Skip navigation

[Editor’s note: I am happy to welcome Nick Duncan to the Extraordinary Insignificance family. He is a good friend, and while he originally approached me to do some kind of guest blogging, I jumped at the opportunity to make him a regular author here. This post was originally written a while ago, but I have been dragging my feet getting the site ready for a second author, so my apologies to Nick for making this excellent article somewhat untimely. -Dave]

Matt Walsh has never been one of my favorite people. He’s arrogant, unapologetically misogynist, and speaks from his rear end on many issues. Yet, for some odd reason that still confounds me, I actually read through his piece on Brittany Maynard and euthanasia on the Blaze. It’s the typical deal one expects when it comes to Walsh: A complete misrepresentation of the views that he is criticizing, lies so visible that a 5th grader could see through them, and a hackneyed view that naively simplifies all that has to do with the issue.

So, if you have yet to hear, Brittany Maynard is a 29-year old woman who was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer on January 1st, 2014. She doesn’t have much time left, and wanted to die on her own terms. After carefully weighing her options, she decided she didn’t want to suffer through hospice care or full brain radiation therapy when at best they would just delay the inevitable while increasing her suffering. So she moved to Oregon, one of the five U.S. States that permit human euthanasia, with her husband. She elected November 1st, 2014 to mark the final day she breathes, which falls two days after her husband’s birthday. She wrote a very moving blog post about it that’s hosted over at CNN.

So, let’s dig through Matt’s take on this. One of his first nuggets of wisdom plainly wears his emotional dismay with euthanasia on his sleeve

He writes:

Across national media and social media, I’ve been sickened to see that suicide is now most commonly described with words like ‘dignity,’ ‘bravery,’ ‘courage,’ and ‘strength.’ Popular refrains apparently only ever used to justify some form of murder and destruction have been trotted out once again: ‘it’s her body,’ ‘it’s her choice,’ ‘it’s her life.’

It’s pretty interesting that that trifecta he slams without really addressing, ‘her body, her choice, her life’, is actually a pretty solid argument for both euthanasia rights and the abortion issue that he’s passively aggressively referring to. If I were him I would also watch my wording. That trifecta isn’t exclusive to what he views as murder and destruction; they would most certainly be some of the first words out of my mouth towards a rapist. More interestly, however, and frankly a bit more fun, is the fact that those three words can be used to address every single argument he makes in his entire post. There’s a reason he emotionally slung them to the side without actually addressing them.

If you are saying that it is dignified and brave for a cancer patient to kill themselves, what are you saying about cancer patients who don’t? What about a woman who fights to the end, survives for as long as she can, and withers away slowly, in agony, until her very last breath escapes her lungs?

Is that person not brave? Is that person not dignified? I thought we applaud that kind of person. I thought we admire her courage and tenacity. Sorry, you can’t advance two contradictory narratives at once. If fighting cancer is brave then it is brave PRECISELY BECAUSE she is fighting it rather than giving up and choosing death.

Can you spot where he changes the premise? Someone is brave for fighting cancer because she braves that storm, of course. No one would disagree with that. What I would disagree with is that qualifier, that hanging little “rather than giving up and choosing death”. Someone is brave for their fight against cancer precisely because they have chosen to brave that storm and take cancer head on. Someone is also brave for choosing euthanasia, because they have chosen, frankly, a very scary and controversial option. These are not mutually exclusive, they are not ‘contradictory’. Either one is brave because it is the individual’s choice about her own body and her own life that she is fully empowered to make. The trifecta he brushes off handles it perfectly. Put yourself in the shoes of Brittany Maynard. Actually imagine the dread of weighing these possibilities. Think about the fear of realizing the cons of each option, and actually evaluating whether or not you want to go through this. Think about weighing the opportunity costs and trying to decide, and then think about actually realizing the route that you are going to go. Think about telling your significant other what your plan is. You’re telling me that’s cowardly? You actually genuinely think that?

