In which I try talking about elephants with strangers on Facebook

So, I got invited to a Facebook group with ~300 members, only one of which I know, and that one being disconnected from all of the rest of my network. What an interesting social experiment!

I was invited because of a post I’d put on a racist comment on that friend’s wall, and so I knew I was strolling into a “blue team w/ designated assholes who play at trolling and/or conservatism, but who don’t, you know, play to win” kind of discussion area. Perhaps for that reason, I just strolled confidently into one of my favorite conversational topics: elephant trauma and the implications for violence among other social mammals. Maybe it was just an instinct that fortune favors the bold.

Here’s the post:

Hi y’all. New here. Here’s a first post.

Thesis: A major driver of male violence is a failure of socialization. Societies are probably not in our lifetimes going to be able to prevent male violence entirely, but where two neighboring societies, otherwise similar, diverge in terms of one having much more male violence… well, you may not need to look further than asking if the violence is connected to the society being worse at providing meaningful social connectedness to its men.

If anyone feels like disagreeing with that thesis, well, come at me. But first, here’s a provocative question:

Would you change your mind if there were solidly documented evidence that social isolation, or nasty socialization, can make male elephants–a famously social and gentle animal–form into all-male packs exhibiting such behavior as running down, pinning, trumpeting their victory, and only then killing human beings? What about if these groups of male elephants were also running down and raping and murdering rhinos?


You’re confused, and a little upset. Rhinos Raped? Sounds like a Mel Brooks joke. Yes. Rhinos. Raped. Now you’re asking… How much nasty socialization does it take to make an elephant into “that kind” of elephant? What are we talking about here? Well, how about being orphaned by poachers (who took mom and dad’s tusks, but didn’t have an interest in junior, who was too small to have any ivory)? How about eventually being driven by fear and hunger into departing from a snuggle-vigil with one’s dead parents, and then being raised by an abusive all-male group of elephants?

Still not convinced this is about loneliness and love and self-expression?

What if you also learned the elephants–the rhino-rapists who like ceremonial human murder… what if you learned they got put in rehabilitation parks designed for retired circus elephants, and given time enough to socialize normally… they got better?

Better you ask? Better how?

Yes, better to the point where they are very close friends with humans, and bond so closely with one human that, the human trusts them enough to hang out with them without any fence or concrete pylon or etc. But more than that. Better to the point where the rehabilitation place released them into the wild, where they successfully integrated and started families of their own. But more than THAT. Better to the point where they followed the elephant tradition of traveling–even if it takes a hundred miles–to introduce toddler-age elephants to their grandparents. Except here, the elephants travel back to the elephant park to introduce their children to the human they’ve bonded with.

Now ask me again if this is about socialization.

OR better yet, go read the article-the WHOLE DAMN THING if necessary, and yes, ermigawd, it’s like ten pages of dense NYTimes Mag writing. Suck it up. Now go post it to somewhere that someone prone to seeing the world in black-and-white, good-and-evil terms is a little more likely to come across it than here in a closed group of think-alikes.

here’s the link again:

I mean, actually, I don’t really know any of you (well, I know exactly one of you) but I’d probably love you if I met you, and you shouldn’t ever change. But you know what I mean. Don’t save it all up for private groups. Be friends with men who aren’t that good at it.

And also, if you disagree, come at me, cause that’s what this is all about.

So far, I’ve just gotten people adding comments that mostly chime in or agree–no real argument at all. Maybe I overdid it? A condition of joining the group was not to quote anything anybody else puts there without permission. I think it’s cool if I share the good links and specific ideas some people added in… which seems to be mostly just this:

There but for grace of God and circumstance…

So, a friend posted to Facebook:

What’s the best way to handle someone in conversation with you sho says overtly racist or misogynistic things? Think: taxi driver. How about someone close to you? Think family member or friend.

I had a dream about it in which mostly I just cried and then asked them to read some books I was recommending. Doesn’t seem actually effective. Would love to read y’alls thoughts.

Amid a lot of comments that aimed at commiseration, and a few enjoyable gifs like a cute kid spouting off, “that’s racist!” I responded:

One helpful phrase to keep in mind (and to get them to keep in mind, if possible) is “there but for the grace of god.” If people assume other people are mostly like them, but different because of external, historical, or other reasons, they usually do a much better job of achieving an inoffensive understanding of how the world came to be the way it is. If people don’t keep this phrase in mind, it’s not surprising that they may arrive at really offensive interpretations of the world. For one example, people who haven’t been reminded to keep “there but for the grace of god” in their minds, the default explanation for differing incarceration rates, across races, is that differences are a result of racial differences in criminal propensity.

In the same vein, there but for the grace of god, I wouldn’t have the phrase “there but for the grace of god” so nicely planted in my own brain, and so it would be me saying offensive things.

