Sunday, 26 July 2015

Witch-Hunting, The Great Christian Pastime (Part 2)



posted on 7/26/2015 by the Salt City Sinner

(In part one of this post, I very briefly addressed some of the historic witch hunts, both literal and figurative, that Christians in the West have engaged in. Today we're going to focus in a little closer on literal, 'get him/her, she/he's a witch' witch hunts. )

To be fair, it’s not just Christians in the West (or “Christendom,” as some right-wing Christians have adorably taken to calling it again) who have engaged in this type of hideous nonsense. Listverse compiled ’10 Modern Attempts to Police the Occult -- a fascinating and quick read that is completely worth checking out, by the way -- and only two of the entries on the list are from the West; one example from the United Kingdom and one to Canada. Given the content coming up in the third and final installment of this post, leaving the U.S. off the list strikes me as a little weird.

Also, it’s worth noting that Islam is at least as unhinged as Christianity when it comes to hunting and, in many cases, killing “witches,” and while the Abrahamic faiths seem to be unusually given to tormenting real or imagined practitioners of the Art of Arts, no religion is really immune, and periodic outbreaks of hysteria happen in Hindu communities, in Buddhist communities, pretty much anywhere where humans get up to their usual shenanigans. Monotheists seem, for obvious reasons, much more likely to dust off the torture rack and light the witch-burnin’ bonfires, but no group seems truly immune.


Of course, Christians in the West have had almost two millennia in which to process the twin facts that, firstly, virtually none – literally almost zero out of hundreds of thousands – of their victims actually practiced witchcraft, and secondly, even if they did, so fucking what?

"So fucking what" is a vexing question for aspiring Vans Helsing , especially in the days since the Enlightenment, and even more so in the United States (a country that, ostensibly, guarantees the right to freely practice one’s chosen religion or lack thereof to everyone, even witches). How are good, God-fearing Christians supposed to persecute witches if witchcraft is a constitutionally-protected exercise of religious freedom?


As is the case with so many questions ranging from U.S. history to scientific facts about the age of the Earth or the origins of life, the solution that Christians have come up with is simple and elegant: make shit up and lie their fucking asses off.

Since it’s no longer acceptable (at least, for now) to barbecue someone for worshipping a goddess or Satan, or for practicing magick, or for blaspheming, the trick is to pretend that the people you are persecuting are actually the persecutors; that they have done something so odious that nobody in polite society will call you out for throwing them to the wolves.

But what supposed crime is odious enough that just accusing a hated minority of it is enough to end the debate, even if you can never, ever prove anything -- even if 100% of your accusations turn out, in the end, to be false? Well, the rape, torture, and murder of countless children, it turns out, fits the bill nicely.

In the thrilling conclusion of ‘Witch-Hunting, The Great Christian Pastime’ we’ll take a brief look at the ‘Satanic Panic,’ and revisit our old friend Aaron Klein (of WND, well, not fame, but close enough for a wingnut). See you soon!

Sunday, 19 July 2015

Salt City Vexillology



posted on 7/19/2015 by the Salt City Sinner

If you are registered to vote in Salt Lake City, and if you haven’t been paying much attention to local politics, you are forgiven for being a little perplexed to find a mysterious piece of mail from the powers that be at City Hall in your mailbox. There’s a chance that it might be a big lucky chunk of unclaimed property, or an exciting notice that you are being sued by somebody (whether those types of mail actually originate at City Hall I am far too lazy to find out), but most likely it is your ballot for Salt Lake City’s 2015 mayoral primary election, which is being conducted entirely by mail.

If you’re looking for advice, I’d say ‘for the love of god, do not read my blog for advice.’ Then, however, I’d say ‘vote for Luke Garrott, City Councilman, Professor of Political Science, and All-Around Stud’ (full disclosure: Dr. Garrott is a friend and former mentor, which you should in no way hold against him). There have already been multiple debates between the five candidates for Mayor of Salt Lake, and you should check them out. I’m not saying that the moderators have been anything less than sharp and well-prepared, but I have noticed one issue that so far has been conspicuously absent from any discussion of the issues facing Salt Lake City. I’m speaking, of course, about the vexillological merits of Salt Lake City’s flag, and whether we need another update to its design. 

