Sunday, October 27, 2013

Debating from Ignorance

The repercussions from Oprah's recent televised stupidity involving the distance swimmer Nyad may end up leading to some positive discussions but that does not mean that she is herself a legitimate partner in such discussions/debates. She is, in fact, one of the worst possible candidates for such an exchange. I feel it necessary to clarify a little. I am biased when it comes to Oprah. I have for quite some time considered her to be a vile, ignorant, and arrogant media-whore.

My first impression of her from watching her talk show a few times in the 80s has not changed much. My soon to be sister-in-law convinced me to watch a few episodes with her. The first one I saw outright infuriated me. There were a few women she had brought on stage supposedly to speak out about rape. Both were rape victims themselves. When Oprah didn't get the answers she wanted as quickly as she wanted she badgered them until they broke down in hysterical sobs. The second show wasn't much better. A woman who suffered from chronic intense migraines was brought on to talk about the condition. Oprah did the same thing. The woman had just explained she was having trouble focusing on the questions because her meds weren't working very well. Rather than give her a moment to collect herself Oprah chose to viciously verbally attack her. For years after that I refused to pay any attention to her rising career.

After college a friend of mine convinced me that she had changed and was doing a lot of great things in regard to promoting history and literature I gave her a another shot. As it turns out nothing had really changed. Most of what she was peddling was not real history. Her episode on the then recent release of the movie Amistad was an excellent example. She was promoting the idea that all Americans of African ancestry were descendants of slaves. Though I agree that slavery is a shameful aspect of our history that should never be forgotten or excused I DO NOT agree with promoting false history to achieve it. Any one with an interest in history could easily discover that her claim was a blatant lie. For example the first African-Americans to end up in Virginia were indentured servants not slaves. There is nothing in the historical record that indicates they were treated any differently than the "white" indentured servants. Granted, such servants were treated like shit but it doesn't seem to have had anything to do with their ethnicity (authority and economics mattered). What of those individuals who migrated before and after the end of slavery? Were they ot real Americans? She has since established a rather terrible track record for promoting all sorts of faux-history and pseudo-science.

However, she is not the only one guilty of being an ignorant ass in the various comments and arguments that have sprung up around her exchange with Nyad. A recent piece on the International Business Times website, "Can Atheists Still Be Spiritual? Oprah Prompts Debate", is a pretty good example of how much of the "debate" is a bunch of drivel. It all seems to hinge on being completely ignorant of even the most basic terms and concepts involved. The big one, of course, is the idea being associated with "Spirituality." The simple answer is that atheists probably can't be "spiritual." The problem with pointing that out stems from the fact that the term is being misused and pressed into perpetuating a number of myths and biases. Spirituality is a religious term that cannot be separated from its supernatural underpinnings. Nyad screws up by accepting the term. Awe and wonder are not really synonymous. You can find wonder and beauty around the world without accepting any supernatural bullshit. There shouldn't really be a reason to debate the point that atheists are human beings. That is what assholes like Oprah seem to be trying to do. They want to make us seem less than human by insisting we can't have feelings and emotions like theists. So long as "debates" are set up this way there is no real point in engaging such blindly ignorant bigoted morons.

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