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the girl with violets in her lap [userpic]

April 3rd, 2010 (12:13 am)

I used to read Townhall.com a lot, for the lulz. Then I stopped entirely for a long time. Now I pop in once every few months -- usually when something has happened in the news that runs counter to staunch conservative views of reality, and I want to see how they'll spin it. In this case, it was the business with the Christian militia terrorist group up there in Michigan; a bunch of people plotting to kill police officers with IEDs in the name of Christianity was something that I wanted to see the Townhall folks, who have long raved that Islam is the one and only Religion of Terrorism, explain away.

As far as I can see they've elected to ignore it, which I suppose is about the best they can do with it. What I found, though, was an odd -- for Townhall -- article by a guy named Michael Gerson, of whom I'd never heard, but then, as I said, I've not been on this site for a long time. The title of the article is "Where Slavery Is Not a Metaphor," which caught my eye and induced me to click on it. Generally you can tell where any given Townhall article is going from its title; you know that David Limbaugh's "Sick Thinking from 'Mainstream' Leftists" will tell you about why the healthcare bill is going to turn our beautiful mother country into a syphilitic whore, that Brent Bozell's "Rape Games?" is going to explain about how college girls lie about being date-raped, that Janice Shaw Crouse's "Pornography is Addictive, Pervasive and Harmful" is going to explain about how pornography is addictive, persuasive, and harmful, etc. All perfectly standard, and certainly nothing I need or want to read. But I wasn't parsing "Where Slavery Is Not a Metaphor." The title suggested that he believes "slavery" is commonly used as a metaphor in America (it is), but... in what Townhall-approved context is it *not* a metaphor, then? The only examples I could think of of Townhall-style conservatives using the term "slavery" are metaphorical, because Townhall-style conservatives are concerned with the welfare of the white rich privileged reigning class in America, and those people are not slaves. So I didn't know where this article was going, and that made me click.

As it turned out, this was actually an article about real slavery, in the Sudan. It's an affecting profile, as any such profile would be, of a young boy who had been abducted and enslaved at age five. The article is first primarily concerned with the boy himself, who reminds the author of his own sons and with whom he genuinely seems to sympathize. Then it moves on to lauding the work of an organization called Christian Solidarity International, which on his report is doing good work to help people in Majok's (that's the formerly enslaved boy's) situation.* The final half of the article is dedicated to exploring the dire humanitarian crisis in the Sudan, as well as detailing some of the current barriers to providing effective help that will need to be overcome. The final paragraph reads:

Meeting a Sudanese goatherd released from slavery, it would be difficult to experience greater cultural distance without leaving the planet. But my main impression of Majok was his profound resemblance to my sons of similar age. It is a hopeful thing about humanity. In a timid smile, in a turn of the head, we see similarity, we see family. We should also see responsibility.

Minus a line here and there, this is the only article I have ever seen on Townhall that I have agreed with 100%. It's dumb of me but it actually made me feel quite hopeful reading it, because just about all the conservatives on that site proclaim that Christianity is central to their lives**, and yet I have never, ever seen a post like this on their site. This is actually Christian -- the concern for "the least of these", the sense that those who have a lot should help those who have nothing. I feel like sending Townhall a WWJD? bracelet with a little note saying "Hey, I saw Michael Gerson's column this week. You got one right!" Charity should NOT be a liberal idea. Not if people believe the words of the faith they proclaim to believe.

So the article was good. Then -- I'm a pusher, Cady! I'm a pusher -- I thought I would see what the comments said. I was curious because on blogs and sites like this commenters often swallow the author's views and echo them in the comments like docile sheep; after all, they know the views have been preapproved as correct, or they wouldn't be on Townhall. You trust the basic things in life, you know; these people trust Townhall never to lead them astray, my grandmother trusts Fox News never to lie or distort the truth, I was devastated when I realized that I couldn't trust Google to be the only completely moral, non-self-serving or privacy-threatening site on the Internet, etc. So I would expect the readers of this column to trust, and yet the column was so far off from the norm on Townhall that I couldn't help wondering what people would say.

Well, here is what people said. There were seventeen comments when I first saw this post, and I am going to paraphrase each one of them for you. I will paraphrase as honestly as I can, but you can go to the site directly if you want to verify what I'm saying/check for bias (I'll try to avoid it, but I'm human.)

Comment #1 says that "WE NEED TO DO NOTHING." This is because "Our interference in primitive cultures only makes them dependent." Also, America is currently "on its deathbed", so we need to worry about ourselves.

Comment #2 says that he doesn't understand why the state department thinks we need to do do anything in Sudan, because "Obambi" [A/N: what?] is opposed to nation building, as demonstrated by his opposition to the Iraq war. We should "allow Sudan to forge their own path" to see if they can handle it, as this constitutes "survival of the fittest". If they can't pull their shit together on their own then it's "probably nature's way of letting us know that we should not interfere with natural selection." I wonder if this person would say they believed in evolution if you asked them that.

