. Somehow it was better to say one was a humanist or an agnostic. I finally decided that I’m a creature of emotion as well as of reason. Emotionally I am an atheist. I don’t have the evidence to prove that God doesn’t exist, but I so strongly suspect he doesn’t that I don’t want to waste my time.

    -Isaac Asimov

    I can’t absolutely disprove the existence of the Tooth Fairy, but that doesn’t mean that I’m Tooth Fairy agnostic. I’m a Tooth Fairy atheist, as any sane person should be.

  22. #22 Uber
    August 28, 2006

    and religious haters (poeople like PZ, who like to go on about how all religious people are stupid, and indeed sounds zealotous on the topic himself).

    He can be zealous, but his arguments are sound. And he doesn’t actually say all religious people are stupid, his mother is a religious person. Thats what your reading into it.

  23. #23 Jim Harrison
    August 28, 2006

    This kind of praise of moderation is essentially a political stance, something our ancestors called “trimming.” It’s one thing to recommend that everybody keep in mind their own falibility and the difficulty of figuring things out, quite another to suggest that it is somehow meritorious to be wishy washy because truth is just a matter of opinion. It is an empirical fact that political independents in the U.S. tend to be far less well informed than either Democrats or Republicans. Obviously there are thoughtful, well-informed independents; but for the most part independents are a rather contemptible bunch, which is why political advertisements, which are designed to appeal to these swing voters, are such an embarrassment.

    From a philosophical point of view, religious zealotry would be misguided in any case since there isn’t a particle of truth in any religion while atheism gives too much credit to the doctrines it denies–theological ideas are much too incoherent to refute or doubt. The characteristic middlebrow error is to think that over and beyond their undeniable political import, religious questions are somehow especially significant.

  24. #24 quork
    August 28, 2006

    I see other people have hit the “atheism is not dogmatic” note quite effectively.

    I’ll mention something I think is unwise: saying that you are too apathetic to have investigated an issue, but then expressing an uninformed opinion on it anyway. You seem to have done this in the present circumstance. If you had actually bothered to look into the philosophical status of atheism, you would have known that “atheism is dogmatic” is a load of hooey. Not knowing that, you shouldn’t have offered an opinion at all.

  25. #25 quork
    August 28, 2006

    At least, that’s the way I read it. To my mind, the key sentence is “If you want to truly deduce how intelligent someone is, just ask this person how they feel about any issue that doesn’t have an answer; the more certainty they express, the less sense they have.”

    (And the key qualifier there is “that doesn’t have an answer,” which is what separates abortion from F=ma…)

    Some topics, such as the abortion debate, are about values, and thus may not have a definitive answer (although some positions may be based on demonstrably incorrect assumptions).

    However; of course there is an answer to the question of atheism vs. theism. We just don’t know (with certainty) what it is. This leads me to the “presumption of disbelief”, which rational people willingly apply to unsubstantiated claims: invisible pink unicorns, blue fairies, china teapot in orbit, etc.

  26. #26 Bill Hooker
    August 28, 2006

    Atheists aren’t sure they have the answer, I’ve rarely met a dogmatic example.

    Here you go.

    There’s a certain irony in the volume at which atheists in this thread are howling about how non-dogmatic and lacking in zeal they are…

  27. #27 cambias
    August 28, 2006

    I think several of the atheist posters are doing their best to prove the validity of the original quote.

    Full disclosure: I am an atheist myself, and I think that if you don’t believe in something you should shut up about it.

  28. #28 Michael
    August 28, 2006

    There’s a certain irony in the volume at which atheists in this thread are howling about how non-dogmatic and lacking in zeal they are…

    Your comment suggests a deep lack of comprehension on this issue. Atheists have nothing to be dogmatic about! Maybe you oughta look that word up.

    Atheists reject unproven hypotheses concerning supernatural deities. Zeal, perhaps, dogma, absolutely not.

  29. #29 quork
    August 28, 2006

    Full disclosure: I am an atheist myself, and I think that if you don’t believe in something you should shut up about it.

    Well that’s your opinion. Mine is different. I think if you are ignorant about something, you should shut up. If your opinion were enforced, the only people partaking in discussion of alien abductions, psychic powers, cold fusion, creationism, etc. would be believers.