After that, Matt chooses to start re-iterating himself for the next two paragraphs.

In other words, if struggling against cancer until the bitter end is an act of courage, then it can’t also be an act of courage to opt out and ‘leave on your own terms.’ What makes one courageous is that it is not the other. What makes one commendable is that the other choice exists, yet the heroic individual takes the more admirable route.

Don’t you understand what you are saying? She is dying with dignity, which means dying of cancer is not dignified. You are accusing people who die of cancer of having no dignity. That is what you are saying. Own it. Confront it. Take responsibility for the words you use.

It’s almost as though he’s aware that his logic is crap. I feel like he just wants to keep repeating himself because if he can’t argue his position into your mind, he can always try hammering it. He seems utterly confused and I have trouble taking his argument for why cancer is brave seriously. Because you didn’t commit suicide instead? Really? There’s any number of things I do on a daily basis instead of committing suicide. For example, I’m sitting here sipping on a pumpkin mocha being as much of a cliche as I can instead of committing suicide. Is that brave of me? No, the bravery of fighting cancer comes from the fact that you are battling cancer, not that you are not doing something else.

But alas, let’s press forward. Let’s see just how many nuggets of Matt’s wisdom that our little trifecta can rebut.

And what does it mean, anyway, to say that euthanasia is ‘leaving on your own terms’? Do we somehow achieve a victory over death by using it to escape the pain of life? ‘Your own terms’? The terms of the drug maker who concocted the poison pill, perhaps, but your own? Hardly. None of us get to die on our own terms, because if we did then I’m sure our terms would be a perfect, happy, and healthy life, where pain and death never enter into the picture at all.

If your terms happen to be, “If I have a terminal illness that I have an extremely slim possibility of recovering from, then I would like to pass away through the means of a ‘poison pill'” then you’re in luck! No one has argued or claimed that ‘leaving on your own terms’ means that you get to die anyway your imagination can think of. Obviously, that is logistically impossible. What we are capable of is doing what we can to influence our deaths based on our terms, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Wanna know why we should be able to choose how we die? Because it’s our body, our choice, and our life!

Now, I admit, if we are nothing and we came from nothing and will return to nothing, then I suppose suicide makes some sort of sense. It returns the body to our natural state of nothingness. It brings us home into the abyss, where there is no self, no reason, no existence. But most people don’t think that. Most of us are not radical nihilists. Even Brittany Maynard is not, which is why she says she will die and go on to ‘whatever is next.’ She knows, deep down, that there is another dimension to this reality of ours, a deeper significance beneath the surface of everything. She knows, like I believe we all know, that we’re woven into the tapestry of creation — we play a role that we don’t fully understand, our decisions have ramifications that we can’t comprehend, and our lives have a meaning beyond whatever we find in it.

Ha, funny. How convenient is it that when you shotgun off some ad hoc’d hypothesis about everything about there being something beyond death, instead of bringing forth any evidence of any kind you choose to simply boldly claim “that I believe we all know this”. The epitome of convenience, really. The funny thing is is that I personally believe there’s nothing after we die, and none of those other modifiers describe me. I’m not a nihilist, and I fully have a purpose in everything I do. For example, my purpose in writing this blog is to correct the strawmen that Matt set up for himself.

But if you want to go on and assert that there’s something beyond this life where our present decisions have these ramifications, that is your burden and no one else’s. And I can only hope that once you present that this ‘something’ exists, you will patiently await scientific testing to see what the ramifications of our decisions are instead of assuming that the ramifications would correspond to your personal feelings on the issue. I’m not holding my breath, though.

All that said, until you can show how euthanasia has some negative consequence for other people, then her body, her choice, her life.

LIFE HAS VALUE.

This isn’t just a Christian concept. It is the concept on which western civilization rests. Every noble ideal — justice, fairness, equity, compassion, charity — all of it, all of it, is grounded in the notion that life, human life, has intrinsic value.<

You are such a liar, Matt. It’s quite appalling. These actually stem from social contract theory. Whether or not you find social contract theory to provide an adequate basis for the value of justice, fairness, equity, compassion, and charity, it is objectively true that this is how Western civilization obtains these values.

