“Books are tragically isolating.”

Found another example of “reverse rhetoric” to add to my collection.  This is Steve Johnson, from Everything Bad for You is Good: How Today’s Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter (2005), as quoted in Lindquist and Seitz, The Elements of Literacy (2009), 212-213.  Johnson imagines what commentators would be saying, had video games been in use before books.

Reading books chronically understimulates the senses. Unlike the longstanding tradition of gameplaying — which engages the child in a vivid, three-dimensional world filled with moving images and musical sound-scapes, navigated and controlled with complex muscular movements — books are simply a barren string of words on the page. […]

Books are tragically isolating. While games have for many years engaged the young in complex social relationships with their peers, building and exploring worlds together, books force the child to sequester him or herself in a quiet space, shut off from interaction with other children. […]

But perhaps the most dangerous property of these books is the fact that they follow a fixed linear path. You can’t control their narratives in any fashion: you simply sit back and have the story dictated to you. […] This risks instilling a general passivity in our children, making them feel as though they’re powerless to change their circumstances. Reading is not an active, participatory process; it’s a submissive one. The book readers of the younger generation are learning to “follow the plot” instead of learning to lead.

I had googled the phrase “Books are tragically isolating” to see if I could find the text somewhere so that I didn’t have to type it all myself. And I ended up seeing several examples of people arguing that books, in fact, are not “tragically isolating.” I thought that was interesting, in that Johnson doesn’t use this reverse rhetoric, this thought experiment literally, in order to actually make this argument, but to show the assumptions we often fall into when we react to what is new and/or different.


anti-gay biblical interpretation is a choice, too

Good morning. Oh how nice it is to get a full night’s sleep. I feel so much better and even kind of looking forward to the day’s work — grading the first 23 or 24 of my students’ research papers.

But first my mind’s been spinning a bit about homosexuality and Christianity. My friend Chanel asked me to help her out with a paper she’s thinking of writing, more specifically with help arguing that Christianity is simply wrong when it condemns homosexual relationships. (Side note: her request was also kind of cool because her ideas for her paper actually coincide with some inchoate new ideas for my Charlotte Gilman paper. (I was writing on Gilman’s Herland. Now I’m probably going to move over to The Crux.)

Anyway! I made a list of the best books by biblical scholars and theologians supporting full inclusion and equality for gay Christians (I have only two books from a Jewish point of view and none yet from a Moslem view) to give to her.  I’ll probably post it later. It’s long.

I also looked for videos that could give Chanel a quick overview of the issues and the “clobber passages.”  Came across this one from a West Wing episode. I remember this.

I can’t help but love that. It’s a powerful scene. But I also can’t help but sigh and think… “Well, that’s good, but it ain’t gonna convince many anti-gay Christians.” It’s rather a straw-man argument. It just focuses on Leviticus. By leaving off the other “clobber” passages — in Genesis, Romans, Corinthians, Timothy, etc — at the most it would only put a dent in one-seventh or so of the argument that the bible condemns homosexual relationships.  It’s really Paul’s epistle to the Romans that’s the harder one to deal with. I think all of the other passages — they can be pretty easily interpreted as talking about non-consensual relationships or about something other than same-sex relations altogether. But Paul is a little harder to deal with.

I actually think that, in Romans 1 and 2, Paul is trying to get his (mainly Jewish) readers to realize their own arrogance and sin when they condemn “those pagans” and their horrible practices. (Here is theologian James Alison’s version of this argument.) But Paul’s thinking is just in general harder to deal with — if you are someone who values Paul’s views, of course. (If not, like the creator of this excellent video called “Homosexuality and Christianity,” you can just say “Paul is wrong,” and that solves the problem.)

Anyway! Where was I? Oh, just that I love this West Wing clip, but it’s kind of a straw-man argument. Or, it only address one facet of anti-gay biblical interpretation.

And finally, since I really gotta get to my day’s worth of grading, I just wanted to post this one quick thought, and make myself wait until tonight to say anymore.

It just occurred to me that we could see biblical interpretation the same way many religionists see homosexuality.

The anti-gay interpretation of scripture is the default interpretation, really. It’s the non-thinking interpretation. It is what has become the automatic assumption of centuries (though many passages that are used now to condemn homosexuality, for centuries were used to condemn other practice).  In other words, relatively few people come to the conclusion, after studying a pericope or book of scripture that homosexual relationships are abominations. Instead they start out with that assumption. Not that anti-gay or even semi-objective interpreters (though who really is objective?) don’t study the scripture and still come to the same conclusion. They do. NT Wright is a theologian whom I greatly admire,and who has studied the New Testament in the kind of depth that few on the planet over the centuries ever has or ever will, but who still thinks we are called to be at least highly skeptical of homosexual relationships. Wright is a notable exception to my rule. But the default interpretation of the “clobber” passages is that “homosexuality is a sin.”

