It's a put-on, right? Like Spinal Tap?

>> Thursday, December 27, 2007

I like Occam's Razor, but it's not always as useful as I'd like. Consider Ann Coulter. I can wait 'til you get back from the john. Are you okay? There's something on your chin you might want to--okay, you got it. Now--ready?--as I was saying, consider Ann Coulter. The way I see it, there's two possibilities:

  • She's really, really stupid.
  • She's a fake news commentator like Tina Fey when she was on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update" segments, only she's not pretty or funny like Ms. Fey. (Ms. Fey, I know you're married, but if you're ever in my area, call me. 'Kay?)

Occam's Razor suggests that the simplest of these explanations is most likely to be true. Ergo, Ann Coulter is really, really stupid. And yet that somehow seems improbable--wouldn't someone that dumb drown in the shower or something? Strangle herself tying her shoelaces? Maybe she's really smelly and wears bedroom slippers everywhere--but see, now our hypothesis is becoming increasingly complicated and therefore less-favored by our parsimonious principle.

The reason I'm writing this is because PZ Myers was talking about her yesterday on Pharyngula, specifically commenting on Coulter's proclaimed views on evolution and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee. (Myers' post title, "Huckabee not insane enough for Ann Coulter" sums up his post fairly well, although the line he uses to describe several chapters of Coulter's Godless: "an incoherent deluge of garbage," is pretty gear, too; his whole post can be read here.)

But as much as I like Myers--I have Pharyngula's RSS feed in Beatnik so I can get it fresh out of the oven--I have to admit I didn't quite take his word for it... actually, I lie: I completely took his word for it, but I was in the mood to laugh at some Grade-A crazy shit, so I went and read Coulter's column for myself, here. And that's what led to my musing on whether Coulter is legitimately dumb or just having a laugh at the expense of the American public. Also, I found myself worrying about her finances, since she relentlessly pimps Godless--I was under the impression it was a Times bestseller (and she says it is in the pimping), but maybe that doesn't mean as much as it used to. Anyway, considering her plaintive hyperlink to her bookseller and the way she always appears so damn scrawny in her pictures, it might be an appropriately seasonal act of charity to buy her book or, better yet, send her a sandwich or a can of soup. I'm not sure where you should send it, but maybe Premiere Speakers Bureau could forward it to her or have it waiting for her at an engagement.

Anyway, Ms. Coulter seems to think that media questions about whether Mike Huckabee believes in evolution or not reflect some deeper interest in critiques of evolutionary theory, as opposed, say, to wondering if a hypothetical "President Huckabee" would translate his religious beliefs into public policy--which, you know, might vaguely have some sort of implication to the outmoded belief that the First Amendment calls for some kind of separation of church and state. (I'm so glad the press is out front on this issue--what would happen if some future leader wanted to use taxpayer money to support religious groups, I ask you? Thank goodness the press stays vigilant, to keep that from ever happening!)

Accordingly, Coulter apparently is trying to expand her résumé by positioning herself as a "critic of Darwinism," possibly unaware that there are plenty of actual, evolution-believing biologists who are critics of classical Darwinism. More to her point (I'm going out on a limb to assume she has one), there are actually people who have some degree of scientific training who are critics of evolution and Darwinism, etc., who get called on to appear on television, testify in trials, and make public jackasses of themselves. That's not to say that you have to have a degree to be an effective (I'm using that word very loosely) proponent of creationism; I'm merely pointing out that it's already a very crowded field that Ms. Coulter is trying to get into. William Dembski, Michael Behe and some other people at the Discovery Institute already seem to have that market pretty well sewn up--I can't imagine it'll be easy to get gigs on the circuit, and I can totally imagine them pulling all sorts of awful pranks on Ms. Coulter--slashing her tires, ordering fake pizzas to her motel room, giving her the address to a furry convention instead of the right address to the big Creationist National Finals--to discourage her and cause her to quit. And then she'll lose her father's tire company or something equally terrible.

But then, suddenly in the middle of the essay (again, I'm using a word loosely), Ms. Coulter mysteriously abandons her bid to be a creationism expert and launches into a bit of a thing against gay people. (Perhaps she's not really a morning person--she apparently wrote this column before noon... oh wait, I think she wrote, "I'm usually done denouncing gays by 10:30 a.m., 11 tops," as a joke. Maybe. I didn't laugh. Did you laugh? Yeah. Okay. Moving along....)

What to make of this? Go read the column if you haven't already--you can't argue with her: it isn't coherent enough to argue with. Her column is a string of non sequiturs ranging from describing sorcery, phrenology and alchemy as "mystery religions" (I think she means "discredited ideas" instead of "mystery religions" or, since she is riffing off a quote comparing Darwinism to a "discredited mystery religion," perhaps she meant to write "Mithraism and Cult Of Dionysus" in lieu of... oh, never mind!) to... well, this paragraph (reproduced in toto):
Huckabee claims he opposes gay marriage and says Scalia is his favorite justice, but he supports a Supreme Court decision denounced by Scalia for paving the way to a "constitutional right" to gay marriage. I guess Huckabee is one of those pro-sodomy, pro-gay marriage, pro-evolution evangelical Christians.
I mean, read that. There are words, the words are in order, the words are in groupings that contain all the necessary parts of speech to form sentences. There are nouns and verbs and adjectives. And yet the second sentence really has nothing to do with the first--not even as rhetoric or propaganda. Oh, yes, I'm sure we all understand what the point was supposed to be--she thinks Huckabee is hypocrite or that his stated positions are otherwise inconsistent. But read those two sentences again. The only reason we think we know what she's saying is that we're all projecting what we think she's trying to say on what she's actually saying. It's not a good zinger, it's not a good anything: it's two distantly-related thoughts connected by our collective imagination.

Which is either a sign of mental incapacity (perhaps induced by having to resort to eating a Cheerios™ box found in a dumpster in an alleyway) or... the most brilliant hoax since Clifford Irving got three-quarters of a million dollars from McGraw-Hill for Howard Hughes' autobiography; a piece of performance art that makes Sacha Baron Cohen, Don Novello and Andy Kauffman look like dilettantes. Your pick.

I can't decide.


Wellsian,  Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 4:21:00 PM EST  

Third possibility: she is a demagogue. Her goal in that article is to smear Huckabee and she accomplishes that. Not with reason, of course, but by bringing up some bad words in the same context ("oh noes, she said he is a pro-sodomy evangelical, he cannot be the right choice!"). There is no "argument" made in this article - she assumes that people will respond not to argument but to rhetorical bluster and vague suggestions of impropriety. Unfortunately, for many of her readers this is quite enough.

Who was it who said "you'll never go broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people"?

Eric Wednesday, January 2, 2008 at 8:52:00 PM EST  

I've heard that quote attributed to Barnum, who knew quite a bit about bluster and bullshit. Wise man, that one.

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