After all, euthanasia happens not when the individual decides that her life has no value, but when the medical and governmental authorities decide it.

Does Matt not get that it is just his assertion that one is declaring that life has no value if euthanasia occurs? Do you actually think that Brittany Maynard thinks that she is missing out on nothing? If she actually thought that life has no value, then why is she waiting until after her husband’s birthday to do the deed?

And the medical and governemntal authorities don’t decide that, they enable someone to make that decision for themselves. That’s why you’re calling it ‘suicide’ and not ‘homicide’. Though, to be fair, you’re actually calling it suicide to drum up emotional support, even in full knowledge that euthanasia is a small subset of suicide and the arguments of euthanasia advocates are only intended to argue for that specific subset.

The funniest bit of Matt’s post had to be this guy right here.

Where do you think this leads? If euthanasia is legal, and if it is only legal under certain strict circumstances, then we are saying that life, under those circumstances, is objectively undesirable. And if we say that life, under those circumstances, is objectively undesirable, then it is undesirable regardless of whether the patient desires it. The bridge from voluntary euthanasia to involuntary euthanasia is obvious. I suspect when the time comes that patients are put down whether they wish to be or not, many in our society will hardly object

No, euthanasia advocates are not saying life is objectively undesirable under those circumstances. We’re saying you should be able to have a decision. No one is telling you what to desire. I literally laughed out loud when I read the sentence about the bridge from voluntary euthanasia to involuntary. Yeah, so obvious. That’s why all the people who are advocates for the right to die are advocates for being told the circumstances in which you are allowed to die. That’s why Oregon’s 17 year old “Oregon Death With Dignity Act” has seen counts of abuse. This is the slippery slope fallacy, clear as day.

A key quote from the original essay by Brittany Maynard:

I quickly decided that death with dignity was the best option for me and my family.

Notice that qualifier ‘me and my family’. Not ‘everyone’ or ‘anyone’ or ‘objectively’. ‘me and my family’. It is preceded by an analysis of the other OPTIONS laid out to her. As in, you could also do this or this or this, not ‘Objectively, you should be euthanized’.

Brittany is now promoting a euthanasia campaign with a group called Compassion and Choices.Compassion and Choices is an organization that advocates not just for doctor assisted suicide for the terminally ill, but also for people who have no physical ailments at all. So what I’m talking about here isn’t a slippery slope, but an explicit objective of the pro-euthanasia side. “

Misrepresentation. C&C advocates for assisted suicide for the terminally ill and for those who are mentally ill if expressedly outlined in a living will prior to being diagnosed with their mental illness (For example, C&C believes in the right for someone to decidde that if they are to ever be diagnosed with dementia in the future at a moment where they are currently considered mentally healthy. That and situations where someone is facing terminal illness are the only circumstances supported by C&C)

This guy could at least try to accurately represent the position of the people he disagrees with. If you have to just make crap up sentence after sentence then maybe you should reconsider your own position.

So Richard Dawkins said something stupid again:

Tweet from @RichardDawkins: "Of course Malala is religious now but give her time, she's only 17 & getting the education she fought for on behalf of girls like her"

Dawkins Being Dawkins

Of course, lots of atheists are going to cheer this on, because of course, as soon as someone gets an education, they instantly go from being ignorant and stupid to being wise and intelligent, and in the process, they give up all of their religious belief in favor of good, proper, rational, correct atheism.

(That was sarcasm.)