Vexillology is the study of the usage, symbolism, and history of flags. A “vexillologist” is defined as either someone who studies flags or just someone who is enthusiastic or knowledgeable about them. You are welcome to pepper your conversation with both terms if you need to up your fancy-pants word ratio, and, by the way, you’re welcome.

To get things started, let’s have a gander at the original flag of Salt Lake City, adopted in the 1960s:



Yikes, that thing is a mess!

Why do I say this? Well, the North American Vexillological Association has a whole report dedicated to helping your flag not suck, but the five essential principles of decent flag design are as follows: 1.) Keep it simple 2.) Use 2 – 3 basic, contrasting colors 3.) Use meaningful symbolism 4.) Avoid seals or lettering and 5.) Be distinctive.

Salt Lake City’s old flag was pretty bad at guiding principles 1, 2, and 4. In 2004, Salt Lake City sponsored a contest to redesign the city flag, and while none of the entries were adopted outright, the new flag (adopted in 2006) was “largely based on” one of the designs. The flag you will now see flapping around over municipal buildings is this fella:



It is a significant improvement, I’ll give it that. It no longer looks like a grade-school diorama project, and it is no longer something that would be busy and incomprehensible even by the standards of good city seal design. But the skyline, the lettering, the font of the lettering (dear sweet Lucifer, the font) – it’s still pretty terrible, in my opinion.

This leads me to believe that someone at the City level took the skeleton of a good design and then added the skyline and lettering. I have no evidence for this idea, but something in my soul says that somewhere out there is an amateur vexillologist whose fantastic design was almost adopted, a sad bastard of a vexillologist who both cries and drinks at night thinking of the design that was eventually actually adopted.

I think that we can do better, and I don’t think we need to wait another thirty years to spruce things up. I mean, we’re better than Provo, for the love of Pete, and Provo’s flag re-design is a study in replacing something that is laugh-out-loud bad with something that is actually pretty cool.

Here is the old flag of Provo:



I don't really need to add anything more to that.

And the spiffy new one (lettering-free, as you’ll note):




So let’s get cracking, various candidates for Mayor of Salt Lake City! Do we really want a flag that’s goofier than the flag of Provo?

I didn’t think so.

(h/t to the podcast 99% Invisible , which first got me interested in amateur vexillology)

Saturday, 4 July 2015

500 Posts!



posted on 7/4/2015 by the Salt City Sinner

Well, look at THAT!  Salt City Sinner has racked up 500 posts!

Despite work stoppages created by tense relations between labor and management (in other words I'm sometimes lazy and filled with self-loathing), this thing has kept creaking along, more or less steering itself, for far longer than I ever expected it to, and probably far longer than is sane or healthy.

To celebrate 500 posts' worth of sometimes entertaining, often obscenity-laced nonsense and balderdash, the following selections have been hand picked, quality controlled, and partially digested before being regurgitated for your perusal and/or delectation. Please enjoy responsibly!


A Combat Of Cocks

"Lord Dickens Smallwood was Warden of the Short Tower, a stub of a man only as tall as he was wide, and given to agitated frothing at the slightest provocation. He dug his thighs into his mount and pulled up short before a banner bearing the sigil of his house: a wilted orchid, purple on a pale field. Ser Boner Cartwheel, Smallwood’s strong right hand, planned to take the Rear Guard into battle."


#OccupySLC: Now There Is Nothing But Ruins

"I caught more shit for my home-made press pass than I have for anything I've worn in public since middle school. The CBS camera-guy ranked on me. The ABC camera-guy ranked on me. An independent journalist who wore a complicated rig with three or four cameras on it laughed uproariously and snapped my picture when I produced this 'pass' and fumblingly pinned it on. The way I figure it, using a press pass is like using a cross against a vampire: you have to believe in it and/or imbue it with authenticity to make it 'work.'"


