If I have Dilbert comic strip artist Scott Adams to thank for anything this week, it's for causing me to reflect on a few important questions:
Where is my attention going? What gets my time? Who deserves my outrage, and why?
Adams has a blog. Earlier this month, he posted (what I thought as soon as I read it was) a rambling diatribe about men's rights, that included what could have been construed as incendiary comments about women and people with disabilities and, to a different degree, incarcerated men.
He pulled the post, but lots of people read it anyway, cached and copied it, and sent it about the Internet.
Here's the part where he explains that men's rights are for pussies who are not cats:
The reality is that women are treated differently by society for exactly the same reason that children and the mentally handicapped are treated differently. It’s just easier this way for everyone. You don’t argue with a four-year-old about why he shouldn’t eat candy for dinner. You don’t punch a mentally handicapped guy even if he punches you first. And you don’t argue when a women tells you she’s only making 80 cents to your dollar. It’s the path of least resistance. You save your energy for more important battles.
Charming. People reacted angrily, as people of the Internet will do. Feministing responded, and Adams commented on the post, saying that the people on Feministing couldn't read very well, and that he wrote what he wrote for the specific, very astute (read: they think like he does) readers of his blog, and therefore others couldn't be expected to understand it. Seriously.
As emotion increases, reading comprehension decreases. This would be true of anyone, but regular readers of the Dilbert blog are pretty far along the bell curve toward rational thought, and relatively immune to emotional distortion.
Yesterday, he wrote another post, responding to people who he says referred to him as a misogynist, asshole douchebag, rehashing and adding to what he said on Feministing. He mused on how basically everyone who responded to his original post emotionally just took it out of context, but thanks for the traffic.
The short answer is that I write material for a specific sort of audience. And when the piece on Men's Rights drew too much attention from outside my normal reading circle, it changed the meaning. Communication becomes distorted when you take it out of context, even if you don't change a word of the text. I imagine that you are dubious about this. It's hard to believe this sort of thing if you don't write for a living and see how often it happens. I'll explain.
I write for a living, and I don't believe this.
He then claims to be "trying to add diversity" to my "portfolio of thoughts," which he just said was impossible, so I don't know. I'm thinking that Scott Adams is playing with my mind now. I was also told there would be no math.
Let's consider this comment:
But part of being male is the automatic feeling of team. If someone on the team screws up, we all take the hit. Don’t kid yourself that men haven’t earned some harsh treatment from the legal system. On the plus side, if I’m trapped in a burning car someday, a man will be the one pulling me out. It’s a package deal. I like being on my team.
If I interpreted this as a ridiculous expression of white male privilege by someone who has (to my knowledge) never been incarcerated or stuck in a burning car? I'm distorting his words. If I think he's insinuating the irrelevance of the true public sphere as I understand it from communication theory, I'm just not in my right mind. It's Scott Adams's genius world, we're just living in it. Also women can't be president because of PMS, and damned if I didn't just get an excuse to leave rants all over the place that can't be helped because if I have an emotional investment in something? I can't understand it! I can't even read correctly. This is so freeing. I can't wait.
I took all of this in after I read the piece originally and discarded it. I left the thread mentally, if not emotionally, because I am a woman, and had a talk with myself. I reminded myself that I don't have to pay attention to this guy, because obviously he has written his own story about how people think, feel, and are, and he's not interested in a conversation.
And look, I haven't thought about Scott Adams in years. I giggled at Dilbert on occasion, but it wasn't a huge influence on my life. And more importantly, I have no reason to consider this man's opinion influential, beyond the fact that he used to write a comic strip and now he has a blog on the Internet.
It's been a rough month for opinions and strong personalities erupting out of nowhere. It's been a month of diving for the remote whenever I see Charlie Sheen's warlock-blood-drivel-spouting ass on my television or my Internet. It's been a month of tolerating people I like working through this "#winning" business on Twitter.
It's also been a month, more importantly, of war and death and natural disasters, and maybe that's why I'm sicker than usual of the personality stuff. I'm kind of sick of everything, and I'm trying to remember that I can vote with my remote control or my "delete" button, not just because I can't understand things that I'm too emotionally jacked up about, but because I need the brain space that everyone yapping on about their own perceptions of the world, demeaning other people and using ugly language and sweeping generalizations in the process, takes up. I need to get some sleep.
I wrote awhile back about the culture of outrage, and how every day posts and articles and tv appearances come along about any number of topics that seem designed to create kneejerk emotional reactions. I'm trying really hard to step away from them, to think about how they apply to me, and what, if any, useful contribution I can make to the discourse, before I shoot off my mouth or my fingers.
Do we elevate the discourse about something as important as the pervasive nature of misogyny or slurs against people with disabilities with a Scott Adams blog as a tipping point? Probably not. I don't think he's interested in talking to anyone but people who read his blog, people who think like him. I'm imagining the corporate drones of Dilbert in 3-D, but maybe those are the people the joke's on, too.
As my fellow BlogHer editor AV Flox pointed out, why aren't we generating our own thoughts on matters of importance instead of reacting in anger to people we've never heard from before who may or may not have a useful point of view?
I have started a movement: a counter idiocy movement. We sit around and read books and scientific papers and we have conversations that feed one another's imagination and knowledge base. We ignore all the vitriol and stupidity in the mainstream.The idea is to stay individual while putting across the message that we really would rather be talking about, oh, I don't know, contemporary literature. Or the Apple anti-trust issue. Or the situation in Libya. Or quantum mechanics. Whatever. Just not this.
I don't need Scott Adams, or Charlie Sheen, or whatever other person is at the center of the public sphere on any given day, to set my agenda for me, do I? Do we?
I'm completely open to the argument that we do, by the way, because sometimes that's what it feels like. Tiger blood! Winning! Men's rights! Women can't read! GRRRR! Hulk smash! Tweet that out, right now. Retweet it. #notwinning!
I get so emotional. It's a wonder I can read.
I'll make a small suggestion here, fueled as I was, as usual, by the brilliance of my fairly literate BlogHer colleagues. Instead of responding to a comic book artist's mind games, we ladies of limited reading comprehension can turn a different corner. If we're unable to emotionally disengage from our own agendas long enough to draw a rational conclusion about someone else's point of view and integrate it with our own for maybe even the betterment of society? Pour that tripe on the page. Write an op-ed. Draw your own comic. Compose a song. Set up a 24/7 tv channel fueled by your own not-tiger blood. Channel the outrage beyond comment bickering.
Scott Adams may be listening long enough to hear himself talk again, but we all don't have to do it that way. Do we?
Photo Credit: Felix M. Cobos.
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