    Orzel has acknowledged his apathy and demonstrated his ignorance of a topic, and yet has expressed his opinion. As I have already stated, I do not find this behaviour laudable.

  30. #30 Bro. Bartleby
    August 28, 2006

    Humans seek their origins.
    Some deny or are blind to this and simply seek pleasure and comfort for as long as possible.
    Some utilize the scientific method and spend their life attempting to reconstruct a bit of the ‘crime scene’ in hopes their findings will be ‘life by natural causes’ and their end ‘death by natural causes’.
    The theist accepts meaning for the universe and spend their life using their minds to discern the meaning so that they can make themselves in accord with the meaning.
    I suppose a fourth option is just plain living a life of ignorance with no want for it to be lived otherwise.

  31. #31 Les
    August 28, 2006

    Being an atheist I long ago got used to people thinking I was Stupid, Evil, and a Bastard for speaking my mind. That’s pretty much why I chose that name for my blog.

    Honestly, if I know anything with any certainty it would be myself and that’s enough for accusations of how stupid I might be to roll right off my back. Think what you want of me and I won’t really care. It’s the one thing I am sure about.

  32. #32 Robert O'Brien
    August 28, 2006

    I don’t know many stupid atheists at all.

    You should from posting to Pharyngula. If you swing a cat around there the challenge would be to not hit a stupid atheist.

  33. #33 Chad Orzel
    August 28, 2006

    coturnix: Moderation is the most dogmatic ideology. No need to have an opinion on anything, yet looking down the nose at anyone who does. Does not require thinking, but it puts one on the pedestal. Even-minded = high-minded. At least people with convisctions may have thought about the issue and made their decisions by getting informed. Moderation does not require even that kind of effort.

    And, later:
    Here it is as related to politics.

    Enh.
    I’m deeply unimpressed with that article. It’s more of the politics-as-team-sports that TPM specializes in, and “moderate” as he’s using it bears approximately the same resemblance to actual moderation as “liberal” used by someone on Fox does to the dictionary definition of “liberal.” He’s using it to identify a particular “team,” and putting the worst possible spin on it.

  34. #34 Brian Ledford
    August 28, 2006

    thinking about this a little, I don’t think this is a terribly useful philosophy, since zealots can usually be counted on to have done their (biased) research. assuming I haven’t made up my mind about a subject/question [e.g., does soccer suck as a spectator sport?], I want to talk to the guy whose waking up at 3 AM to go to an irish pub to watch world cup games. And for most of these subjects, I can’t see them being anything other than tedious if you aren’t dealing with a true believer. Even if they believe something impossible. probably because they believe something impossible. Mostly, the capital Letter political discussions end up sounding like people playing fantasy baseball so I tune out.

  35. #35 CarlB
    August 28, 2006

    Whats funny is Robert O’brien is the only person to have an award named after him for his vapid blog posting and yet he comes on here complaining about others being stupid.

    I guess he recognizes his own kind. But I doubt it since much of the discource at PZ’s is among the best on any blog I’ve read.

  36. #36 Dave Carlson
    August 28, 2006

    “But I doubt it since much of the discource at PZ’s is among the best on any blog I’ve read.”

    CarlB,

    Ahh, but the fact that you think this is simply further proof that your a stupid atheist! j/k ;)

  37. #37 Dave Carlson
    August 28, 2006

    Doh! I meant to write “you’re” not “your.”

  38. #38 quork
    August 28, 2006

    There you go Orzel, there’s a bump in the hit counter for you. You can now return to your “moderate” existence.

  39. #39 Robert O'Brien
    August 28, 2006

    Whats [sic] funny is Robert O’brien is the only person to have an award named after him for his vapid blog posting and yet he comes on here complaining about others being stupid.

    You forgot to mention that the “awarder” is a college (sociology) drop out/failed comedian/usurer. (Next time try citing someone who is not an abject failure.)

    …much of the discource [sic] at PZ’s is among the best on any blog I’ve read.

    I realize that I was in error; Pharyngulans are not stupid atheists; they are pretentious stupid atheists. Mea culpa.

  40. #40 Chad Orzel
    August 28, 2006

    thinking about this a little, I don’t think this is a terribly useful philosophy, since zealots can usually be counted on to have done their (biased) research. assuming I haven’t made up my mind about a subject/question [e.g., does soccer suck as a spectator sport?], I want to talk to the guy whose waking up at 3 AM to go to an irish pub to watch world cup games.