Of Presidents And Ponies

“'I’ll, ah, take that into consideration,' the President says. 'Now, before things get going properly, let’s pour you into a pair of your very tightest slacks without underwear – I mean, so tight that you aren’t going to leave anything to the imagination – and get a couple of tall, lukewarm glasses of skim milk going. This party’s about to get weird.'

“'Bro hoof?' he asks again. 'Bro hoof,' I reply sadly."


Redistricting Time 2011

"Just as the Gini Coefficient can be used to examine income inequality and allows us to compare different countries and/or political economies using a consistent metric, there should be a coefficient that measures disparity in representative democracies. In such a rating system, the U.S. would rank somewhere around Liberia or the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, and even within such a competitive framework, I'd bet that Utah would rank in the top two or three least representative states."


A Tour Of Salt City Sinner Headquarters

"Last and least of all, you must be wondering what the Salt City Sinner himself looks like and where he spends his idle days. The short answer is: fuck off. The long answer is that 'I' am actually a complex series of neuroses and psychocosms amalgamated specifically to sustain the order of Salt City while secretly undermining it. Have a nice weekend!"


The Mistakes Of The Mero “Mind” Part I

"Paul Mero is a pompous, sneering dickhead, but that doesn't set him apart from the rest of his ilk in any extraordinary way. What gets my attention, and yanks my eyeballs to many of his online or in-print columns, is Mero's gift for torturing logic, this way, that way, inside and out, and then accusing his ideological opponent of irrational thinking. It's the intellectual equivalent of watching a drunken clown hopped up on methamphetamines juggle live snakes "


Well there you have it!

On a serious note, sincere thanks to everyone who has read, linked to, or written for this bloggue over the years. You guys are the best, and the reason I continue to do this (it certainly isn't the fame and money). I hope that 500 posts from now we're all in good health and high spirits. Cheers, and happy Fourth!

Friday, 3 July 2015

Witch-Hunting, The Great Christian Pastime (Part 1)


posted on 7/3/2015 by the Salt City Sinner 

There are two definitions of “witch hunt,” one literal and one figurative.

Literal witch hunts still go on in America and abroad (primarily in Africa and the Middle East). They happen when a community succumbs to collective insanity and goes searching for “witches” (practitioners of magick or the occult) and/or evidence of witchcraft, blaming everything from failed crops to moral transgressions by “upstanding” community members or outbreaks of contagion on suspected witches. The victims of these hunts are often, but not always, people who have absolutely nothing to do with witchcraft – and who are certainly innocent of causing the harm they are held responsible for in either case.



Figurative witch hunts follow the same pattern of moral panic, a frenetic search for a conspiracy, and the persecution of people perceived to be members of a hated minority, but can happen when angry, panicked idiots set their sights on just about anything.

The metaphorical witch hunt that people in the United States are probably most familiar with is the infamous Second Red Scare that took pace during the McCarthy years of the 1950s, a panic that saw anti-Communist hysteria reach a fever pitch, culminating in a political climate characterized by loyalty oaths, theatrical tribunals, and the rise of the House Un-American Activities Committee, a collection of dour legislative inquisitors tasked with sniffing out commies and traitors within the United States government and elsewhere in positions of cultural influence (it's worth noting that Ronald Reagan got his start ratting out actors in Hollywood to J. Edgar Hoover's FBI in the late 1940s as this era was just dawning).

