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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Responding to Creationists, Cranks, Conspiracy Nuts, Zealots, Deniers of All Stripes, and other Crazies.

A couple of days ago, I made a smart Alec comment on Facebook.

This is not unusual, I make a lot of smart Alec comments on Facebook.

But in this case I was commenting about the Texas School Board’s recent decision to remove discussion of any religion other than Christianity from US history books and to actively foist their warped, verifiably wrong, and willfully incomplete view of history on America’s school children.  Specifically, I said, “I’d like to personally thank Texas for rolling the US educational system back to the 14th Century.” Way to go, douchebags and etc. With a link to Phil Plait’s Bad Astronomy Blog at the Discover Magazine and a discussion of the same topic from the view of an actual no-foolin scientist who spends an admirable amount of time slapping around stupid people.

It didn’t take long for a creationist to show up, and not just a creationist but a global climate change denying, Big Bang denying anti-evolutionist who doesn’t understand the difference between the origin of life and the origin of a species. Here’s his comment:

Evolution has about the same evidence as global warming. No transitional forms and no missing link. Look it up. Even the Big Bang doesn't make sense without a creator or cause. Darwin’s book Origin of the species never addresses the Origin of the Species.

People seemed think I was going to debate this guy, and while I found their comments amusing – there was no way I was going to do anything other than point and engage in ridicule. Not that he wouldn’t have been easy to rip apart, mind you, and in fact I count over a dozen things in that ridiculous paragraph that are verifiably wrong, provably so, definitively so, obviously so, beginning with the fact that my post had nothing whatsoever to do with either global climate change or evolution but rather the Texas school board’s decision to edit out an enormous historical contribution to human history, science, culture, and language because they don’t like Muslims and don’t want them portrayed in a favorable light. Ever. This pisses me off. I don’t give a flying fig what kind of ignorance they wish to indulge in down there in the land of pointy-toed boots, giant hats, and horny toads, but when their nonsense impacts my child’s education and makes my country the laughing stock of the of civilized world, then they are making it my business. I would feel the same way about it if they’d decided to edit Jesus out of the history books – if Jesus had actually invented optics, developed advanced mathematics and medicines, preserved human knowledge throughout the Dark Ages when Europe had fallen into illiterate feudal savagery while his Church was busy spreading the Black Death and burning people for hearsay, carried science and civilization to a third of the known world in his caravans, or explored more of the planet than the fifty miles of desert surrounding the place where he was supposedly born. It is true that I could have resoundingly debunked that creationist nonsense. Hell, I could have done it when I was ten.  Scientists like Plait and Michael Shermer make a career out of refuting this kind of bullshit, and I admire them for it.

But it doesn’t make any difference.

Not to the crazies anyway.

And it is my policy not to engage in debate with willfully stupid people.  Mostly I point and laugh. When that doesn’t work, I tend to resort to violence.

Now look, I’m not saying that debunking the cranks isn’t an honorable and worthwhile endeavor and a crappy job that has to be done. But people like the commenter mentioned above simply don’t operate within a fact based, reality oriented framework. Through design or defect, they are functionally incapable of processing input in a rational manner. Instead they see the world through some kind of warped goggles the way a mental patient views the world and no amount of debunking will ever change their delusional outlook. Period. In other words, it doesn’t matter how debugged the program is if the processor circuitry adds 2 and 2 and gets the square root of negative one, and in fact always returns (i) no matter what numbers you put in. You can keep plugging in the proper values, checking and refining your input, but the machine relentlessly spits out (i) and only (i). That’s exactly what it’s like to debate a creationist, or scientologist, or a moon landing denier, or an anti-vaxxer.

