Sunday, February 17, 2013

Pots and Kettles: Saw That Coming

(Apologies for the delay. Things have been crazy with the Gawker essay and all. Enough of that, let's get back to business: the evisceration of ignorance!)

In a previous post, I referenced a Buffalo man who made some rather disconcerting remarks last summer, following an arson fire that destroyed a Congolese family's home. Now, William Shanahan has been arrested for robbing a First Niagara Bank on Wednesday morning.

My first thought was, Figures. A bigot swears up and down that black people bring crime into neighborhoods, and then gets nabbed for larceny. That, Alanis, is what we call "ironic."

My second thought was, Wait, is it ironic? She got it wrong a dozen times, maybe I need to check myself.

In a rational discussion of controversial topics, does a participant's character or background have any bearing on what they say? If someone in a glass house chooses to throw an unwise stone anyway, does their motivation for throwing that stone come into play?

Visit any website's comment section or discussion forum, and you'll find countless instances of character assassination and ad hominem attacks, formulated to distract from the actual topic at hand. It's often easier to discredit the person than the argument, simply because digging up dirt, real or imaginary, takes far less effort than forming a logical assault on facts. The narrative paradigm becomes laced with emotional outbursts and vitriol rather than calm statements and discourse.

But I'm not telling you anything new there. We all have felt like our character was on trial rather than our statements. Here's the problem: we've all felt like that. And not everybody has a right to make that complaint.

See, the narrative paradigm relies on one very, very important axiom: consistency.

I'm with William Fisher on this one; people are essentially storytellers. Our arguments in modern times are not Socratic campfire sessions based on rigorous, objective rules. Nowadays, we rely on anecdotes and parables, presenting a logical flow with a subjective twist.

We want to relate.

The one big obstacle to accepting a storyteller's version of events, or opinions, is the perceived lack of cohesion between their character (in itself a subjective byproduct of culture, personal history, and too many other variables to count) and their story. Did they behave uncharacteristically? Did they have a sudden about-face that doesn't fit the narrative? Does it all make sense?


William Shanahan makes sense, at least to me. My first thought was categorically unsurprised. I fully expect an ignorant white supremacist to be uneducated, thus prone to drug arrests leading to multiple run-ins with the police that culminate in a stupid-ass statement to the press and a delusion of bank robbery grandeur.

Even though he's wrong, he's not a hypocrite. He is a fully-fleshed, absolutely consistent character within a story: a goddamn idiot with goddamn idiot prejudices committing goddamn idiot crimes.

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