Cultures the world over that are heavily influenced by Christianity have always been unusually given to both the literal and metaphorical varieties of witch hunt (it is, of course, by no means the only religion that gives rise to this tendency). For about the last thousand years, witch hunts in the West have certainly been a Christian phenomenon. In Europe and North America, the “golden age” of literal witch hunts took place from 1450 to 1750, give or take, and resulted in around 50,000 to 100,000 executions. Of course, given the religious nature of these “trials” and subsequent murders, and the fear and god-craziness that accompanied them, it's a lot more accurate to call them “human sacrifices” performed in the name of a jealous deity than to refer to them as executions.

Fast forward a few hundred years, and even the Red Scare was in no small part a result of Christians deciding that they'd flex their muscles and punish the heathens polluting their country (whether the United States is, in fact, “their” country is a thoroughly depressing debate that goes on and on, seemingly with every cable news cycle).


Observe, for example, the motto 'In God We Trust' on paper US currency, which was added in 1957, and the phrase 'one nation under god' in the pledge of allegiance, which was added in 1954.

Both alterations were products of the Red Scare, and both were meant to distinguish the United States from the officially atheistic Soviet Union.


How atheists or polytheists might feel about such a blatant violation of the First Amendment's prohibition on the government officially endorsing a particular faith didn't figure very heavily (or at all) into the Christian effort on this question, since such people were and are obviously, as non-Christians, vaguely un-American if not overtly traitorous.

"Yeah, yeah, that's all well and good (and objectively true) but all of that is just New Atheism 101," I hear some of you grumble.

The thing is, this type of behavior by Christians in the West (and particularly, in recent years, in North America) is not some historical relic of barbarous behavior -- it's an unbroken chain, stretching from antiquity to, literally, a few days ago, when county clerks throughout Real America™ quit rather than issue marriage licenses to gay couples, or announced their intention to just straight up break the law and discriminate in the name of their hateful religious fancies, making them the direct descendents (literally, I'm sure, in more than a few cases) of the zealots whose opposition to desegregation and voting rights for Black people was firmly rooted in their faith. Persecution of nonbelievers and discrimination against those the faith deems unworthy are the core ingredients that give conservative Christianity its trademark flavor, not unfortunate byproducts.



Just as an aside, it's worth noticing that in the cases of both desegregation and marriage equality, this religious opposition was coupled with verbiage about "states' rights" -- a connection I'm sure is just a coincidence, since present-day Christian conservatives will swear up and down that, had they been there, they definitely wouldn't have been on the wrong side of the civil rights movement, no sir.

In Part 2 of this post, we'll take a merry journey through the libel, slander, and persecution that the Christian Right has visited upon non-believers more recently, from the rise of 'values voters' to the Satanic Panic to the question of 'religious liberty.'

Stay tuned!

Saturday, 20 June 2015

The Obscene Co-Opting Of Charleston



posted on 6/20/2015 by the Salt City Sinner

On Wednesday night, Dylann Storm Roof allegedly entered a historic Black church in Charleston, South Carolina. He sat through most of the prayer meeting at Emanuel A.M.E. Church and then opened fire with a handgun, killing nine people including a sitting South Carolina state senator who was also the pastor of the church. Roof was motivated by hatred of Black people, and has since reportedly confessed to committing the crime in an attempt to start a race war.

In the wake of such an outburst of deadly violence, I was not sure what to expect from right wing media, be it Fox News, talk radio, or the open, reeking sewer that is the conservative internet, including borderline white nationalist sites like Joseph Farah's WND (formerly World Net Daily). Excuses, sure. The usual bullshit about antidepressants and Big Pharma being the real hidden force at work behind white men committing mass murder in places like Sandy Hook or Aurora (violence committed by Muslims, on the other hand, can be placed squarely at the feet of Islam, obviously).

There certainly were a lot of desperate attempts to characterize the attack as motivated by anything but racism. Fox and WND in particular, however, surprised even me – and I consider myself pretty hard to shock, given that I've spent the last ten years regularly reading (and six years blogging about) far right media.