Oh, you can maybe force these nuts to eventually modify their silly nonsense – take for example how Creationism evolved (sorry) into Young Earth Creationism (Dino Variant) when the creationists simply could not deny overwhelming fossil evidence any longer. Like a psychotic incorporating the doctor and mental ward into his delusional world, the creationists simply put vegetarian dinosaurs on Noah’s Ark and then twisted bible quotes to make them fit. When debunkers pointed out that it would have been impossible to feed such creatures on an extended sea voyage, let alone shovel hundreds of tons of dinosaur manure over the side every single day in pitching seas (you know, like you would have when God drowns the whole damned (heh) world), hell eight people with shovels couldn’t do it in calm seas – and never mind the utter idiocy of this scenario in the first place. Creationists then decided that the thunder lizards were either carried onboard as eggs, babies, or that God put the full grown adults into some kind of divine stupor where the giant beasts neither ate nor shat. Asked where the creatures are now, Creationists claim they died out around about the time Jesus showed up.  God changed his mind about saving them apparently, the big sinners, guess they shouldn’t have eaten from the coconut tree of knowledge.  When the utter implausibility of the Deluge itself was painstakingly pointed out, Creationists invented an elaborate fantasy structure of an Earth that was as flat as a billiard ball (despite biblical references that contradicts this silly bullshit, not to mention, you know, actual science) and a globe-circling floating orbital water shield of Jesus that rained down for 40 days and nights to become a world drowning ocean that was also supplemented by geysers and fountains and other such juju magics and later just completely disappeared after turning into dinosaur bones or something – I mean, Jesus, web-toed Kevin Costner’s Water World makes more Goddamed sense and it had Jeanne Tripplehorn in a fish skin bikini. But, no matter what evidence is presented, the creationists will keep moving the goal posts like mental patients to persist in their increasingly elaborate and bizarre delusions. (Now, I suppose I must digress for a minute and admit to a certain mean spirited enjoyment when I see creationists get into deadly serious screaming matches over the fine points of their shared delusion – like when I listened to a couple of YECs arguing over the depth of the Deluge’s world girdling ocean, the point of their argument hung on a mere two foot difference (100 feet or 102 feet) based on what each of them thought it would take to drown a full grown brachiosaurus.  It was so like watching the class spaz argue to the verge of tears with the class dork over who would win a fight between the Gorn Captain and Boba Fett, entertaining if you have nothing better to do.) 

But see, that’s the point, I do have something better to do.

And it is neither my job nor my duty to debunk the idiots or pamper the mental patients.

In America, the Constitution may give these people the right to speak their bilge in public, but it doesn’t require that I have to respect it.

And I do not.

I cannot, and will not, suffer fools gladly. And I really can’t understand people who do.

Arguing with these people, attempting to reason with them, is a lost cause – because they are not reasonable people.

The only proper response to this nonsense is: Shut Up.

Let me give you an example.

Remember Marshall Applewhite?

Marshall was a fun guy. He got fired from his job for “emotional issues” (HR speak for “basket case”). In fact, he had a whole host of mental issues, which included hearing voices in his head and the belief that he was storing the preserved mind of Christ in his noggin (I guess if you’re going to keep Jesus in your head, you should have somebody for him to talk to – or at least cable basic). I don’t suppose it will come as a surprise to you that he was a big believer in UFOs and alien visitors.  Marshall, who preferred to be addressed by his secret space alien name “Do” (as in doodoo), also had himself surgically castrated, because, and dig this, the Jesus voice told him to cut his balls off. He founded an outfit named Heaven’s Gate.  Maybe you’ve heard of it – the whole bunch of them committed mass suicide back in 1997 so they could go meet an alien spacecraft hiding in the glowing tail of comet Hale-Bopp.

Marshall was nuts, right? (or rather no-nuts, if you want to get technical about it).

Here’s the thing, he didn’t get that way overnight. He didn’t just wake up one day and decide to cut his balls off. He got there a piece at a time, little by little, over years and years, because people indulged his bullshit rather than telling him to just shut up.

I know, I know, I see you over there waving your arms. You going all 1st Amendment in the face and shit. Hang on.

Hear me out.