    The point is not that ignorance is bliss. He’s not refusing to talk about abortion with people who are staunchly pro-life or pro-choice because he hasn’t made up his mind, and doesn’t want to be swayed one way or another. He’s refusing to talk about abortion with them because he knows enough about it to know that the issue is more complicated than either extreme position, and there really isn’t anywhere for that conversation to go.

    Or, to run with the marginally less controversial sports analogy, if you really don’t know anything about soccer, then you want to talk to the guy who gets up at 3am. You also want to talk to, well, Chuck Klosterman, whose earlier collection has a long rant about how soccer is the worst game ever (yeah, I’m creating tons of new fans for the guy, I can tell…).

    But if you’ve talked to them both, and come to the conclusion that soccer is, well, ok– better than hockey, not as good as football– then that’s a different situation. And then it’s not as interesting or useful to talk to the extremists any more. In fact, it gets kind of annoying after a while.

    And for most of these subjects, I can’t see them being anything other than tedious if you aren’t dealing with a true believer.

    Depends on how you go about things.
    I mean, there’s probably more frothing-at-the-mouth entertainment to be had by baiting True Believers, if that’s your thing. I’m not above that myself (in case you hadn’t noticed)– it’s a holdover from my days on Usenet.

    But on another level, talking to True Believers can be pretty darn tedious. It’s great for spectacle, but doesn’t really allow for any actual intellectual engagement.

    So it sort of depends on what you’re after.

  41. #41 JimC
    August 28, 2006

    You forgot to mention that the “awarder” is a college (sociology) drop out/failed comedian/usurer. (Next time try citing someone who is not an abject failure.)

    He’s a failure? He seems to be a pretty successful man to most.

    I realize that I was in error; Pharyngulans are not stupid atheists; they are pretentious stupid atheists. Mea culpa.

    Thats almost a compliment coming from someone like Robert if I was an atheist that is.

  42. #42 kstrna
    August 28, 2006

    All the world’s stupidest people are either zealots or atheists.
    ****************************************************************

    Why separate atheists from other zealots? I understand not wanting to engage those so enthralled in their passions that they can’t discuss the subject rationally because it is a waste of time but it does disturb me atheists are singled out. Why not say something like “zealots (believers & non-believers)”?

    Part of the reason atheists respond like they do is because of the prejudice they face in America. They are one of the most distrusted groups in America. They have been linked by the US government with the “Evil Empire”. Whether he realizes it or not, Charles is feeding into that. Atheists are a group apart from even zealots is how he wrote it.

  43. #43 Koray
    August 28, 2006

    I’m sorry, but Chuck Klosterman is simply confused. What he really means, but cannot express, is that he is troubled by “unconditional rightness” about “subjective topics” (subjective is the key word and sadly left out).

    Why one roots for a sports team is highly subjective. However, I am certain that sociologists/psychologists must have analyzed this subject to death by now. Klosterman asserts that by simply having an opinion on such a subject, you must have compromised your objectivity, which is patently false. A lot of scientists (or otherwise smart people) would tell you that many times they had an opinion, which they themselves proved wrong. Moreover, you sometimes have to make a choice, otherwise you can’t basically function in life: why do you live where you live? Was that choice not subjective?

    And I suppose the reason that he uses atheists in the same sentence with zealots is that he thinks that atheists believe that they are 100% right on a subjective matter, which is bizarre because atheists are atheists partly because of the uncertainty of the subject: there are about 2 billion christians (the largest religion) out of 6+ billion people. How is this choice not subjective? Then, how is not having a choice zealotry? I am a zealot when I say I like LA better than NY, or NY better than LA, and also when I don’t have an opinion at all?

  44. #44 GH
    August 28, 2006

    there are about 2 billion christians

    Not to nitpick but that number is widely overblown and has been debunked in several places. Part of the reason is that people are often counted two or more times.

    As an example the catholic church counts everyone born Catholic whether they change religions or not. So the person on the roll of the local catholic church may also be on the roll down the street at a Baptist church.

    And we won’teven begin to count those who don’t go or rarely do so. No biggie just a mention.