So, it occurred to me to say to those who still interpret the scriptures the default way need to be reminded — maybe even preached to? — that interpretation is a choice.

The anti-gay religionists’ logic is this: “Homosexuality is a choice. Just because it’s automatic for you doesn’t mean it’s not a sin, and doesn’t mean you didn’t sin by choosing it.” Assumption / warrant: homosexuality is a sin.

But the same logic could be applied to back to those anti-gay religionists: “Anti-gay interpretation of the Bible is a choice. Just because it’s automatic for you doesn’t mean it’s not a sin, and doesn’t mean you didn’t sin by choosing it.” Assumption / warrant: homophobia is a sin.

Heheh, I like that. It works. It’s kind of an example of “reverse rhetoric.”

And now,  to grading…

pathos and perspective on prop 8

Okay, just a couple more Prop 8 things. This one is another example, maybe, of “reverse rhetoric” — in the sense of re-casting a proposition from another (in this case, historical) perspective. Maybe I need a new term: perspective rhetoric? Hmm, anyway… I wonder if this one would/could be more effective (and affective) than the one in my previous post (the one imagining a commercial against inter-racial marriage in 2008). This one got to me more. What does anyone else think?

And this one is pretty good, a combination of pathos, logos, and historical perspective. And ethos.

And this one strikes me as an even better example of pathos as well as logos.

Jon Stewart, Sonja Eddings Brown, Chuck and Larry

I caught this Jon Stewart segment on TV this morning, about California’s Prop 8. (Sorry, can’t figure out how to embed it — don’t think wordpress allows it :( )

November 3, 2008: I Now Denounce You Chuck & Larry


Pretty funny, though I wish Jon Stewart hadn’t ended it the way he did (using the stereotype of homosexuals as predatory), but…

Two things, though. First, this Sonja Eddings Brown statement that

We do know that since the dawn of time, and through current studies, children do best when they come from a low conflict home with a mother and a father

— yikes, that is one of the most pernicious myths out there. Or one of the most perniciously mis-used ideas out there. I have looked at a few of these studies (when I was working at the YVCC writing center, tutoring students who were writing arguments about gay marriage), and none of these studies came to any other conclusion but that emotional and economic stability were the key to the welfare of children. Not the genitals, or even gender, of the parents. And so the reason “a low conflict home with a mother and a father” works well for children is because 1) it’s low conflict (by which I assume Brown means “emotionally stable”), and 2) there’s a father, and because men tend to be more economically stable, a father in the household tends to create more economic stability, and 3) having two parents means more economic and emotional stability (two wager earners and/or two nurturers and supporters).  In other words, if these researchers surveyed a statistically significant sampling of all make-ups of couples, they would find that it is the economic and emotional stability of the family which nurtures children, and nothing else. Or, to put it yet another way, these researchers might then conclude that father-father families tend to be the ones most advantageous to children — because there’s emotional stability (two parents) and because there’s economic stability (two male parents, two male incomes = much higher chance of economic stability). But then we’d have to ban mother-father marriages and mother-mother marriages. But if that’s the logic…

Also, even IF the “mother and father” hypothesis were true (i.e., if it were somehow proven that mother-father parents tend to do better than father-father parents or mother-mother parents)… even then, the reasoning there is still basically, “We should only allow people to marry who have the best chance of nurturing children.” Then a whole hec of a lot of people should be banned. We’d have to start restricting marriage licenses to those who don’t make enough money, who are not emotionally stable enough. Hmmm, gets pretty messy! But we wouldn’t do that. We’d realize we had no right to do that. But why are a majority of California voters doing it now? Because in this case, it’s a scapegoating mechanism. It’s “society is having trouble with our families. Hmmm, must be SOME body’s fault. Let’s blame the homosexuals.” In other words, when it’s one class of people, another class of people can somehow delude themselves into thinking taking-away-rights is okay. But when it’s not a class of people, we have harder time doing it (fortunately), and we’re more likely to wake up and realize we don’t have the right to restrict others’ rights.

So, it’s just sad. It’s sad that more people don’t realize that our work ought to be toward creating emotional and economic stability for our children, not scapegoating a certain class of people (a class which includes me) for our failure to create that stability.

Okay! So anyway, the other thing is that I think the end of Jon Stewart’s segment is a great segue into this next video. The last two speakers, two black men, who want to keep homosexuals from having rights… But maybe a video like this one MIGHT help them wake up a bit. Maybe?