Comment #3 says that America's black leadership can't bring themselves to criticize this, and that they want reparations. Apparently, though, "the 0bammunist Himself has said that reparations don't go far enough." That's all. This comes in third place in the contest for the most sane and least offensive comment in this thread, by the way. No, really.

Comment #4 attributes the chaos in the Sudan to Islam and wonders why Gerson didn't talk about that in the article.

Comment #5 agrees that the situation is horrific, that we Americans have the resources to work towards preventing "the slaughter of the (predominantly Christian) South Sudanese by the north (Muslims)", that standing by and doing nothing would be "negligence of the worst sort," and adds that all the previous comments have been terribly offensive. This is obviously the first-place comment in the Sane and Not Offensive contest.

Comment #6 says we should "let AFRICAN Americans help" because although they love to be called "African-American," they don't care about helping Africans who actually need help. Instead they're "over here whining and moaning and begging for more taxpayer redistribution of hard earned income" and don't give a rat's ass*** about slavery, torture and murder of their African brothers and sisters. The comment concludes "If I'm wrong, somebody prove it." I'm going to go around making posts like that from now on: "The earth isn't filled with nickel and lava at its core, it's filled with pancakes. If I'm wrong, somebody prove it."

Comment #7 says -- I don't believe this one -- comment #7 says "thank God for US imperialism" and its work to end slavery, because -- oh, God -- because blacks owe a debt to whites in this country for bringing their ancestors to America as slaves and then freeing them after a few centuries, so now they can be free instead of enslaved. It -- I -- no, seriously, direct quotes, "It is [a debt] of gratitude, due from the offspring of slaves brought here and eventually freed, instead of being left to cringe with the descendents left in Africa... I can admire the courage of America to have done such a wonderful thing for a whole people, ie freeing them into this wondrful country from the system of slavery that we inherited." This comment makes me feel gross for being part of the same species as the person who wrote it.

Comment #8 is part one of two comments explaining why Gerson is insulting Americans by insinuating in his article's title that Americans are not "really" enslaved. Just because we aren't subject to "private individuals directly using force against one another with weapons and violence that are visible on the concrete level," this doesn't mean we're not enslaved. To be continued...

Comment #9 unfortunately interrupts #8's treatise by throwing in an afterthought correction of a misspelling in #7's post.

Comment #10 is part two of comment #8's treatise, and explains that we are all slaves because of taxes.

Comment #11 tells commenter #5 to go become a Demorat. America is the land of individualism, not do-gooderism.

Comment #12 tells commenter #8 (of the treatise) that his observation about the subtle insult in the title (the implication that Americans are not enslaved) was perceptive.

Comment #13 is a response to commenter #6 and can't really be paraphrased, so I quote: "Mary, help them all you want. But the second you have a gun pointed to my head with the demand that I help, you've crossed the line from 'good' to 'evil'." Mary never referenced any guns, but maybe that's why she has to go become a Democrat.

Comment #14 says Christian organizations do lots of good work while Hollywood celebrities support Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez. This comes in second place in the "Sane and Inoffensive" contest.

Comment #15 says if commenter #6 and the OP are so concerned about the people of Sudan that they want taxpayer dollars to go to support them, then they should donate everything they own to the poor and continue doing so (? wouldn't that be a one-time gesture) until all the poor are cared for. This would be a really good exhortation to follow Jesus' teachings if it weren't sarcastic.

Comment #16 is a statistical analysis of the history of slavery that I couldn't really follow. I think part of it is saying that America's history of slavery wasn't so bad as compared to slavery elsewhere, but then I think it goes on to say that instead of reparations here we should free people who are still slaves so they can come here and fight for freedom here, at which point it takes a right turn again and notes that since they will remember tyranny they will fight the growing tyranny here, which is exemplified in the "legalized caretaking and dependent state". I'm not sure what that last thing is, but anyway. I think that might have been a contender in the Inoffensive category, but my inability to comprehend it lost it serious points in the Sanity category, so I think overall it's just a runner-up.

Comment #17 says there's nothing we can do because "Africa is a lost cause, Mandella through out all the white settler's and took over their farms" and now the Muslims have taken over everything and are causing wars. Most of the people are infected with AIDS by now anyway, so they're a dying civilization and we need to focus on ourselves.

Comment #18 (lookee here! one was added while I was refreshing the page! YAYZORZ) begins "Kipling called it "the white man's burden," the fact that these African cultures cannot attain civilization and will remain mired in barbarity no matter what is done for them. As someone else noted earlier, anywhere the whites have pulled out or been driven out of their African homes or off their farms, the order they maintained reverts to savagery and chaos under the blacks." My eye then skipped to the end of it, which says "We practically have our own Africa now in places like Detroit, thanks to the policies of Democrats and other liberals." I'm not reading the rest of it, for obvious reasons.