  45. #45 MaxPolun
    August 28, 2006

    While I can see the point of the quote (all dogmatism is stupid) either its wording is seriously flawed or the author isn’t adding anything to any discourse.

    I mean, having no opinion? What is the point of any discoussion if you have no opinion at all?

  46. #46 Mike Kozlowski
    August 28, 2006

    Forget the slams on atheists (it’s a victimless crime, because atheists live for slams on atheism, which let them post tightly-reasoned 12-page arguments against religion); I’m bothered by the idiotic insults directed toward people who describe themselves as belonging to a political party.

    The practical reality of the matter, in the US, is that you have four choices: 1) You can not care about politics at all; 2) You can find yourself on balance agreeing more with the Democratic set of policies and candidates 3) You can find yourself on balance agreeing more with the Republican set of policies and candidates; or 4) You can be a total fucking narcissist and only support a party that agrees 100% with all the views you personally hold, while prattling on about what a totally smart and independent thinker you are.

    In today’s political climate, I come down heavily on the Democratic side of things, and obviously therefore vote strongly toward Democrats. Refusing to call myself a Democrat in this circumstance would be the worst sort of fauxhemian vanity, a stubborn refusal to believe that labels that apply to Other (Lesser) People might also apply to me.

  47. #47 Ray
    August 29, 2006

    This reminds me of Matthew Yglesias’ mea culpa on the Iraq war from a year or two back. He says that he should have been much more vehement in his opposition to the war than he was, and part of the problem is that back then he thought simple opposition was a little juvenile, and the mark of a serious commentator was to have a moderate and nuanced position. But there’s nothing impressive about being neutral for the sake of it.

  48. #48 Eric Wallace
    August 29, 2006

    Klosterman’s criteria for choosing his conversation partners is thoughtless and shallow. Can you really dismiss someone because they’ve chosen to label themselves? Perhaps Klosterman feels like he’d have to achieve some level of transcendent certainty to call himself a Republican or Democrat and is projecting this feeling onto all others. But really this is just another form of prejudice that any thinking person ought to take pains to avoid.

    And–I don’t get this one at all–why not discuss affirmative action with the unemployed? Hell, why not refuse to discuss racism with any black person? Or poverty with any poor person? It’s so much more comfortable this way!

    Lots of people have dog-piled on the atheist comment, but what bothers me is that you (Chad) seem to think this is a perfectly reasonable statement. Would you be as accepting of it if Klosterman had written, “All the world’s stupidest people are either zealots or Jews”? After all, one can surely find some Jews that hold many dogmatic opinions. But the statement paints with such a broad brush it almost has to be calculated to offend (or if some more nuanced meaning is intended, the writer is incapable of expressing it).

    Chad, I’d stick with your first instinct and avoid quoting this guy as any kind of Deep Thinker. Personally, I don’t find much deep thought in this quote.

  49. #49 Chad Orzel
    August 29, 2006

    In today’s political climate, I come down heavily on the Democratic side of things, and obviously therefore vote strongly toward Democrats. Refusing to call myself a Democrat in this circumstance would be the worst sort of fauxhemian vanity, a stubborn refusal to believe that labels that apply to Other (Lesser) People might also apply to me.

    I don’t really agree with that. I think there’s a difference between how you vote and how you identify yourself– the two-party system more or less forces you to make a binary choice in the voting booth, but voting for a Democratic candidate doesn’t make you a Democrat. Hell, even party registration doesn’t mean anything– my grandfather was a registered Republican for years, because his bosses expected him to register as a Republican, but I don’t think he ever voted for one.

    It’s like the difference between not eating meat and being a capital-V Vegetarian. There are plenty of people who don’t eat meat for whatever reason, and don’t make a big deal of it. And then there are the people who don’t eat meat, and feel compelled to tell everyone around them all about it, all the goddamn time.

    I’ll cop to “liberal,” but I wouldn’t call myself a Democrat.

    Lots of people have dog-piled on the atheist comment, but what bothers me is that you (Chad) seem to think this is a perfectly reasonable statement. Would you be as accepting of it if Klosterman had written, “All the world’s stupidest people are either zealots or Jews”? After all, one can surely find some Jews that hold many dogmatic opinions. But the statement paints with such a broad brush it almost has to be calculated to offend

    It’s deliberately provocative, which is why I like the statement.