Because the way things work in the real world is that there is a modest correlation between someone becoming educated and someone losing their faith, but there are certainly well-educated and intelligent people who are religious, and there are absolutely uneducated and unintelligent people who are atheists. Dawkins here is falling into the same trap that so many (primarily) white, (primarily) well-to-do atheists from Western countries fall into that all religious people are ignorant, and that if only religious people were educated, they would become atheists. That this is problematic might not be immediately apparent, so let me break down the issues – with regard to both how much of an asshole he’s being here, and also just how logically unsound his argument is. I am coming from the perspective of someone who has done some research into worldwide education in general (and plans to become an educator one day), and who has some experience with the structural problems of the economies of developing nations specifically, so I do have at least some idea of the truth here.

Read More »

My friend Miri recently expounded on why rape and robbery are two different things. Her article is excellent and I highly recommended it, but it made me think a bit about why some people automatically go to theft when talking about an analogy for rape. And I think I’ve figured out why.

Rape is a violation – an entry without consent. In this way, perhaps an analogy to breaking and entering might be somewhat relevant, although similarly imperfect. So why do so many people talking about this go to theft? Not only does theft involve a violation, something has been taken.

For those of us who have experienced rape, something has indeed been taken – innocence, perhaps, or a sense of self-control/self-determination. But I don’t think that’s what people who talk about rape-as-robbery have in mind.

These tend to be the same people who think in terms of ideal rape victims – of pretty young women who are drugged and attacked by lust-filled men who need a sexual outlet. It’s not too far of a stretch, then, to imagine that what they imagine has been taken is the victim’s virginity.

I feel this is why so much of the discourse about rape in our society is centered around the idea of taking, and why so many people view it as something that makes someone impure. And what’s frustrating is that rape does involve taking – but it’s never the thing that people imagine has been taken. Virginity is a meaningless concept. A man who is anally raped by another man imagines that his “manhood” has been taken from him or harmed in some way. Rape doesn’t take any of these things away in a meaningful sense.

Rape takes away self-determination, peace of mind, and in sadly too many cases, innocence. But these aren’t the things our society values. These are the things that rape steals from its victims. Which is essentially why the rape-as-robbery analogy falls flat for many of us. How does one protect against their self-determination or innocence being stolen from them? By definition, the very protection against that act means we are already robbed of our self-determination.

Put another way: the existence of rape in and of itself is part of the robbery that rape is supposed to represent. Theft, robbery, or whatever other property crime one might want to substitute does not, to my mind, invoke a similar threat to one’s personhood. Thus why I say that rape is not robbery. It is far, far worse.

I want to start this out explaining who I am. I am cisgender, white, male, and queer (mostly in the “gay” area of the queer space, but I do not like that identity). I represent a pretty privileged position in society, which does of course color my viewpoint on anything I say.

Elaine Stritch died today. This hurt me at my core: she represents the epitome of a particular kind of woman I have always held as a role model: brassy, bawdy, outspoken, talented, and fabulous. In her time she might have even been called “ballsy”. When I was a little closeted gay kid in the 90’s who had to keep silent for fear of getting beaten up, I sought comfort in women like her, especially the female leads of rock groups like Garbage, Veruca Salt, and Hole. For me, these women who subverted society’s expectations of them were role models for me. They were loud, abrasive, and in-your-face. After I left high school and started becoming more confident in my identity, I felt a similar affinity for drag queens: transgressive and loud, these gender illusionists gave me life. Knowing that it was possible to say “fuck you!” to society and still come out okay on the other side… that was powerful stuff.

Realizing that women like Elaine are one of the reasons why I am so outspoken today got me thinking about cultural appropriation. Well, that’s not quite accurate. What got me thinking about it was this article a few days ago by a black woman telling white gay men to stop pretending they’re black women, and then this monumentally idiotic response from a white gay man telling black women to get over themselves and let gay white men do what they will, lest gay white men run home crying because they got their feelings hurt. (In case you can’t tell, I think the latter argument is so monumentally stupid that I didn’t even link to the original article, but to a rebuttal of it.)