I thought I wanted to know what hardcore conservatives would have to say about an impassioned plea for charitable work aimed at freeing enslaved children and helping to stabilize a country decimated by war and poverty. It turns out that I didn't want to know.

I do not want to believe that human beings are capable of reactions like those I see in the comments. I am being forced to believe it (none of them, not even #7,**** smell of troll to me, and I have a good nose for trolling.) I do not like it.

I feel sick.


*The article is not about how Christian organizations are the only ones who can do good charity work. This is just the organization he works with. They're sort of a sideline in the piece, actually.
**Except Dennis Prager, who waxes rhapsodic about "Judeo-Christian tradition" and looks sidewise now and then to make sure that's still acceptable.
***On Townhall she has to censor this to "rat's rear end," but things are more informal on my journal.
****#7 had a bit in the middle that I left out about her own family's "disporia" from some unspecified place, which I left out of my paraphrase because I didn't understand it, but the tone of it was such that it shot down my hope that the post was satire.


Posted by: Erin (givesmevoice)
Posted at: April 3rd, 2010 04:27 am (UTC)
art Pollock number 16

I couldn't read past comment #1. This is why I don't read the comments. Except when I do read the comments. D=

Posted by: the girl with violets in her lap (slammerkinbabe)
Posted at: April 3rd, 2010 04:29 am (UTC)

Comment #1 is one of the less offensive ones. You were wise to stop.

Posted by: Erin (givesmevoice)
Posted at: April 3rd, 2010 04:35 am (UTC)
Kate is a goddess

There are a few blogs I'll read just because the comments infuriate me and I like getting angry (I know). The Motherlode blog on the NY Times site is my guilty pleasure, because it's filled with self-righteous upper middle class parents who have no idea what the real world is like.

But this? My heart can't handle it. If comment #1 was one of the less offensive ones, I'd rather not know what the rest say.

Posted by: Greetings Fellow Comstoks! (fengi)
Posted at: April 3rd, 2010 06:41 am (UTC)

"The earth isn't filled with nickel and lava at its core, it's filled with pancakes. If I'm wrong, somebody prove it."

I am so looking forward to your book. Like many on my list you are such a consistently good writer that I tend to take it for granted, but sometimes I step back and marvel at so many well turned phrases.

Posted by: Pirate Jenny (deliriums_fish)
Posted at: April 3rd, 2010 06:55 am (UTC)
jodie glasses

I agree with givesmevoice...save yourself some sanity and never ever read comments. Not even for news articles.

Other than that, I'm so sorry...much love for you.

Posted by: Damian (fanboy_of_zeus)
Posted at: April 3rd, 2010 12:18 pm (UTC)

It's things like this that make me (a) grateful that my mother prevented me from talking politics with her extended family for most of my life, and (b) grateful that my extended family, however conservative they may be, ARE NOT THAT CRAZY.

I can't even get angry about the comments because my brain doesn't comprehend them enough.

Posted by: she almost looks human--it must be the lighting (brightredday)
Posted at: April 3rd, 2010 01:09 pm (UTC)

When I read stuff like this, the crazy right-wing stuff, it makes me really, really wish that these people used some semblance of logic in their thought processes so that I would know how to argue with them about how ridiculous these comments are. But, of course, if they thought logically they probably wouldn't be making comments that anger me. I just...don't know what to say.

Posted by: Amy (amyura)
Posted at: April 3rd, 2010 02:14 pm (UTC)
Little Fairy

This post triggered a whole range of responses from me. Mainly, agreed 100%, even down to the reading/listening to winguts on occaision for the lulz/shock value.

Saddest thing about comment #7? I did a "famous Massachusetts person" report in third grade on Phillis Wheatley, an accomplished African-American poet who was a slave in Boston around the time of the American Revolution and a big admirer of George Washington. One of her better-known poems is basically a paean to her own kidnapping and enslavement, without which she would never have been exposed to Christianity or "civilization."

Posted by: Erbie McInQuack (erbie)
Posted at: April 3rd, 2010 07:42 pm (UTC)

Yeah, I can't even...yeah.

Though I would like to point out to commenter #17 that it was not "Mandella" who "through" out the white farmers; it was Mugabe, in Zimbabwe.

Posted by: Popcorn the Bearcat (agatha_mandrake)
Posted at: April 4th, 2010 04:07 am (UTC)

Why is that the people who bark the loudest about how "Christian" they are completely lack any truly Christian values? They'd consider Jesus a dirty liberal hippie. At least there is the tiny shred of comfort that they are a dying breed.

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