Another word for the challenge is how to cultivate sociological imagination. When we stop and think about how much of our present situation depends on forces beyond our control–good luck, or the grace of god, or whatever you call it–we tend to become more grateful and generous and forgiving.

A few days later, my friend posted this:

I hope you all take the time to read this. I don’t often write up such detailed encounters, but I think this story is so very important:

On Wednesday, as I was walking to the bus stop from my visit to Yad Vashem (the holocaust museum in Israel), I was greeted by a gentleman sitting on a bench across the street. For some reason, even though I was extremely emotionally raw, dehydrated and with low blood sugar, I decided to cross the street and engage with him. We had a brief conversation about how he’d visited Ft. Collins to speak at a church there about the ministry he runs to help poor people in Jerusalem. He said he had gone to the nearby forest to unwind. He said he liked the forest because there were no Arabs around.

Emboldened by my days of deliberation on this topic as well as my recent moving experience at Yad Vashem, I pushed back. I explained how frustrated I was with this sort of talk in Israel, that not all Arab people are bad, etc. He responded that they were dangerous. Ardent atheist that I am, I responded to this clearly religious man with [redacted name of your intrepid blogger here at briefliteraryabandon]’s phrase “there but for the grace of god.” (Aside: I personally believe in the sentiment behind the statement even if I don’t agree with the theology behind the exact phrasing.) He said that just this morning an Arab man had crossed the border and stabbed two people. I said, yes that is horrible; that is evil in this world but not all Arab people are evil. I started discussing how viewing Others in such a way is how tragedies like the holocaust occur and that I can relate because I can also catch myself doing the same thing (immediately assuming danger) in the US with our Others. But that I believe we should try to practice radical kindness if we hope to improve the world, etc.

We went back and forth like this for short while when something amazing happened: he told me I was right. That he had been wrong to say what he had said earlier; that is was mean-spirited of him. That he, a rabbi, had learned from me today. He then offered me a ride to my destination and we continued discussing a variety of interesting things along the way. He mentioned again as we neared our destination that I was blessed and that I had been his teacher during this time of repentance (we were squarely in the Ten Days of Penitence between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) and blessed him.

I have so many little stories like this (let’s call them spiritual blessings) from my time here in Israel. I sincerely hope I take the time to write more of them down so I can remember the openness and love I have felt in this time. I am writing this here now with the hopes that I can inspire at least one of my Facebook friends to keep on keeping on. Together let’s keep up the good fight for peace and love in this world even though it sometimes seems pointless. Amen.

I guess I’m recording this here, so I can point to it if anyone says nothing I wrote ever affected anyone.

Or maybe it’s because I haven’t been getting out enough lately. But, dear reader, before you judge, remember that there but for the grace of God, you too could end up consigned to advancing humanity one Facebook comment at a time.

In which I borrow’s sock puppet, and attempt to explain 12(b)6 motions and crappy journalism.

(This post was created with the help of a couple of sock puppets I pre-permission borrowed from I intend to put both through the washing machine once or twice, and return them before anyone over at Popehat notices they are missing.)


So! Did you hear I was proved right after all? 

I’m happy for you.

But aren’t you going to ask me what I was right about all along? 

Look, I’m kinda busy.

But this time I do understand something, and I knew it all along!  

A clock that is stuck at 5:00 is right twice a day, and when 5:00 rolls around, you could imagine the the clock saying, “I knew all along it was 5:00.” You probably are worse than the clock. Broken clocks can be fixed, but there’s no cure for stupid. So, uh, whatever it is, I don’t want to know.

Remember how I always said that the election was stolen by treason, and lots of people called me an idiot? 

See, you really could take a lesson from lots of people calling you something. They are onto something. Don’t let that make you feel lonely; lots of people are stupid. Just know that I despair of ever helping you.

Well a court just ruled that the Presidential Election was stolen.

Uh, look I would doubt a court had done that, even if it were a trusted news outlet, rather than my own sock-puppet telling me so. Anyway, whatever you were going to say a court had ruled, I’m refusing to engage with you. I don’t see a benefit to speculating wildly about an ongoing investigation into how much the Trump campaign knew about or encouraged the Russians to meddle in our election. Move along.

Yes, but look at this headline: “Court Admits DNC and Debbie Wasserman Schulz Rigged Primaries Against Sanders.”

Satan’s whiskers you’re a persistent idiot.  What part of “Move along, please” didn’t you understa—wait. You’re not even talking about Russia… You’re stuck on the primary. There is no way this is worth my time.

It’s from, and “Observer” is an English-speaking word that sounds trustworthy, so that means it’s written by trustworthy Americans who want to give me good information, right?  

