Friday, July 02, 2010

In which Martin Cothran tries to explain satire and irony to Lisa Graas

When you are writing in an era that has experienced a cultural lobotomy, it is sometimes hard to get your message across.

Lisa Graas, who is apparently a Catholic blogger, takes notice of the little back and forth between Jake and I. Now I have said before that I find Jake's blog amusing--albeit not terribly reliable, since he is, by his own admission, something of a muckraking rumor monger. Still, I find myself laughing out loud at times. And since I find laughing out loud enjoyable, I find myself being grateful to him.

Since he makes me laugh, I basically look the other way when he directs salacious and fundamentally rude remarks my way, as he has several times over the last several days--and multiple times over the last several years. In what seems to me a charitable spirit, I just pass it off as the result of his fundamental inability to intellectually engage the issues he discusses on his blog. I think there is more to it than that, but, since I'm trying to be nice, I won't go into that.

But, again--despite his serious lack of manners--I enjoy him. I can even say I like him. I'm sure that, were we to actually meet, I could sit down and have a beer and a cigar with him--although, I admit, I would enjoy it all the more knowing that he probably hates smoke and detests beer. But I would try to suppress this latter kind of enjoyment in favor of the sheer enjoyment of his company and his sense of humor.

So anyway, after viewing Jake's comments, in which he calls me names, accuses me of bad motives, and threatens to reveal scandalous things about me that he has somehow gleaned from people I have never met, Lisa Graas turns her criticism on ...

... me.

Jake's comments she passes off as just something you would expect from someone who describes himself as a "dirty political commentator." He lowers the standards that apply to him and Grass can then accept whatever he says as par for the rhetorical course. I, on the other hand, have been identified by Grass as a "professional Christian," and am to be held to some kind of standard.

Graas apparently didn't notice that Jake and other prominent gays are the ones who are always accusing their critics of hate. You would think, then, that when they employ it themselves, they should be held to the same standard that they demand others abide by.

But let's pass that by for now and talk about Graas's criticism of me.

"Professional Christian"? I'd love to know how she derived this from what she has read (likely written by someone else). I'm a lot of things professionally--a writer, editor, teacher, media relations person, legislative relations person, and author, but I can't imagine where anyone would get the idea that I'm a "professional Christian." I comment on religious issues on my blog; I teach at a Christian school; I even go to church.

Is that all it takes? Is Graas a "professional Catholic" because she runs a Catholic blog, giving lectures to people she thinks are professional Christians the purpose of whose writing she clearly doesn't even understand?

I remember a couple of years ago when I was sitting in front of the House Health and Welfare Committee arguing against a bill that would have resulted in the forced vaccinations of middle school girls for sexually transmitted diseases. I sat down and presented the case against it, using arguments that mostly focused on the preservation of something called "freedom."

When I got finished, State Rep. Kathy Stein (D-Lexington) grabbed the microphone and began preaching a sermon about how I shouldn't bring my religious arguments before a state legislative committee. Then began waving an imaginary Bible in her hands and quoting scripture passages that militated against my case.

I had not made a single religious argument. Not one. The case I made was entirely based on reason and evidence, unlike hers, which was entirely religious in nature.

After reading Graas's criticism, I feel a little like I did at that committee table: bemused that someone looking at my arguments would give me a lecture on the religious arguments that I did not make, all the while employing religious arguments herself.

I suppose this kind of thing is the just an occupational hazard for a blogger: there are just going to be some people who simply don't understand what you're doing. In Grass's case, the problem seems to be a simple lack of understanding of the nature of my remarks. She says:
Mr. Cothran, professional Christian, responded by calling Jake and his readers lower life forms and went on to suggest that they be treated as such.

Graas apparently did not notice that what I was doing in the post she references is taking Jake's own professed view about human origins and applying it to his own behavior. It's not my view that I was purporting to take in the post, it was Jake's. I was criticizing Darwnism, Lisa, remember?

It's the Darwinists who view human beings as simply more complex (but not "higher" in the ontological sense) than the creatures "lower" than they are. In the Darwinist view there is no qualitative difference between humans and other animals: the only difference is their biological complexity. If you doubt it, try to use the word "higher" in relation to humans in some ethical sense and you'll get a little lecture from some Darwinist about how "higher" only has to do with complexity, not with ontological hierarchy.

If Grass has problems with people who think that humans are like animals, then her argument isn't with me, it's with people who actually believe that.

Now I'm going to explain to Lisa what I was doing, and in doing so (we need to be careful here to fully explain the poetic devices used just so there is no further misunderstanding), I am going to use a device known as "facetiousness," so be forewarned.

I was using something called "Satire." You are using satire (and another device called "irony") when you take someone else's view and employ it yourself to show how preposterous the view is. Your aren't purporting to believe the view you are taking, but actually to undermine it.

I wrote a satirical piece here a couple of years ago in which I championed the forced circumcision of all middle school boys, which was written as a satire of the attempt to force middle school girls to receive HPV vaccinations. I just took all the arguments they used for the administration of Gardasil, and applied it to circumcision, since research had shown the same kinds of health benefits.