First up, a representative sample of how this awful story was played out on Fox:



See that 'ATTACK ON FAITH' headline? Given Fox News' history of ginning up bullshit stories about poor, persecuted American Christians, does it make you want to vomit until your eyes explode or does it make you want to slam your head against the nearest, hardest surface until you black out and die? Trick question, the correct answer is “both!”

Since I was blissfully media-free for a lot of Thursday, I'm not sure who got to this angle first, Fox or WND, but WND definitely had the most shameless, conscience-free take on Wednesday's atrocity, and is still -- still! -- filing its coverage of the hate crime under it's 'FAITH' section, days after Roof reportedly confessed to both the murder and his racist motive.

obviously, Dylann Roof was just a fan of now-defunct apartheid regimes because he was a history buff. the shootings were REALLY about anti-Christian bigotry, not at all about race.

Why do I call WND's content more offensive than Fox's? For one simple reason.

For now, let's leave aside the obvious, which is that WND probably didn't contribute directly to Roof's racism, paranoia, and hatred, but god damn sure contributed to the media environment that helped create Dylann Roof. Colin Flaherty, who WND has both employed heavily promoted, has made a living over the last few years stoking white paranoia about Black crime. But I've already written about Flaherty (see WND: Racist, Ignorant, Far-Right Lunatics and Racism Is The New (Old) “Not Racist”).

No, this time it's more than just the predictable racism and ugliness that characterize everything from their coverage of events like Ferguson or Cleveland to Michelle Obama's every utterance. This time,WND's editorial reaction was almost instant and, I have to say, very crafty, in a nihilistic sort of way. They heavily emphasized the church aspect of the shooting, and implied – indeed, in early versions of their stories, openly stated – that what this act of terrorism really was was another example of poor, persecuted American Christians being preyed upon by atheists, progressives, and/or possibly Satanists (if you think I'm exaggerating on that last point, you obviously haven't read WND as much as I, unfortunately, have).

This would be all well and good – people of all faiths have been offering prayers for the victims and solidarity with the community at Emanuel A.M.E., and that's a perfectly wonderful, human response – were it not for one inconvenient fact. According to WND, that merry band of demented zealots, the congregation at Emanuel A.M.E. is “not Christian.” Or, at least, weren't until WND could exploit their deaths.

WND's grand wizard and for-profit prophet Joseph Farah said basically as much himself in a column published just a week and two days before the Charleston massacre:

It may be true that 80 percent of Democrats in Congress claim to be Christians. 
It may be true that 78 percent of Democratic governors claim to be Christians. 
It is definitely true that the Democratic president of the United States claims to be a Christian. 
As we have seen from the actions of Democrats who call themselves Christians – as well as many Republicans – Christianity is a faith judged by deeds, not by words. [Farah's emphasis, not mine. -- Ed] 

The thing is, Emanuel A.M.E.'s pastor, who died in the attack, was Clementa C. Pinckney, a Democratic South Carolina state senator, Obama supporter, and supporter of Hillary Clinton.



By Joseph Farah's mean-hearted, deeply stupid standards, the Reverend Pinckney was obviously no Christian at all, and neither were the other victims, who were, after all, shot there in church praying with Pinckney, a man they obviously had insufficient faith to recognize as an apostate imposter.

Despite this, WND was mighty quick to embrace the people they would have shunned as fake Christians – that is, as soon as doing so took the emphasis off of Dylann Roof's (and WND's) racist hatemongering and fit into their narrative of a persecuted American church under fire.

I'm no Christian – in fact, I bat pretty hard for Team Satan – but I'd say it's safe to call what Farah and company are doing by trying to co-opt the pain and grief of the Black community in Charleston for their own purposes not just obscene, wretched garbage, but also, in any real sense of the word, a sin.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Five Comics To Read Before Salt Lake Comic Con



posted on 6/10/2015 by the Salt City Sinner

Musky salutations, nerds and nerdettes!