You’re sitting on a bench, reading a book, enjoying the sun, poisoning the pigeons in the park. Whatever it is that you do in the half hour when you’re not pestering me here. This strange old dude with a funny walk and bleached hair comes mooching up. He asks if he can sit down. He seems harmless enough, so you nod to the empty half of the bench, and raise your eyebrow so he knows not to start anything.  He sits down in sort of a weird space alien sort of way, and after a minute says: “Say listen, after work a bunch of us are going down to Mexico for margaritas and to have our funberries hacked off by a drug lord’s plastic surgeon, then we’re going to dress up in purple capes and white sneakers and drink the strychnine Kool-Aid and put plastic bags over our faces. We’re doing this because Zombie-Jesus-who-lives-in-my-head says the Earth is about to be destroyed by aliens but we’re going to abandon our bodies and go live on the comet with the comet people.  We’ve got an extra seat, you interested?”

To which you reply, (a) “Whoa Doggies, count me in!” or (b) “Piss off you creepy little eunuch or I will snatch you up by the top of your pointy bald grape and jam my Thick Tip Sharpie into your eye so deep that I’ll be able to write Fuck You on the inside of your skull in four inch high indelible ink.”

The correct answer seems obvious doesn’t it? (it also explains why I always carry a Sharpie, just in case you were wondering)

But, see, here’s the thing: thirty nine people chose option (a).

It wasn’t a secret. They told people. They put out movies. They had a website – they still have a website. And nobody said to them, listen here, you stupid silly bastards… Everybody just sort of said, well, they’re a little odd. 

And it happens all of the time. Jonestown. The Branch Davidians. That bunch in France what burned themselves up along with their kids. Those obnoxious goofs who like to wave their bibles in your face while you’re waiting for the light to change. Creationists. Tom Cruise.

And people shake their heads and say “how could this happen?”

How could it happen?

It happens because nobody told these deluded idiots to shut up and stop acting like fucking retards – until it was too late (Note: about the use of the term “retards,” yes I know it’s offensive to some people. It is however an accurate description in certain cases. I don’t use it lightly. Further explanation in the comments section). It happens because we are far too indulgent when it comes to this kind of nonsense.  It happens because when somebody looks you in the eye and says with a straight face, “I believe Jennifer Love Hewitt really does talk to ghosts, it’s totally true,” you don’t immediately break into gales of taunting laughter and follow them about for the rest of the day ridiculing their stupidity with sarcastic barbed wit in front of their friends and co-workers.

Look, if you tell people you hear voices in your head commanding you to kill the President because Jodie Foster will dig it and want to have your babies, we lock your silly ass up and make fun of you on TV.  But if you tell people you hear a voice in your head and he’s telling you the president is a space alien in a rubber human suit, the TEA Party of Nevada will ask you to be their Senator – as long as you say the voice in your head sounds like Jesus. 

Sure, Jim, OK, but that’s not the same as creationism, or holocaust denial, or moon landing hoaxers, or the Anti-LHC crowd, or Neo-conservatism.

Yes it is, it is exactly the same.

Look, I’m not talking about restricting the freedom of speech or freedom to worship – what I’m talking about is intervention. I’m talking about cranking the public bullshit filter up to 11.

If somebody tells you that that the magical science fiction power of L. Ron Hubbard gives them the ability to fly, are you denying them their 1st Amendment rights when you prevent them from stepping off the roof? Or, in my case, not.  Because to be perfectly honest, personally, I don’t really give a fig if they jump off that roof or not. Stupid is a terminal disease, it’s going to get you sooner or later – hopefully before somebody convinces you to cut your balls off. And, hey, you know, if they do fly well maybe I’ll go pick up a copy of Dianetics, and if they go bounce bounce squish well that’s just one less moron in the gene pool as far as I’m concerned – speaking of Scientology, hopefully it’s Vinnie Barbarino, that way I don’t ever have to watch another one of his shitty movies, I’ve never forgiven that hammy bastard for Battlefield Earth

But what about the people on the sidewalk below? Don’t we have a moral obligation to keep those poor bastards from getting crushed by falling idiots?

Yes. Damn it.

We do.

But you can’t do that by debate.

Debating them only rewards their bad behavior. Debating them only encourages them more. Having a real scientist like Plait engage them in debate automatically elevates their nonsense to legitimacy. When PZ Myers goes after creationists, he gives them equal footing with science.  Again, don’t get me wrong here, those scientists are professionals and I have nothing but respect for people like Michael Shermer – but they should come with the same warning as those Mythbuster Guys, i.e. don’t try this at home. Ever.

