Enormous Magician Terrified

Penn Jillette: entertainer, commentator, libertarian. The vocal half of the Penn & Teller magic team might to some exemplify a sharp-witted, laudable North Americanism in the face of nonsense – part Mark Twain, part James Randi.  Despite Jillete’s simplistic libertarian civics, his show Penn & Teller: Bullshit! does its bit to roll back credulous mindlessness of many sorts.

But when Penn’s subject turns to a faith called Islam,  the bravura evaporates.  Mention a mosque and the clever iconoclast vanishes into the sea of  tens of millions of flabby, terrified morons convinced of their impending doom at the hands of jihadists – the tiniest minority among a tiny minority.

From the June 24th Issue of Las Vegas Weekly:

Are there any groups you won’t go after? We haven’t tackled Scientology because Showtime doesn’t want us to. Maybe they have deals with individual Scientologists—I’m not sure. And we haven’t attacked Islam because we have families.

Meaning, you won’t attack Islam because you’re afraid it’ll attack back … Right, and I think the worst thing you can say about a group in a free society is that you’re afraid to talk about it—I can’t think of anything more horrific.

Of course, it might please some Islamic fundamentalists to hear you say that you won’t talk about them because you’re afraid … It might, but you have to say what you believe, even it if pleases somebody you disagree with—that issue comes up all the time in moral discourse.

Moral discourse?

Not to further terrify Mr. Jillette, but it should be pointed out that there are problems in his bringing that up.   Moral discourse as suggested by the theories of Lawrence Kohlberg features the concept of stages of moral development, placing the highest stage as a person’s conforming to a set of morals to avoid self-condemnation.  This is as opposed to lower stages avoiding the condemnation of others, or of institutions, of of sky beings.  The very lowest stage of moral development?  Conforming to avoid punishment.

Which is exactly what Penn’s childish (and very popular) panic indulges in.

In this astoundingly lame justification for avoiding discussing Islam, the big, burly libertarian at once wets his pinstriped trousers while simultaneously validating the current, driving and interchangeable enemy myth of the military-industrial complex.   We are treated to another twist of that meat grinder’s handle, as if it was really needed.  What stance could be more reactionary, or more embracing of pernicious bullshit than to blubber thus over the infinitesimally small threat individuals pose to a superpower?

You know, libertarians just don’t get it. We live in a world where political and economic realities of our own making exist that cannot be expressed adequately (or at all) in terms of the individual.  A system is running.  Our parts to be played within it happily include many of our own choosing, but the lingering, aggregated effects of these choices are mainly external to us as individuals. That means that the libertarian ethos – calibrated as it is to the individual’s freedom –  is spectacularly ill-suited to oppose a system it cannot even see.  Theirs is the philosophy of the spreadsheet cell, in denial of the spreadsheet’s existence.

The horrifying irony is that libertarian blindness has always served as the perfect cover for the corporate enfeebling of the individual. The libertarian credo – personal freedom – is totally at odds with this state of permanent war and war economy.  The evidence is unambiguous: freedom after freedom is lost to this permanent war as the years drag on.  The only way this system can be countered by individuals is by exercising their sole advantage over the inhuman: adherence to moral or ethical principle.  And these should be of the very highest grade, not the lowest.

4 Responses to “Enormous Magician Terrified”

  1. June 30, 2010 at 8:35 pm

    I don’t WANT to think this way, I really don’t–after all, millions of decent people find some kind of solace in organized religion…but in view of tea party nonsense at home and extremist jihad ideology abroad, I find myself thinking more and more that organized religion is more or less the salve of weak-minded people who can’t bear to think for themselves.

    Again, I do NOT want to tar everyone with the same brush on this, but it seems increasingly evident that religion is the skirt that narrow-minded boffins prefer to hide behind. I’m not married to this idea, but it certainly is given a lot of credence by the Texas GOP and the general state of things in places like Kuwait, where they KNOW BETTER but don’t care.

    I’m open to discourse on this but something tells me that a torrent of circular reasoning is about to come my way from true believers. Or maybe not.

    • June 30, 2010 at 10:16 pm

      I understand the reluctance to be a dick about it. Baby and bathwater. You put the reasons pretty well.

      It will always be a mistake in my eyes to align with a set of celestial presumptions that lay beyond knowledge or evidence and are presented as certainties. It is obvious there isn’t a single good work that cannot be done without bothering to sign up. There’s not one charitable or kind act that is predicated upon such identification. Persons interested in helping out might well get the idea from scripture, or they might well (and better) get the idea from looking around themselves for five minutes. Either way, empathy is normal and the works are their own.

      What galls me is the laughable claim moral development isn’t possible without a membership card. It’s so critically important to prove that nonsense wrong – en masse and in a hurry – that stories like Penn Jillette’s drive me nuts. Exactly like the faithful, he hides behind a fictional omniscience – be it that of Zeus, Yaweh,or the likes of Kalid Sheik Mohammed – to avoid evidence, blank out discussion and end up supporting a reactionary belief system that is amoral in the extreme – wiping out people, trillions in wealth, our natural resources and our social framework.

  2. 3 Joe Rick Blowkowski
    July 15, 2010 at 8:14 pm

    I don’t know Rob, it seems to me that he has a legit concern. Islamic nut-cases do make a habit of physically attacking, or threatening to physically attack critics, and those who are perceived by said nut-cases as critics. I’m thinking of everyone from Rushdie, to Van Gogh, to Danish cartoonists, and many, many others who were all targeted personally.
    They (Penn and Teller) may just feel it’s not worth having to go into hiding to make a point. I would also argue that acknowledging you won’t talk about a group for fear for one’s self and/or family makes the point pretty well.

    • July 15, 2010 at 9:05 pm

      All nutcases threaten critics, that’s part of what makes them nutcases. These pathetic nutcases being given special pants-shitting regard is a) disgusting and b) ends up as being far more dangerous to the republic than any threat they could ever mount. In reinforcing the effects of terror, Penn Jillette couldn’t do more for the jihadist cause than if he walked around western Pakistan recruiting orphans in the wake of errant US drone strikes.

      To fall for this panic bullshit is an embarrassment, especially for anybody near our ages, who should know so much better than this. As you and I grew up, the myth of the communist threat was peddled to us nonstop, and when the angry red menace blew over in the wind, nobody had much to say about what a complete fucking lie that threat was. Now this threat is even less powerful – by a factor of about a million – but here we are wringing our hands about it? People need to grow a fucking pair, and people our age need to show them how.

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rob [at] warmowski [dot] com

@warmowski on twitter

Rob’s Bands

Rob Warmowski entry at Chicago Punk Database
1984-89: Defoliants
1991-94: Buzzmuscle
2001-05: San Andreas Fault
2008- : Sirs
2008- : Allende

Rob at Huffington Post

June 2010

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