We are a mere 15 weeks away from the triumphant return of Salt Lake Comic Con, or, as I like to call it, the North American Comic Con With The Fewest Virgins™. Throughout Utah and the surrounding region, fans are getting ready; assembling their costumes, slimming down to fit into said costumes, planning time off of work from from the IT help desk, and so forth.

If, like me, you are already starting to get excited about the goings-on and if you are wondering how you will pass the idle days between now and September 24 – 26, here are five suggestions on what to read, comics-wise, between now and then.


SALT CITY STRANGERS

“Hang on a second,” I can hear you say, and not just because I've bugged your house. “Did you steal the title of your dumb-ass bloggue from this marvelous local comic book? What the hell is wrong with you, asshole?!” Whoa, buddy! Watch your language! And while you're at it, cool your jets! This silly bloggue was launched in March of 2009, years before 'Strangers' was more than a glimmer in creator Chris Hoffman's brain-wrinkles. And whereas Salt City Sinner chronicles the thoroughly depressing “adventures” of a lone jackass, 'Strangers' follows the much more exciting exploits of Utah superheroes Den Mother, Golden Spike, the Gull, Son of Bigfoot and Deputy Deseret. 'Strangers' is good clean fun with a decidedly Utah bent. There are only three issues so far (with a fourth well underway), but hey, that means you can still get in on the ground floor!

Unlike 'From the Dust,' the ill-fated comic book adaptation of the Book of Mormon, this title doesn't target an exclusively Mormon audience, and has better art and writing to boot. Pick your copy up at the 'Strangers' online store, and make sure to say hello to Hoffman and company at Comic Con!



FLASHPOINT

2014 saw the launch of a new live-action adaptation of the Flash on the CW, and pretty much right out of the gate I was hooked. The Scarlet Speedster is more than just a spin-off show from the darker, broodier 'Arrow,' however.

The character was created in 1940 as the alter-ego of Jay Garrick, but the name and powers have been shared by several characters. Barry Allen (the most popular incarnation of the character) has been at it since 1956, with a twenty year break along the way, presumably to catch his breath. If you're a fan of the TV show, the classic comics are a good place to start, but if you're curious about recent events in the show's universe, or are just looking for a truly amazing read, “Flashpoint” is indispensable. Written by Geoff Johns, one of my favorite comics writers (and also one of the show's writers, producers, and developers), and with great artwork by Andy Kubert, 'Flashpoint' is available as a trade paperback new or used on Amazon for a pittance.



DAREDEVIL: THE MAN WITHOUT FEAR


When Frank Miller took over Marvel's 'Daredevil' in 1981 as writer, he had been working on the title as an artist since 1979 and the book's sales were abysmal. Rather than scrap the character as there had been talk of doing, editor Denny O'Neil put Miller at the helm, and sales of the title shot through the roof.

The new Netflix adaptation of 'Daredevil' is based largely on Miller's 1993 – 1994 five-part miniseries 'Daredevil: the Man Without Fear.' 'Man Without Fear' is very similar to Miller's famous 'Batman: Year One' and follows the early years of Matt Murdock's journey from a kid blinded by chemicals that give him super-senses to the devil-horned, ass-kicking vigilante we know and love. Yes, Frank Miller is a horrible fedora-wearing right wing asshole, but he's also an incredibly talented writer and artist. If you're a fan of the Netflix adaptation, the source material is as good if not better (and if you're not a fan of the series, it's probably because you haven't seen it yet). Grab this one and you'll be glad you did.



THE MAXX

'The Maxx' is a weird little treasure, created by Sam Kieth, that Image Comics published from 1993 to 1998. It follows the surreal exploits of the titular character, a possibly-rabbitoid street person who exists in both our world and an alternate reality called the Outback. 'Maxx' was adapted into a cartoon/motion comic format in 1995 for MTV's “Liquid Television,” where it warped countless brains and hopefully encouraged at least one or two gobsmacked burnouts to pick up some comic books.