I am so interested in this whole rhetorical move of “reverse rhetoric.” That’s the loose term I using to describe it — i.e., any way in which an proposition is cast from a new perspective — either from an opposite side’s view or from another time period’s view (like this one) — in order to help hearers / readers to realize their own previous blindness.

prop-8-free-speechOkay, finally, don’t get me on this whole “Prop 8 = free speech” thing. That is one of the clearest examples I know of people using one argument to whitewash their real argument. In other words, it’s really, “I don’t like gay people. I’m afraid of them. But I know I can’t say that outright. So I’ll just put the focus on my free speech and not on what I’m actually saying.”

seeing through world maps

I saw a “McArthur’s Universal Corrective Map of World” tonight, and it got me thinking about maps as great examples of the constructedness of our perceptions, and about “upside down” maps as great examples of “reverse rhetoric.”

I just wish McArthur and this mapmaker (at right) would have simply labeled their maps “World Map,” instead of “Universal Corrective” or “Upside down.” Those terms spoil some of the effect, I think. The mapmakers ought to draw no attention to their supposed non-“standard”-ness and simply present themselves with the same confidence and assumption of dominance that “standard” maps use. It seems like that would shake up perceptions better, would make it harder for someone seeing it for the first time to simply slough it off as a curiosity.

Then there are the Peters Projection Accurate Area maps, which show the true (i.e., smaller) size of North America, Greenland, Europe, and Russia, etc — and the true (i.e., larger) size of Africa, South America, and Australia, etc.

How about a South-dominant Peters projection map? We should use those as well as Pacific-centered maps.

Meanwhile, check out this little piece called “Dreaming Upside Down” by Tom Peterson. At first, it struck me as a little extreme, but then I realized it’s probably an accurate, if playful and extreme, description of the panic us northerners would feel if our artificial dominance were actually suddenly lost to the south.


In my dream, a cloud of anxieties closed around me. The United States was now at the bottom. Would we have to stand upside-down, causing the blood to rush to our heads? Would we need suction-cup shoes to stay on the planet, and would autumn leaves fall up? No, I remembered, an apple once bopped Newton on the head – no need to worry about these things.

Other things troubled me more. Now that we’re at the bottom, would our resources and labor be exploited by the new top? Would African, Asian, and Latin American nations structure world trade to their advantage?


Gay Scientists Isolate Christian Gene!

Oh my gosh, too funny! Check this out. Here’s another good example of the power of reverse rhetoric to add to my collection.

“Gay Scientists Isolate Christian Gene” The gay Christian part of me just loves this and laughs out loud, while the just-Christian part of me cringes a little, too. But it’s meant to deconstruct and disturb, so one side can feel what’s it’s like for the other side. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), I am both sides.

Okay, this one’s pretty funny, too: “Brokeback Mountain: Christian Edition.”

reverse rhetoric (“The Writing Center’s Travelling Roadshow” skit)

Here’s the student paper that I referred to in my previous post (three examples of reverse rhetoric).  Back in ’02 or ’03, we reversed the genders in it (and made a few other minor changes, if I remember right) and used it in our “Writing Center Travelling Roadshow” skits.  We went into classrooms and did a little presentation about the Writing Center, including a mock consultation using this paper.  That it was such an extreme paper (in tone, bias, etc) helped us to illustrate what we do during a consultation (and how calm and objective we can be even when what’s being said is off-the-wall or offensive).

The battle has been going on for a long time now.  The men of our society claim that they don’t have the same rights that women do.  Pick up any magazine and I can guarantee that you’ll find an article with some man whining and moaning that he isn’t as equal as the woman living next to him.  What a joke!  As far as I’m concerned men shouldn’t be equal to women even though they can be in many, many areas.  I think it looks utterly ridiculous when a man is doing a job mainly directed at a woman.  That’s just my opinion.

            I know men don’t like to hear this, but from the beginning there were jobs meant for men and there were jobs meant for women to do.  When you take a male and put him in a female-directed job, you’re going to have problems!  For example, in my home town there is a hospital that hired a man as a nurse.  He could never make it as a nurse, so they gave him the job of making appointments for patients.  Believe it or not he cannot even handle doing this.  A female can’t take out the trash, change the oil, or clean out the gutters like a man.  I’m a female and I’m not afraid to admit that, but heaven forbid a male to ever admit that they’re not qualified as a female to do a female’s job.

            I think we should just keep things the way they have always been.  Again, I believe that there are jobs that God meant men to do and there are jobs She meant women to do.  Most of the time when a man tries to do a female’s job, things just don’t work out.  I wish the men would just bury the hatchet and let things be the way they were before.