Thursday, September 12, 2013

The day of non-judgment

What are you looking at, you racist, sexist, homophobic,
lesbianphobic, transphobic, Islamophobic, judgmental creep?

Melanie Sturm, an opinion writer for the Aspen (Colorado) Times, was grooving on "a glorious springtime visit to San Francisco" when she was shaken up by 
... a scantily clad, tattoo-festooned woman on whose neck and jaw was emblazoned the ultimate gotcha question: “Who are you to judge?” Disarmed and unnerved by her determination to discredit judgmental passers-by, and before I could Think Again, I felt shame. After all, what compassionate, well-meaning person could answer her question without seeming prejudicial? Don’t we judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin — even when it’s multi-variegated dragons or flowers?
Incidentally, Melanie, variegated means (according to Merriam-Webster) "having patches, stripes, or marks of different colors," so multi-variegated would be different colored different colors.

Melanie's shame at being judgmental about the tattooed lady is actually another form of the tattooed one's behavior -- based on the conviction that normality is conformist, narrow-minded, unworthy.

In my view, Melanie gets almost everything about this encounter wrong.

First, she does not recognize that the tattooed woman was not only being aggressive -- trying to upset and intimidate passers-by -- but was herself being "judgmental." That is, her body slogan assumed that anyone seeing her would have a "prejudicial" reaction.

Now it is true that outside of San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, and most college towns, many do find grotesquely tattooed people distasteful if not revolting. According to Melanie's description, the anti-judgmental crusader's body "art" was pretty mild compared to other examples. I can't bring myself to link to it, but if you don't know the depths of this contemporary self-mutilation and think you can handle it, go to Google Images and type "tattoos" in the search field.


And here is Melanie's second, and biggest, mistake. She has signed on to one of the fallacies of institutionalized rebellion: the idea that something being permissible for the sake of individual freedom means that no one must criticize it or reject the person who performs the act.

That is, not only is everyone allowed the most outrageous exhibitionism, they are supposedly entitled to approval and protected from disapproval.

No! Disturbed people have a right to make themselves appear loathsome, while others have a right to say, "You are disgusting and make me sick."

Melanie seems not to get any of this. Her problem is in line with the therapeutic value system she was raised in: the offense was in making Melanie feel bad.
Like the branding on her skin, this encounter, though fleeting, stuck with me. Whether wearing a scornful signpost to the world actually makes her feel good, it made me feel bad. Was this her intention? [Note to Melanie: Do you have to ask? Publicly expressed scorn is designed to make someone else feel bad.] Why provoke defensiveness and discord in a world that suffers from too much already? Wouldn’t she be happier if passers-by smiled rather than recoiled, and wouldn’t more smiling passers-by make the world a better place?
Melanie then goes off on a side trip about being diagnosed with cancer and people who helped her through her successful treatment. If she wants my sympathy, she has it -- the whole article is really about her, not a social phenomenon or someone else's behavior. If she valued warmth and kindness while undergoing cancer treatment, why did she experience "shame" because of someone trying to make her feel rotten?

"Don’t we judge people by the content of their character, not the color of their skin — even when it’s multi-variegated dragons or flowers?" But the "multi-variegated" dragons, flowers, and other less savory designs that nut jobs have permanently inscribed on their skin reveal the content of their character. They weren't born that way -- they chose to have it done to themselves. Bless their souls anyway. As for their personalities, sod them.


YIH said...

You ain't the only one with a bugaboo about tattoos.
I can't say I've ever seen tattoos that could truly be considered 'great' by any means. Think of it, those cigar boxes could (at least in theory) last 100+ years - and there are many oil paintings that have been around for several hundred years. A tattoo (at best) could only last 70-80 years before it (for all intents and purposes) is destroyed.
In the comments of the linked post I mentioned ''cat man'' that Auster had noted about. I speculate that after he got ''downsized'' as a computer programmer he discovered he couldn't get a job doing anything. When the money to live ran out - he 'checked out'.
On a somewhat lighter note I found a 'fake ad' from Saturday Night Live on the subject that really hits the mark. And while you may not care for NFL football I noted what I'd seen during the past Super Bowl, the current SF 49'ers Quarterback is heavily *ahem* adorned complete with 'sleeves' visible below the shoulder pads. He became the first Quarterback for that team to play in the Super Bowl - and lose the game.