There are so many things wrong with this sentence. Please just stop. Every new thing you say just compounds the stupid. Move alo–

That’s what I was saying. It’s obviously fake news, planted by the Russians and the Koch brothers to destroy Hillary. 

God kill me there are two of you. As though one sock puppet wasn’t enough. I hope you cannibalize each other’s crusty bits and mutually choke to death.

That’s unkind. But whatever, I was just going to post this on the internet, for all my friends, so my friends that liked Hillary will know that anything bad about Trump is forever their fault for supporting her over Bernie…

And I was going to tell all my friends to boycott voting and stop reading fake news until they make Hillary Clinton chair of the DNC, and nominate Elizabeth Warren… 

Right. Blackmail me with threats to further derail civil discourse and the democratic process. I hate you both. I hope you both get stranded on a desert island with a horny teenage boy, for months. Months. Fine, I will explain to you why your understanding is about as misguided as a hungry bear humping a beehive.

Are you mixing your metaphors? Why is the bear humpin–

The point is, you’re confused about something very basic, and it’s probably going to hurt you in personal and embarrassing ways. And that I hate you. And yeah, maybe it’s a confused metaphor. You’re a sock puppet, you think you always get Shakespeare?

1. You know that the core story of the DNC emails was that a foreign power–Russia–which is effectively a dictatorship that hates freedom and the American Way, and which is currently waging low-grade war on some of its neighbors, and which is under severe sanctions from the U.S.–hacked the servers of the Democratic Party and released their emails out of context to make Bernie supporters, who would otherwise vote for Hillary as much better than Trump, stay home rather than support her on the theory that Hillary cheated. (There’s this idea that elections are over-determined, and so there are plenty of other things that, if they’d gone the other way, might have meant Hillary would have been elected. But I don’t expect sock puppets to understand that. Anyway, over-determined or not, there’s some folks in Russia who are congratulating themselves for hacking the U.S. electoral system.) Let’s just go with this: It seems like the Russian subterfuge of our election worked, and without it, Trump might not have been elected. The main questions, at this point, seem to relate to whether anyone on Trump’s campaign encouraged the Russians to do that, and whether any of them had Trump’s approval in doing so.

But her emails! All the crap we hate about Trump is Hillary’s fault–
Shut up! You’re just a woman-hater. All the crap we hate about Trump is the fault of the Bernie “bros” who didn’t show up to vote–

2. Okay sock puppets, please tone down the uncomfortable realism, that’s way too much like real, dysfunctional people. Let’s keep this cartoonish. Take a deep breath. Now re-read that paragraph up there, with the #1 before it. If you ask the Russians when they’re drunk enough to tell the truth, or the CIA or the FBI, that’s the gist of what happened. From the perspective of the Russians, it worked. From the perspective of Americans who want our elections to be immune to foreign meddling, we got played like bongos. Sucks, don’t it? The Hillary supporters/sock puppets can blame the Bernie supporters for falling for Russian meddling in our election, and not showing up, AND the Bernie supporters can blame the Hillary supporters for supporting Hillary during the primary. AND they can all blame the Never-Trumpers for being latecomers, who could have made the difference between Trump and not-Trump if they’d been louder sooner. And we can ALL blame Jim Comey and the FBI and the CIA for not ringing alarm bells about deliberate foreign intervention in our election. Everyone is to blame. SO. How’s this for an idea: we could focus on finding common ground–can Dems all agree on Trump being awful, and try to make 2018 and 2020 a little less awful than 2016?

But the headline–

The headline is wrong. Go back and read #1 and #2. I haven’t read the article, but is hardly a quality news site, (for one, it famously likes to push a pro-Trump angle in sophisticated ways, such as by pitting Hillary and Bernie people against each other) and legal reporting is hard enough that even good journalists get it wrong all the time…

But the article block quotes the court, and it’s really pretty clear–

Fine. I will read your craptastic article, and try and explain in small words what kind of steaming turd it is. The article block quotes the court, as follows:

“In evaluating Plaintiffs’ claims at this stage, the Court assumes their allegations are true—that the DNC and Wasserman Schultz held a palpable bias in favor Clinton and sought to propel her ahead of her Democratic opponent.” 

3. You know, this is really pretty clear. But it’s really pretty clear in the opposite way you–idiot sock puppet that you are–are taking it. The court is making the stated assumption not because it is true, or even because it is likely, or even merely plausible. Rather, the court is asking the “even if” question, which courts use all the time to throw out lawsuits. Here’s how it works. Person A sues Person B by filing some paperwork with a court. Person B then asks the court to ask, “Even if all the things Person A is suing about happened, would Person A be entitled to get a court order that Person B do something, such as pay Person A money?” In lawyer-speak, this is what the court does when a party files a motion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(2). 

In relevant part, Rule 12(b)(6) reads, “[A] party may assert the following defenses by motion…  failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted.” 