And it wouldn’t be necessary if more people would tell these idiots to step off.

The proper response to crazy is: Shut the fuck up.

It’s not for the government to tell people their beliefs have jumped the sharktopus, it’s up to us. Each and every one of us.

Oh, and pick yourselves up a couple of Sharpies.

27 comments:

  1. Stupid is a terminal disease, it’s going to get you sooner or later – hopefully before somebody convinces you to cut your balls off.

    You've got that backwards - the sooner they cut their balls off, the less likely they are to propagate.

    I don't engage, it just isn't worth the time and aggravation. Except in rare circumstances, like the semesters I taught evolution in southern New Mexico, and there I had a big stick to enforce my decrees.

    Even that did not always work - I had one dimwit refuse to do the lab homework because the underlying principles were wrong. Okay, your 0. I can't make you. He was premed, wanted to be a heart surgeon.

    (Don't worry, your chest is safe from this one. Anyone who fails intro biology for idiots is never getting into med school.)

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  2. I assume he went into politics?

    Heh heh, sorry.

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  4. (Dammit, hate typos with no post edit feature.)

    The problem with engaging "these people" is that it is never "one conversation." Once they've got you on their wavelength, they set the hook and continue after you, hoping to wear you down and at least shut up, if not wearily sit down and take Kool-Aid shots with them.

    I have better things to do with my life than be some clown's personal punching bag.

    That said, there is a difference when crackpots try to institutionalize their delusions, a la the Texas school book people. Textbook companies need to make money and will all too easily cave in this year with putting Nutter Theory Number One on a pedestal with the same footing as Real Science Theory Number One. But like the proverbial camel getting its nose into the tent, that way lies madness.

    I'd order more Sharpies, but alas, it would end up that I would be the one thrown in jail and the free range idiots, minus one or two Sharpied, will still be free range. (sigh)

    Dr. Phil

    reesssaus -- a reassessing sauce

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  5. Watch the politics remarks. You never know when one is listening in.

    I engage them, not because I think I can cure them of Teh Crazies, but because I want to stop the infection from spreading. If it's a one on one situation, I usually try to get away and warn the authorities.

    And, yeah, I always carry the thick nubbed sharpies with me. I have 3, just in case I need to leave one behind and I run into a bumper crop.

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  6. I actually have three Sharpies in my pocket right now.

    Just in case.

    Understand, you don't actually have to jab the Stupids in the eye. It is perfectly acceptable to hold them down and draw a dick on their foreheads in indelible ink, as a warning to the rest of us.

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  7. I have Sharpies in multiple colors both fine and regular tip. However, I just don't engage. I spend enough time telling people that their ideas are stupid at work that I just don't have the energy to interact with people like this in my free time.

    And clearly the guy I saw on the Beltway yesterday morning (license plate "STFU") subscribes to your POV.

    @Phiala -- thanks for keeping that one out of the medical field.

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  8. We're going to need a bigger Sharpie...

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  9. You made my morning. I want to give this post five gold stars and a puppy. Oh hey - common sense! Thank you, sir. :)

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  10. Great. Now he's going to barbeque puppies on the grill again. Sigh.

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  11. Hey, puppies can't taste worse that industrial bratwurst. Some people put their wiener dog in a hotdog costume for Hallowe'en. That's worse.

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  12. YOU HAD ME ALL THE WAY UP TO "FUCKING RETARDS". GOD I HATE THE WORD RETARD.

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  13. YOU HAD ME ALL THE WAY UP TO "FUCKING RETARDS". GOD I HATE THE WORD RETARD.

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  14. So do I, which I why I used it.

    A number of readers here have reason to be sensitive to the casual use of the word "retard," which is why I never use it casually. In this case the epitaph was intended as a deliberate jab at folks who, I strongly suspect, are fully capable of reasoned thought, but choose instead to be willfully stupid - and fully expect me to be as well.

    But what I really hate are Anonymous comments all in caps. You can make your point without shouting. Thanks.