Well, wouldn't you know it, some people took me literally, and railed against such an idea. How could I support such an obviously preposterous thing?


I suggest Graas put together a summer reading list strong on authors like the following: Mark Twain, Voltaire, Jonathan Swift, George Orwell, and Ambrose Bierce. Then, since she is a Catholic, she might want to throw in Catholic satirical writers like Walker Percy, G. K. Chesterton, Evelyn Waugh, and Flannery O'Connor.

Then she could at least have an understanding of what she is criticizing.


Michael Janocik said...

As a friend of both Lisa Graas and Martin Cothran, I felt compelled to weigh in and be a peace maker and also, though Lisa is well equipped to defend herself, to play the role of the man on a horse and defend a lady. It's a tough task, but I'll give it a shot.

First, I don’t believe Lisa Graas was using the term professional Christian derisively. In fact she said “there’s nothing wrong with that” at the beginning of her post. I think she meant it in the sense that Martin is a professing Christian.

Though there is rigorous debate amongst Catholic theologians over the role, if any, evolution played in how we came to be, Catholic theology is more interested in why we came to be. The development at this point in Catholic doctrine is that evolutionism, rightly understood, is not incompatible with the faith. Therefore many Catholics on the ground don't delve into the mish-mash of evolutionary theology as do some of our Protestant brothers and sisters. Maybe that is why Ms. Graas didn’t see the satire in Mr. Martin’s beastly style polemics against his Darwinian interlocutor.

I have to say, however, that Mr. Martin’s quit wit and biting satire in his response to Lisa may have done him in

Rather than, “Perhaps Ms. Graas didn’t understand the relationship I have with Jake and the satire I employed but I appreciate the call to charity and good will,” it seems to me, at least, that Mr. Martin launched a disproportionate, condescending, and therefore, uncharitable response.

I think his recommendations that Ms. Graas read the Harvard Classics over the weekend in order to understand satire might were particularly demonstrative.

Love ya both! Can’t we all just get along?

Lisa Graas said...

You spelled my name wrong, Mr. Cothran.

Martin Cothran said...

I certainly respect Mike's attempt to come to the defense of a lady. He's that kinda guy. I should point out, however, that I was not attacking a lady, but responding to an attack by one.

Mike conveniently skirts what Lisa said. Specifically, she said that I "used the tool of personal ridicule to paint him [Jake} as sub-human. I'm disappointed."

In other words, she questioned my integrity--and she did so by misrepresenting what I said. The further irony is that she came to the defense of Jake, who did the very same thing (and does so on a regular basis).

In fact, I notice that Lisa failed to print what Jake actually said on his blog. I doubt if she could have. But there was nothing I said which she could not have printed.

I am also a little mystified that Mike considered my response "disproportionate." Did he notice that, while she questioned my integrity, I did not question hers?

I have been more than charitable to Jake given his manner of response to me and will continue to do so. I have met his criticisms with extensive patience and what I consider good humor, which he has not done.

I also think that ridicule is perfectly appropriate in certain circumstances. In her post, I think Lisa confounded two different kinds of situation: the woman at the well on one hand, and prophets of Baal on the other. In the first case, you are obliged to treat the person with personal kindness and good will; in the second you can chop off heads.

I invite Lisa to read how Elijah acted in the latter circumstance. I place situations like that involving Jake squarely in the latter category. Given that historical precedent, I think my words can be considered rather mild.

In terms of Lisa's post, if you are going to publicly question someone's integrity, you have an obligation to get it right. Lisa did not.

There are no hard feelings. I don't even need an apology. I'm even glad to acknowledge Lisa's good intentions. But I do think that when you enter the public square--you have an obligation to make sure your criticisms, especially when they involve someone's integrity--are accurate.

In regard to the correction on Lisa's name, I can't find the misspelling, but I'll look again.

No problems here. Everybody's happy. Let's talk about something else.

Lisa Graas said...

It's misspelled at least twice.

Michael Janocik said...

I didn't skirt the issue. Presuming Lisa didn't understand your satire, for which I posted a legitimate reason, I would imagine it would be hard to conclude something other than personal ridicule based on your "subhuman" portrayal of Jake. I understood and thought they were funny and meant no harm because I've followed the evolution/creation debate. But, again, presuming Lisa missed the satire, what other conclusion could she draw?

Also, as I rememember, Lisa noted that because Jake is an atheist, he is not held to the same high standards as Christians. Why should he be? his evolution has no room for moral exegisis, which, of course was kinda the point of your subhuman rejoinder to Jake.

Now what I want to know is if Jake's subhumanness would be detected by Rand Paul's underground fence. Or would he have to wear a tinfoil hat, too. And would Paul's underground fences be certified by the American Board of National Security established by Rand Paul and his wife?

Have a great weekend all. Seriously, we're all bound in the Body of Christ against this culture of death together to be really ticked off at each other. That's what makes all this so much fun!

Lee said...

> Also, as I rememember, Lisa noted that because Jake is an atheist, he is not held to the same high standards as Christians.

Is this a moral standard we want to embrace? To wit, the best way to avoid criticism is to eschew standards?