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Adventures of a stay-at-home, skeptical, homeschooling dad (etc.)


Assholes, all of them

mean face from http://cliparts.co/clipart/2647438 Over the years you've blended into your community, in part by taking on the beliefs and behaviors of those around you, and in part by influencing others in your community with your beliefs and behaviors. In your little community, you fit in. You're quietly living your life. You understand the beliefs in your community. You all proudly, if quietly, stand for A and B!

Then, someone jumps into your life and tells you you're wrong. Your beliefs are wrong. Your behaviors are wrong. She can't believe you stand for A and B! She believes in X and Y, and she loudly tells you about it, and calls you names. Then you meet another proponent of X and Y, and he is just as loud and aggressive as the first one. Then you see internet comments and Facebook posts and Twitter twits rudely lambasting your precious A and B and promoting their own X and Y.

"Jesus", you think. "Those X and Y supporters are obnoxious, clueless assholes."

It seems right: after all, you have rarely, if ever, seen a nice X and Y supporter. Either only assholes believe X and Y, or positions X and Y must lead people to be assholes. Either way, you're done with them.


Who am I talking about? Everybody. After reading Tumblr for a while, it occurred to me why it's so easy to hate and be annoyed by whole categories of people. The reason is simple: most of the people you notice in any category you care to name are going to be the pushy evangelists. You will notice the pushy ones because, by definition, the non-pushy ones aren't running around and yelling their opinions to everyone.

If you're an atheist, did you know that there are millions of Christians who don't promote homophobia, creationism, and terrible abortion laws?

If you're a Christian, did you know there are millions of atheists who don't make ridicuous lawsuits and don't call you "sheeple" in comment sections and discussion boards?

I know you theoretically know it, but it seems like the non-assholes are the minority, right? But because they're not nearly as loud as the angry evangelists, you don't see them. The angry, pushy evangelists out-volume everybody else.

In a way it's an illusion: The moderate members might be quite active socially or politically, but they just aren't mentioning their group affiliation, so no one thinks of them as being members of that group.

Compare the statements:

  • "I think we need to improve border security."


  • "I think we need to improve border security, because God made this country for us."

Only the second gets put in to the "religious" category. Even though the first person may also be religious, that association is not made.

It's kind of a trap: If the person does mention the group association, they risk getting dismissed because of all the assholes who came before. But if the person doesn't mention their group association, few will place them in that category, and therefore no one's opinion of the category is changed.

Though it's a very visible conflict, I'm not just talking about atheists and Christians. I'm talking about in-group and out-group. Your in-group is the group of people and ideas you voluntarily associate yourself with. The out-group is technically everybody else, but specifically those who actively believe something which contradicts your beliefs.

There are assholes in every group, and it's easy to recognize the asshole members in our own in-groups are not representative of our groups, because we know they are on the fringe. We have many counterexamples to their assholery because we personally know many non-asshole members. It's hard to know if an out-group asshole is representative of the out-group or is just an asshole in the out-group because we only ever notice the assholes.

Say you have your kids in public school, and along comes some crazy homeschool proponent. Their Facebook feed is full of pro-homeschooling items and hyperbolic quotes about the evils of public school. They comment excessively, and rudely, whenever the topic comes up (or even if it doesn't). You follow a few of their links to pro-homeschooling websites, and those pages are filled with the same hyperbolic zealotry. It annoys you and puts you on the defensive: You don't want any part of it. The person is firmly excluded from your in-group. You begin to (maybe not even consciously) associate homeschooling with those over-zealous proponents and think: people who homeschool their kids are assholes.

But there are lots of non-rude homeschool advocates: you just don't notice them because they're not being assholes.

Another example is "Nice Guys". If you're somehow not aware of this meme: it's the idea that men who think of themselves as "nice guys" and wonder why they are so unlucky in love are actually just men who think they deserve sex: that women owe it to them for being nice. In other words: these "Nice Guys" are actually assholes. It's pretty easy to see how this happened: men who merely weren't actively being mean couldn't find women who were willing to date them, so the men began complaining loudly and bitterly about how nice they were and how bitchy and petty women were. They were assholes the whole time, but to anyone else they were men who complain loudly about how they are nice guys and how terrible women are.

But there are actual nice guys who do occasionally wonder out loud why they can't find anyone. They aren't blaming women, they don't think they deserve sex, they just think their current situation… kinda sucks. They aren't being loud and obnoxious, so people don't notice them, or they are automatically placed into the asshole category because of the previous loud assholes, even if they themselves don't really fit.

In the same genre, there's the "Social Justice Warrior" meme. If you've been relatively isolated from the social justice world, your introduction will be painful, because you're going to meet a lot of assholes. This topic warrants a whole other post, but there are some awesome social justice concepts and some silly ones, and some good counter-arguments and some silly ones, and sometimes assholes violently spout all of them at you while calling you names.

To be perfectly clear: There are loud assholes on either side of this. I know people don't want to acknowledge their side's assholes, insisting that it's just the other side, or they'll excuse the terrible people on their own side because it's such a worthy cause. But there are some extremely important concepts under discussion (feminism, racism, sexuality, poverty, rights, etc), and it's important to find the good arguments and good people among the all the noise. (Full disclosure: I am firmly on the social justice side of things.)

Of course there's the whole Republican vs Democrat vs Libertarian vs Green vs Labour vs Tories vs whatever else thing: politics. Surely you've noticed? Everything about politics is terrible, and there are loud assholes all around. What's more, politics can make almost anyone into an asshole because we feel the need to defend our party at all costs, and we feel the need to ridicule the opposing party at all costs. Even when our side is doing something dumb, we must support it. Even when the opposing party is doing something right, we must oppose it, or at least ignore it. Or, at least the most vocal people do.

There are lots of non-asshole political people, but they are drowning under a sea of political assholery.

What's the way out? There's a very fine balance: you have to believe something strongly enough to bring up that belief to members of your out-group, but yet not be so zealous that you come off as an asshole. Of course, you will rarely be the first person with your beliefs to make a foray to the out-group. For the reasons mentioned above, probably most people's first impression of your group is from the assholes in your group, so most people might already have a negative association with your group.

What to do?

1) Don't be an asshole. Are you being an in-group proponent, or just an out-group opponent? Are you just taking cheap shots?

2) Recognize that there might be non-asshole people who believe is whatever it is. It doesn't mean that whatever it is is correct, of course, just that not all the people who believe it are assholes.

3) Is this person really an asshole? Or is she just someone saying something similar to what previous assholes have said?

4) Recognize the assholes on your side. Actively counterbalance them. Provide a better example. You can still get your point out there without insulting people who don't deserve it.

To reiterate: just because someone says something rudely doesn't mean the idea is wrong. Your job is to sort through them to separate the valid opinions from the obnoxious assholes. There are many non-asshole voices, but the assholes, being assholes, will pump out a large volume of crap.

Now, go forth, and be not an asshole.

2015-06-14 #skeptical-zen