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  15. Sorry wasn't shouting. I annotate in caps for my work and just used to typing that way.

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  16. "I’m talking about cranking the public bullshit filter up to 11. "

    I'd be happy if we could crank the public bullshit filter up to 5 or 6.

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  17. "Having a real scientist like Plait engage them in debate automatically elevates their nonsense to legitimacy. When PZ Myers goes after creationists, he gives them equal footing with science."

    Exactly. Which is why we responded to certain other craizies who shall remain nameless with exletives and other language unbecoming scientific debate.

    Picking apart the argument is a an activity best left an undergraduate scientific method course, Which everyone, I don't give a rat's what their major, should have to take.

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  18. You are a scientist, John. I'm not. That's why when we were responding to the aforementioned crazies (who came immediately to this post BTW, almost like they thought I might be talking about them) I refused to discuss the physics in any way, because I'm not qualified, and instead repeatedly demanded that they prove their qualifications - which they repeatedly were unable to do. At that point, the only response they deserve is "Shut the fuck up," followed by ridicule, which as you noted noted is exactly what we did - you better than most ;)

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  19. Nick from the O.C.October 3, 2010 at 4:53 PM

    You know, I look around me and see the crazed nutjobs in ascension right now. Teabaggers and Fundies dancing the tango (or maybe the fandango) and calling for a return to Christian values (which apparently includes even more tax cuts).

    I see Boards of Education imposing their brand of stupid on the kids of today. Not just Texas mind you -- my 9 year-old is learning "math facts" (i.e., what used to be called arithmetic) by DRAWING PICTURES OF ROCKS AND OTHER STUPID SHIT. (My wife talked me out of my meeting with the school principal, after we found out how much the district paid for their shiny new math fact teaching method. There was too much invested to admit the stupidity of the results.) My son now gets extra math coaching from us and from an outside tutor. For some reason, he keeps scoring in the 95+ percentile in the standardized math testing, which makes his teachers so proud. But I digress ....

    I see budget cuts closing libraries, which used to be the last refuge for those seeking true learning. Which leaves what--TV and the Internet?--for those who want to bootstrap. If Abe Lincoln were alive today, he'd be sharecropping for ADM.

    So my theory is that America is going through some kind of mitosis, where we split into those who can afford--and have the inclination to pursue--a decent education ... most likely outside the public school system. And the other half includes those who are self-selecting for stupidity, a life spent working two or three menial service jobs at a time.

    I see the future, and it involves a sharp divide into what used to be called "classes". Those who have the power to reason and use that power for their betterment, and those who have embraced stupidity and live in ignorance, all the time complaining about how their America sucks.

    It depresses me, it does.

    ecess = how one dials into the enternet.

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  20. I live in the land of fruits and nuts - northern California. I suffer from a wealth of targets. Unfortunately, the local law enforcement is often on the side of the fruitcake and the nutjob.

    Case in point: Students at the local CA State Univ. rioted when the cops tried to break up a party. The cops' response? Back off, call in more cops, WAIT UNTIL EVERYONE DISPERSED, and then move in.

    Why not something along these lines: Arrest all of them, book them, make them post bail or arraign them (first, dragthe lazy judge and corrupt DA out of their beds), and then prosecute them?

    Oh, wait. Then the city wouldn't be a 'student friendly town and we might not get anyone to come back.'

    Sorry. Off topic, but I had to get that rant off my chest before I started getting angina... and have a creationist-idiot-failed-cardiac-doctor-who-is-now-a- politician do bypass surgery on me. Oh, WAIT! That's BILL FRIST!

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  21. Jim, You are the man!

    I wrote a long response, but then lost it. Too pooped to do it again. Suffice to say I am in complete agreement, but I'll add that while I support disability laws and help for those who need it, I am also sick of the word police.

    Sometimes I feel like putting on my shit-kickers, lighting up an entire pack of Salem 100s to chain smoke, throwing back shots of whiskey, and in a public place letting out a stream of every word I can think of that might offend someone who has never entered my mind and never had any of my words or thoughts negatively directed at them or their young 'uns, not ever. People really need to get over themselves because not Every utterance is about them. Thinking it is so eventually turns even supporters away in disgust and exhaustion.