But really, even *that* isn’t what got me thinking about cultural appropriation. What planted that seed firmly in my head was a conversation I had with my friend Ashton nearly a month ago, when she asked me what I thought about Iggy Azalea. I honestly wasn’t certain; I had heard just enough to know I wasn’t interested, but I hadn’t really paid attention. Ashton proceeded to play me a little bit of “Fancy“, and I admitted that it was catchy as hell. Ashton said “yeah, but I really have a problem that she’s white.” And all of a sudden, I did too. I mean, it just sounded wrong – a white girl from rural Australia sounding like she had lived her entire life in College Park… it seemed wrong. But I couldn’t quite put my finger on it beyond a simple “cultural appropriation is bad, mmmkay?”

But today, reflecting on the conversation going on surrounding what is and isn’t okay to appropriate and who’s allowed to do what, and reflecting on the things I have appropriated from my female/trans/POC friends, it hit me.

It’s not the simple act of appropriation that makes this stuff offensive. It’s the fact that it’s fake as fuck.

Iggy Azalea is putting on a character. She doesn’t write her own shit, she doesn’t come up with her own beats, and that voice she raps with was taught to her by her producers. If she had been a white girl growing up in College Park within that culture, and that were natural to her, I guarantee nobody would be hating on her the way they do. But as it is, she’s basically doing a blackface routine, making music that resembles music made by black people. And she’s gotten really successful doing so, which has the added effect of crowding out legitimate black talent. (Oh, and then there was that time she dissed Eve in the most tone-deaf way possible, and basically she just needs to go away.)

Mister Whitey McICanPretendToBeBlackIfIWantTo is in the same boat here. He’s playacting. Rather than taking inspiration from the struggles of oppressed people and using it to find his own voice, he simply imitates someone else’s voice, and poorly at that. And I feel that ultimately, that’s what makes it so offensive. When Vampire Weekend first came on to the indie scene back in the mid 00’s, they faced some criticism for appropriating West African rhythms into their music. However, they were upfront about where it came from, and ultimately the music they created was clearly not an imitation of African music – nobody would ever think a song like “Oxford Comma” came from anything other than a bunch of rich white kids, for example. They are inspired by someone else and used that inspiration to find their own voice. More troubling might be Major Lazer, who are also highly original, but appropriate in ways that seem more like imitation. (Plus there’s this downright racist and misogynistic and hella problematic bullshit that nevertheless has a beat that won’t leave your brain for days.)

The bottom line to me is this: expose yourself to other cultures. If another culture does something you like, learn more about it. Know what it’s all about. If it’s relevant to your experience, pay respect to it and maybe even use it yourself. But if you just like it and you feel like you want to imitate it even though it has nothing to do with you, don’t be surprised when you get accused of cultural appropriation. The truth hurts. Deal with it.

Fifty years ago today, Lyndon B. Johnson declared a War On Poverty in his State of The Union address.

It’s a war that we will never win, of course: there will always be those people who slip through the cracks of society for any number of reasons, whether through personal fault, societal oppression, or happenstance.

But it would be ludicrous to say that because we can’t eradicate it entirely, we shouldn’t try. Poverty is a horrible thing. It’s endemic to our society. It’s often invisible – how many of you, honestly, spend any amount of time in neighborhoods where every other house is boarded up, falling apart, condemned, or some combination of the above?

In the decade following LBJ’s declaration, the percentage of people in poverty fell from over 1/4 of the American population to less than 1/8. And it has been on the uptick ever since.

Our standard of living has improved since then. It is true that many people who live in poverty have color televisions and cars (that old canard that Republicans love to trot out). But these people are also often not food-secure, and they use their cars to get to jobs that don’t quite make ends meet. Color televisions are cheap these days. Food is not. And it is the height of intellectual dishonesty to claim that our standard of living is higher across the board when more people live in poverty now than did during the recession of the 1970s. Sure it’s true on paper. It’s most assuredly not true in the eyes of the elderly woman who gets her one meal a day from a charity and eats that meal in front of the color television she bought 20 years ago.

The War On Poverty can never be won. Not ever. But we can win battle after battle after battle in an effort to make life just a little bit better for our fellow humans.