Here’s an example. Say Red Sock Puppet and Blue Sock Puppet bring a law suit against a particular teenage boy, who you accuse–in a very colorfully detailed and even downright lurid court filing–of conduct directed at yourselves amounting to “an affront to the dignity of sock puppets everywhere.”

You’re gross and offensive. Are you sure you’re not a Bernie “bro”? 

Yeah, well screw you, sock puppets. You started this.

So say the teenage boy files a 12(b)(6) motion in response to your having sued him. The court will then assume that the teenage boy in question behaved exactly as you accuse him of behaving, without taking any evidence from you or even looking at the teenage boy’s version of events. The court will make this assumption for the sole purpose of determining whether or not to throw out your law suit. Since the law does not protect sock-puppets from any or all of the indignities to which socks may be used, the court would throw out the suit without ever giving the teenage boy a chance to defend himself, and somewhere in the opinion–which would probably be very short–would be a line like this, “For purposes of this state of the proceedings, the court assumes that Teenage Boy did all the untoward and deeply depraved acts which Plaintiff Sock Puppet accuses him of committing.” 

Journalists worth any spit figure out pretty quickly how completely unfair it would be to the Teenage Boy in question to publish an article under the headline, Teenage boy did untoward and deeply depraved acts to Sock Puppet. Lots of news outlets get this wrong and publish crap. Sometimes I sincerely suspect many of them–yes, including, of deliberately misconstruing what these court rulings mean, because that way they can get a lot more eyeballs reading their news.

In conclusion, (although I’m making several inferential leaps without explaining them because I’m tired of this topic) when stupid, credulous idiot sock puppets re-post “news” about court rulings from crappy sources, you reward journalists for teaching teenage boys how to abuse sock puppets, and contribute to sock puppet misery everywhere. Repent! 

This still doesn’t make sense, and I don’t like being threatened. I still think you’re just trying to cover for Hillary and Wasserman Shulz, and I’m tired of listening to you. I’m never asking you anything again.

I think you’re a Bernie bro, so I’m done with you.  

Really that’s great. Just great. Please stay gone.

Federalist #1 and Donald Trump

With the inauguration of Donald Trump coming up soon, and with the histrionics of many on the left, and the arrogance displayed by many on the right (there was something very arrogant about the House Republicans trying to downgrade their own ethics office in their first week on the job), it can be helpful to seek out one of the most rhetorically masterful calls to sober reason ever written, to persuade us not to lose our heads.  Enter Alexander Hamilton with his first of many in a series: Federalist No. 1.

Whether you take the view that the election of Donald Trump was calamitous, or merely the avoidance of the greater calamity–we can all agree that the stakes were high. “A wrong election of the part we [have acted], may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.” Our President-elect (and soon to be president) won the election, with some help from foreign spy work, while losing the popular vote by almost 3 million votes. Not exactly an auspicious beginning–and that’s on top of what was possibly the most vitriolic and fearful campaign in living memory.

Wouldn’t it be so much less odious and counter-productive, all around, if we could look forward to as gracious an inaugural speech as Hamilton’s Federalist No. 1? Wouldn’t it be delightful if, having been sworn in, President Trump were to take a deep breath, and then say, “So numerous indeed and so powerful are the causes which serve to give a false bias to the judgment, that we, upon many occasions, see wise and good men on the wrong as well as on the right side of questions of the first magnitude to society. And a further reason for caution, in this respect, might be drawn from the reflection that we are not always sure that those who advocate the truth are influenced by purer principles than their antagonists. Ambition, avarice, personal animosity, party opposition, and many other motives not more laudable than these, are apt to operate as well upon those who support as those who oppose the right side of a question.”

Would it not be even better if his next remark was to extend his personal gratitude to everyone who is willing to work for the betterment of the country, whatever their view, so long as they are civil and willing to exchange ideas freely and civilly?

For some reason, I do not strongly suspect his remarks will play to the intelligentsia, and vaunt his willingness to win over his opponents–or be won over by them–with reason. “For in politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.”

If he were then to say, simply, that he promises his will be a term of patience and openness. Wouldn’t that be nice?

“On the other hand, it will be equally forgotten that the vigor of the government is essential to the security of liberty; that, in the contemplation of a sound and well-informed judgment, their interests can never be separated; and that a dangerous ambition more often lurks behind the specious mask of zeal for the rights of the people than under the forbidding appearance of zeal for the firmness and efficiency of government. History will teach us that the former has been found a much more certain road to the introduction of despotism than the latter, and that of those men who have overturned the liberties of republics, the greatest number have begun their career by paying an obsequious court to the people, commencing demagogues and ending tyrants.”

I do not harbor suspicions that we have elected Alexander Hamilton. But I did learn a lot from reading Federalist No. 1.