    Oh, and hahahahaha to Nick from O.C.'s reference to Bill Frist!

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  22. crizinI used to respond with creationist commentary with argument, facts, logic, and tried to keep it as reasonable as possible.

    Even if I couldn't reach my opponent, I might reach someone who was also watching, right? I could do that by being the better person, or so I've often told myself.

    Now I don't know. It's so exasperating, answering the same concerns over and over again, with no letup.

    After a certain point, they want to "agree to disagree," shorthand for "I'm tired of listening to you now," and really, what can you say to that?

    I've become increasingly brusque in my 'debates'. And that's not what I ever wanted to be, but I don't care if they get it anymore. I just don't have the time to be patient.

    Crizin: I've got nothing.

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  23. I've been kind, respectful, and understanding for years, but as soon as I finally stood up for my right to Not "just shut up and sit down," providing historically accurate information to explain my position not supporting the misinformation mass mailed to me constantly, conservative so-called friends I'd treated so respectfully dumped me as a friend. Not because I was mean, but because I challenged their assumptions and pointed out what they were really saying to me and others like me. I explained that it Was personal. They didn't want to face alternative perspectives or face their own behaviors to such an extent, they were willing to walk away without so much as a goodbye. Such was the case even for a couple of friends who'd told me they'd learned about compassion and understanding from me, and one said that I was the most Christian person she knew despite my not being a Christian. Yet, those qualities they appreciated in me were not enough to prevent them blowing me off unceremoniously once I actually asked for maturity and respect toward those of us who believed differently and who did not support their God Squad candidates. How can I possibly respect them for it?

    In addition, all those coworkers, neighbors, parents of my children's friends, fellow citizens I treated that well over the years, who were not even my friends, have continued to make too many lives miserable and hijacked our nation.

    Taking the high road and attempting to influence through respectful discussion has been a one way street for the most part. It has ultimately led to our country regressing about 100-125 years in the space of 30. Therefore, I'm finished with turning the other cheek and making excuses for ignorance, selfishness, self-importance, cruelty, bigotry wrapped in God and the flag, and greed.

    It's time for people of conscience to step up to the plate and do the right thing, call them out and take our country back to the path leading toward progress, justice, equity, and the right to self-determination.

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  24. I've been kind, respectful, and understanding for years, but as soon as I finally stood up for my right to Not "just shut up and sit down," providing historically accurate information to explain my position not supporting the misinformation mass mailed to me constantly, conservative so-called friends I'd treated so respectfully dumped me as a friend. Not because I was mean, but because I challenged their assumptions and pointed out what they were really saying to me and others like me. I explained that it Was personal. They didn't want to face alternative perspectives or face their own behaviors to such an extent, they were willing to walk away without so much as a goodbye. Such was the case even for a couple of friends who'd told me they'd learned about compassion and understanding from me, and one said that I was the most Christian person she knew despite my not being a Christian. Yet, those qualities they appreciated in me were not enough to prevent them blowing me off unceremoniously once I actually asked for maturity and respect toward those of us who believed differently and who did not support their God Squad candidates. How can I possibly respect them for it?

    In addition, all those coworkers, neighbors, parents of my children's friends, fellow citizens I treated that well over the years, who were not even my friends, have continued to make too many lives miserable and hijacked our nation.

    Taking the high road and attempting to influence through respectful discussion has been a one way street for the most part. It has ultimately led to our country regressing about 100-125 years in the space of 30. Therefore, I'm finished with turning the other cheek and making excuses for ignorance, selfishness, self-importance, cruelty, bigotry wrapped in God and the flag, and greed.

    It's time for people of conscience to step up to the plate and do the right thing, call them out and take our country back to the path leading toward progress, justice, equity, and the right to self-determination.

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  25. I just now read this because I was curious what things made you want to poke your eye out. It was *excellent*. I especially like the part about the sharpie. I've often wanted to dig my OWN eye out with a fork to end my torture, but it never occurred to me to write "fuck you" inside someone's skull with an eye-jammed sharpie. Awesome.

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