    Of course, as Rob Knop notes above, “All the world’s stupidest people are either zealots or atheists” does not mean “Atheists are stupid.” He could perfectly well have written “All the world’s stupidest people are either zealots or nine feet tall” without changing the truth value of the sentence.

    There’s an amusing parallel between people failing to get this, and the frequent complaints about everyone thinking that atheists think religious people are stupid (when they only think religion is stupid…).

    Do I think this quote represents a perfect and infallible rule for choosing conversational partners? No, that would be stupid, especially given that the phrasing is deliberately provocative. But there’s an element of truth to it– in a certain sense, conversations with ardent Democrats or ardent Republicans are both pointless and really tedious.

    To put a more positive spin on it, this is the reason why Kevin Drum is one of the few dedicated political bloggers I still read– at heart, he’s a squishy moderate, and is more interested in good policy than good politics. His goal is to make good politics out of good policy, and that’s more compelling to me that the more purely strategic stuff that goes on elsewhere.

  50. #50 kstrna
    August 29, 2006

    There’s an amusing parallel between people failing to get this, and the frequent complaints about everyone thinking that atheists think religious people are stupid (when they only think religion is stupid…).
    *************************************************
    As an atheists I don’t think religion is stupid. I get the idea, just don’t agree with it. My main problem with his stupid line was that atheists were singled out beyond zealots. I understand he isn’t saying all atheists are stupid but the fact he felt compelled to make a special category for atheists is troubling and adds to an already hostile environment that breeds the very passionate response by some atheists that he is complaining about. Which is another thing about his writing, it comes across to me like he is a victim in all of this and not part of what is causing everything. He has to listen to the zealots. He has to listen to people complain about Paris Hilton.

    As for having conversations with ardent Democrats and Republicans, I disagree talking with them develops my understanding of the subjects, brings up questions that I wouldn’t think of otherwise even on subjects I have thought about & studied. Now are they having the same learning experience as I am? Probably not but that is not my primary concern as I go into such conversations knowing that.

  51. #51 Ghafla
    August 29, 2006

    I refuse to have a conversation with anyone who dogmatically refuses to have a conversation with someone on the basis of expressed strong views.

  52. #52 Chad Orzel
    August 29, 2006

    I refuse to have a conversation with anyone who dogmatically refuses to have a conversation with someone on the basis of expressed strong views.

    Now that’s a good response…

  53. #53 Aaron Bergman
    August 29, 2006

    I think you’re reading what you want into this quote rather than what’s there, Chad. I think everyone here agrees that having conversations with people who won’t change their opinions isn’t particulary interesting. But Klosterman goes beyond that. You say, for example, “but there’s an element of truth to it– in a certain sense, conversations with ardent Democrats or ardent Republicans are both pointless and really tedious.” The addition of the word “ardent” is yours, not his. You say “To my mind, the key sentence is ‘If you want to truly deduce how intelligent someone is, just ask this person how they feel about any issue that doesn’t have an answer; the more certainty they express, the less sense they have,’” but the second sentence of the piece is “As I grow older, I find myself less prone to have an opinion about anything, and to distrust just about everyone who does”. This affected ennui running through the quote comes across at least as clearly as the (pretty banal) idea that having conversations with dogmatists is generally uninteresting.

  54. #54 Greco
    August 29, 2006

    It’s deliberately provocative, which is why I like the statement.

    So to be consistent you should like everything that comes from Ann Coulter.

    Or about sports: “soccer”, the crap you and the Australians play, certainly sucks. Real football is a completely different matter – and that’s football I mean, not handoval.

  55. #55 Daniel Morgan
    August 29, 2006

    Am I the only person to notice that this man is self-refuting?

    On the one hand, he tells us to distrust certainty (I agree with him, viz Voltaire: Doubt may not be a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd) while on the other hand, he makes a few absolute statements based on the fallacy of hasty generalization:

    All the world’s stupidest people are either zealots or atheists…the more certainty they express, the less sense they have…This is because certainty only comes from dogma

    Lovely self-refutation, the way he ends with such a sweeping statement, isn’t it?

  56. #56 Chad Orzel
    August 29, 2006

    Lovely self-refutation, the way he ends with such a sweeping statement, isn’t it?

    Sure. But then, the Voltaire quote you give has the same problem, which puts him in good company…