Not only is the story arc of 'The Maxx' inventive, funny, and a little spooky, the artwork is distinctive and lovely. 'The Maxx' has been reissued (starting with volume one in 2014) in a gorgeous hardbound “Maxximized” edition that features newly restored artwork – if you were looking for an excuse to pick this title up, that's all the excuse you need.



SUPERMAN: RED SON

I'll level with you – I really hate Mark Millar. Ever since I read his thoroughly awful, thoroughly stupid 'Wanted' (which spawned an equally dumb movie that shares nothing with the original text but the name), I've “wanted” nothing to do with him, HAW HAW HAW!

The exception that proves the rule in Millar's case is 'Superman: Red Son,' which is nothing short of absolutely brilliant. 'Red Son' rewrites the origins of Superman to examine what would happen if the Man of Steel were to land on Earth as an infant twelve hours earlier or later – putting him smack dab in the middle of the Cold War-era Soviet Union rather than the United States. Familiar characters – Batman, Wonder Woman, Lex Luthor, and others – are reinvented, and we watch as Superman rises from obscurity to become Stalin's right-hand man. Dig in, and you have my permission to never read another Millar comic for the rest of your life.


Well, there you have it – five juicy titles for you to read as you gear up for Salt Lake Comic Con (tickets for which, incidentally, can be purchased at their site, which also has a list of guests and copious things with which to waste your life -- er, pass the time).

Enjoy, and I'll see you there!

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Antonin Scalia, American “Intellectual”



posted on 6/7/2015 by the Salt City Sinner

“Americans are dumb,” the accepted wisdom in some circles goes. “They are ignorant, bad at science, bad at math, bad at reading and writing. They eat bibles and drink reality TV, and the only things they produce are 'collateral damage' in countries they invade and Michael Bay movies.” Harsh and reductive, dicks in "some circles!"

“Sure, listen to the liberty-hating commies in San Francisco and Manhattan,” goes the reply from other circles. “America is the greatest, freest, most awesomest country that God ever made. We beat the Nazis and the Soviets, went to the moon, and created the KFC 'Double Down,' a cheese-and-bacon sandwich that uses two pieces of fried chicken for bread. Seems pretty crafty to me!” Not presenting the best rebuttal, dumbasses in "other circles!"

The truth, as it sometimes does in reality and always does in whatever dimension Peter Wehner and other “centrist” Democrats hail from, lies somewhere in between these two polar versions of reality.

America has a rich intellectual tradition, in point of fact: not just of the go-to-the-moon or invent-the-internet variety, but in art and philosophy as well. We're the country that produced (by means of both the good and the bad in our present and history) James Baldwin, Mickalene Thomas, Herman Melville, Sleater-Kinney, Sherman Alexie, Robert Johnson, Kate Chopin, Johnny Cash, and Superman. Even the US' embarrassing rank among nations in terms of standardized test scores is more a symptom than a disease.

The disease in question, and one that is by no means unique to the US, is anti-intellectualism, which is the mistrust of and contempt for education, art, philosophy and science. Anti-intellectualism usually touts itself as a populist expression of the concerns of “the common people” as opposed to elites in education and politics – and while denigrating learning, art, and science is never a good thing, these concerns are not always misplaced.



Sometimes, however, these concerns are incredibly misplaced. It's of paramount importance to provide representation of regular folks within academia, art, and politics, but when it comes to, say, heart surgery, engineering, or nuclear physics, some level of intellectual rigor is a great way to keep things from exploding and people from dying. This brings us to one Antonin Scalia, Reagan-appointed Supreme Court Justice and rabid anti-intellectual par excellence. Justice Scalia is living, breathing proof that even the educated elite can be anti-intellectual morons.



