In the last few weeks, I've become increasingly aware of something that is guaranteed to piss me off and get me in a rage. It's all the variations on the "No True Scotsman" argument.
For those not in the know, the NTS argument goes something like this (lifted directly from Wikipedia, this is a quote from the British philosopher who originated the term) - and in order to understand this, Brighton is in England, and Aberdeen is in Scotland:
Imagine Hamish McDonald, a Scotsman, sitting down with his Glasgow Morning Herald and seeing an article about how the "Brighton Sex Maniac Strikes Again". Hamish is shocked and declares that "No Scotsman would do such a thing". The next day he sits down to read his Glasgow Morning Herald again; and, this time, finds an article about an Aberdeen man whose brutal actions make the Brighton sex maniac seem almost gentlemanly. This fact shows that Hamish was wrong in his opinion but is he going to admit this? Not likely. This time he says, "No true Scotsman would do such a thing". - Antony Flew
In other words, no person in my group would do such a thing. If they identify themselves as part of my group, they still aren't part of my group, because their actions neatly remove them from my group.
In other words, "No True Scotsman" can just as easily be worded "Not My Problem."
Yeah. Uh huh.
How many times have I heard riffs on this in the last few weeks? Come over the fleur-de-Kos with me, if you would be so kind...
First, there's that jackass ex-assistant attorney general Shirvell, from Michigan. You know, the one who just got hit with a $4.5 million dollar judgment from a jury after harassing, libeling and slandering the openly gay student body president of the University of Michigan? Yeah, that one. His behavior clearly shows him to be a) homophobic and b) so deep in the closet he can see Narnia. If you watch his interview with Anderson Cooper, you can see at least five or six "tells" that this guy is a self-hating gay man. It's as obvious as watching Ted Haggard in "Jesus Camp" as he says "Oh, that's fabulous!" every three sentences.
But there are GLBT people who don't want it said that Shirvell is a gay man. "He just makes gay people look bad," they say. "Don't claim him as one of us!"
Frankly? I'm not good with that.
We can either admit he's a closeted gay man who hates gay men, or we can say "no TRUE gay man would be that homophobic!" and pretend he's not one of us. That second option may be more palatable, but it doesn't solve the problem, because he is one of us. He may not be part of our political movement, but he's still a gay man, and just like all human beings, gay men come in the self-hating homophobic variety as much as straight men or women or blacks or anyone else. Denying that he's gay serves no purpose except to place our hands over our ears and sing La La La.
Second, there's the ongoing debate about whether the Phelps group and other groups like them (ahem, the Family Research Council, for example) are Christians or not. "No TRUE Christian would express that kind of hate!" say the people who think these group are not Christians. Unfortunately, there are also plenty of other people who think like them and skate up to that line who claim to be Christians too. Are we going to define them away so that we don't have to accept that they see themselves as part of that group? Well, we can... but it's dishonest. They say they're Christians. Christians can either say "They are Christians, but their interpretation of the teachings is wrong," or they can just ignore them by saying "Well, they're not Christians, so although they're abhorrent, they're not our problem."
The third riff on the No True Scotsman fantasy that I'm sure we'll see in the next few days is probably going to be a reaction to this jackass Todd Akin, in Missouri, who apparently thinks that women only get pregnant from sex they wanted to have, so it's not rape if she got pregnant. This view is so beyond the pale that I can't help but believe that the few sane Republicans left out there (who aren't professional politicians) are going to start saying "But he's not a TRUE Republican! We don't believe that!" We're also going to see a bunch of Teapublicans claiming that those sane Republicans are not "TRUE Republicans." And neither of them will be correct.
Here's the thing about the No True Scotsman fallacy. It's a way to say "That person might be part of my group, but the group is not the reason he's acting the way he's acting or saying the things she's saying, so it's Not My Problem." The problem is, that's untrue. Groups form partially to keep their members under some kind of social control. And when someone who claims to be part of your group defies the social standards of behavior for that group, your job is not to ignore it. It makes your group look weak and makes the person doing the actions the standard for how people will judge your group. Even though it's distasteful in the extreme, the gay community needs to get Shirvell under control, and the liberal Christian community needs to get the whackjobs claiming their name under control, and the Republican Party - well, it's completely lost the ability to control people like Akin, because it's been completely taken over by people like him.
The idea is to get people in our communities under control before they take over. There's no help for the Republican Party at this point. Let's be honest. The true name for that second party at this point is the Teapublican Party. It's full of far-right Tea Party nuts. If anything, the Teapublicans will probably say that any sane Republican who speaks out against Todd Akin is "no true Republican," at this point.
And friends and neighbors, that's sad.
We've turned into a nation of groups that, by continuing to define away who isn't part of us, is also denying responsibility for policing them.
At some point, someone's got to step up and say, "This IS our problem. Let's deal with it."