YIH said...

Remember when 'Miss America' was about young women who were both good-looking and classy?
So do I. And this is neither, but boy do they lay it on thick:
''But that's not the only thing that sets her apart from most bombshells. The Miss America contestant also hunts deer with a bow and is an M16 marskman (markswoman?) serving in the U.S. Army while double-majoring in Chinese and chemistry at Kansas State. Oh, and she's working on her private pilot's license.''
Oh, BTW, she didn't win ;)

Steve Sailer said...

It's been said that the dominant ideology of the age is "freedom for aggression."

Melanie Sturm said...

Hi Rick,

I'm the author of the column you didn't like, linked to this blog post. I'm writing to you because I can see you're clearly very intelligent and articulate and I wanted to reach out, as a fellow conservative, to encourage you to consider ways you might channel your writing talents toward persuasion, and perhaps less toward pure opinion -- that is if you aspire to influence readers who don't already agree with you.

As the only conservative columnist on the opinion page of the Aspen Times (in radically liberal Aspen), I know I won't be read if I hurl red meat or play into the conservative stereotypes (insensitive and uncompassionate -- that was the one exit poll Romney lost to Obama in 2012, by a huge margin) that repel many Americans. You may have noticed that my motto is Think Again, with the tag line, you might change your mind. If I can't get people to read me and Think Again, I have no shot at getting them to change their mind. In a 46/46 country, my goal is to capture some of the 8 percent who can't stand the vitriol by countering false narratives and conventional wisdom.

I like to use pop culture to attract readers, and then I try to lead people to my conclusions by asking rhetorical questions rather then telling them what to think. That way, they "own" and are more likely to agree with the answer to the question.

My asking such obvious questions came off as naive to you, but my goal was to draw the reader into judging the behavior of the tattooed woman. Liberals don't like to judge, so one must be careful. Ultimately, I wanted readers to come to the conclusion you did -- that the tattooed woman's behavior was not only self-indulgent and angry, but it's ok to derive that judgment. In fact, it's laudable since the world is a better place when individuals are kind and compassionate, not self-indulgent and angry. A kinder and more compassionate world is undermined by selfish individualists who dismiss standards and codes of conduct.

But my bigger point, which I was inspired to make because of my personal experience over the summer and because we Jews were in the middle of the Days of Awe when we're supposed to be reflective and repentant before God, was this sentence: "What makes us matter in a world where we often can feel insignificant is not how we brand ourselves as individuals — it’s the mark we stamp on others’ hearts and the legacy we leave the world."

I'm sorry you missed the bigger point, which didn't escape most of my readers thankfully as the response to this column has been overwhelmingly positive. I'm still working through the emails..

Anyway, I am not writing to defend myself or admonish you, but to encourage. I'm glad you care enough to channel your considerable talents, time and energy toward improving our society and country. I wish you the best in your endeavors!

Melanie Sturm

Rick Darby said...


Thank you for your civil and interesting response.

I'd like to discuss some of the points you make, but that would be too long for the comments section. Instead, I will install them in another blog posting, probably the next one. Maybe as soon as tomorrow.

You've done me a favor -- I haven't written a post in five days, rejecting one subject after another on the grounds of having nothing worth saying about it. But we have some things to talk about.


Melanie Sturm said...

Hi Rick,

Looking forward to your next post and to our dialogue.

I enjoy smart conservatives (and occasionally liberals) who challenge me and help me Think Again! I might change my mind.....