Where to start with Scalia? There's the fact that he interprets the Constitution that he claims is static and immutable one way when the religious liberties of Christians are the issue and another way when the plaintiffs practice a traditional Native American religion. There's his deranged homophobia – he has called the LGBTQ equality movement a “trend,” compared homosexuality to murder and bestiality, and was one of the three justices who dissented from the majority in Lawrence v. Texas, the 2003 Supreme Court case that struck down Texas' sodomy law (“limited government” apparently only applies to helping the poor or regulating businesses – when it comes to moralistic laws that criminalize the conduct of consenting adults, Scalia has never met a law he considers an overreach).

if Scalia made it all the way through Georgetown and Harvard Law without reading John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty," I'll eat my bright red "the Flash" superhero underwear on live television

A representative statement of the intellectual rigor that Scalia brings to bear on complex legal questions in the highest court in the United States, a court that decides matters of life and death, liberty and imprisonment, and civil and human rights, comes to us from a Washington, D.C. book signing in 2012:
The death penalty? Give me a break. It’s easy. Abortion? Absolutely easy... Homosexual sodomy? Come on. For 200 years, it was criminal in every state. 
See? Jurisprudence isn't something you need to attend law school to learn, or clerk to get a better understanding of. It's easy! Lead with your gut and let the pointy-headed liberal dorks wring their hands all they like.

Last week brought us a stunning new demonstration of Scalia's mental firepower that may well put all his previous dumbassery to shame. Speaking to the graduating class at private Catholic girls' school Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart, Scalia said (and this was not in jest):
Class of 2015, you should not leave Stone Ridge High School thinking that you face challenges that are at all, in any important sense, unprecedented. Humanity has been around for at least some 5,000 years or so, and I doubt that the basic challenges as confronted are any worse now, or alas even much different, from what they ever were. [Emphasis mine] 
Hang on one hot New Jersey second, Antonin – “humanity has been around at least some 5,000 years or so?” Actually, YOUR HONOR, homo sapiens have been around for about 100,000 years in our current form. I mean, just the city of Byblos, AKA Jubyl, in the Levant (now Lebanon) is 7,000 years old, let alone humanity or human civilization.

Many people are calling Scalia's statement a “creationist dog whistle” – meaning a coded endorsement of Young Earth Creationism, the belief that the Earth was created as-is by the Abrahamic god around 6,000 years ago. Scalia's statement is not the only indication this is the case; he was, after all, the justice who wrote the dissent in Edwards vs. Aguillard, the 1987 Supreme Court case that determined that “creation science” is religious, and not scientific, in nature.

In the dissent, Scalia writes that teaching creationism and scientific fact side by side constitutes “a fair and balanced presentation of the scientific evidence” regarding how the universe came to be and how life on Earth began. The fact that Antonin Scalia, one of the nine humans entrusted with interpreting and judging the constitutional merits of laws in the United States, either doesn't believe in science (i.e., evolution, the fossil record, and radiocarbon dating) or is willing to blatantly pander to the morons that don't, should scare the living shit out of anyone with a double-digit number of brain cells.



This isn't plain and simple ignorance – before serving in the Nixon administration, Scalia was a straight-A student at the Catholic high school he attended, and graduated from Georgetown and Harvard Law. As I said earlier, Scalia is proof positive that educated elites can be as anti-intellectual as Tea Party, salt-of-the-earth types.

Indeed, modern conservatism as a movement is intensely anti-intellectual, despite the existence of conservative think tanks, conferences, and private universities. Ben Carson, who was a celebrated neurosurgeon for decades before becoming a Tea Party darling and now presidential candidate, has also expressed creationist views, despite the fact that a medical degree requires no small amount of biology, a discipline that rests entirely on evolution.

Anti-intellectualism in the U.S. Is not a new phenomenon, and there is nothing particularly new about its most recent iteration, and it's nothing less than what you should expect from, say, a wild-eyed cultist like Michele Bachmann or Joseph Farah. But coming from doctors, lawyers, and Supreme Court justices, in the year 2015?

That is something that should worry not only pointy-headed liberal intellectuals, but anyone who wants those in positions of authority to have a basic working knowledge of how the natural world functions.