Maybe the problem is you…

I saw over at Ed Brayton’s blog this story about a restaurant owner named Ed McGovern in North Carolina who handed a proselytizing letter to a gay couple who ate at his restaurant (after they paid for their meal, of course). Apparently he objected to their brazen act of simultaneously 1) being gay and 2) breathing the same air as himself, so he felt the need to let them know that he hates them Jeebus loves them. In the body of the news article they reproduce the letter, but in an obviously cleaned up, grammatical version.  They also have a photo of the actual handwritten letter, and here is my word-for-word, letter-for-letter transcription of it. Everything below is [sic]:

LESBIAN-NOTE-1-jpg

God said in the Last days that man and women, would be Lover of self, morethen the Lover of God.

That man and women would have unnataurl effection for one another. Then the comnig of the son of man who is Jesus. So please Look at your life see how it hurt every one around your. and aske the Lord to open your eye. before it to late.

The Love of Christ

P.S. my dauaghte also was gay

it destroy her life

and my grandson.

I object to the fact that the original news report didn’t reproduce the letter exactly as written. Show these illiterate dumbfucks for who they really are.

But the real point I want to make is why I object to correcting the letter. It’s more than just “make the other side look stupid.” Of course this guy is stupid. There are 4th graders out there who can write more grammatically, more clearly and more eloquently than this. This is a very disordered, confused mind responding to an unfamiliar stimulus with something akin to “hurble burble nobble gobble Jesus says fags will ruin Christmas!” But this goes beyond just portraying him as stupid. This matters. No, fucking seriously, it does.

I’ve long thought that disorganized speech and writing reflect disorganized thinking. Someone who cannot string together a sentence or paragraph with proper grammar and spelling is someone who does not have the cognitive power to process complex or unfamiliar sensory input. Thinking about something that’s complicated or different from what one is used to requires one have the ability to organize one’s thoughts, contextualize incoming information, and follow premises to their logical conclusion. It also requires a bit of metacognitive awareness–at the very least, the ability to critique one’s own written or spoken words.

If someone’s thinking is disorganized, then they likely won’t be able to go much beyond familiar and comfortable cognitive shortcuts when confronting a situation. It’s not so much that they’re unwilling to think about how gays feel or how homosexuality fits into the grand scheme of things. It’s more that they simply lack the tools to do this. Try explaining why social mores opposed to homosexuality are arbitrary and antiquated in language that the author of the above letter would be able to comprehend. I’m not sure if it could be done, and this is why I disagree with Ed Brayton’s proposed response:

Here’s what I think should be done here. Every gay couple in the area should go there at the same time, sit down and order something really small, like an order of french fries. Then when they leave they should each give him a letter telling him that he should go to college and get an education, which might free him from the bigoted views of his false religion.

I don’t think this would have any effect. Even if he read these letters, what makes you think he’d understand them? This is a guy who thinks merely saying “Jesus says” to someone should be enough to change their sexual orientation. Clearly he has little comprehension of how humans other than himself think. And his inability to grasp how others think probably stems from his inattention to his own thinking. If gay couples did take Ed’s advice, my guess is that each couple that did it would receive in response another letter from him much like the one reproduced above. It would be like trying to have a conversation with the machine at the entrance to the parking garage. No matter what you say, it’s just gonna spit out another parking voucher, because that’s all it knows how to do.

This is just not a situation where a conversation can take place. This guy’s lost. The best bet would be to boycott his restaurant and hope he goes out of business, or publicly shame him to the point where he stops handing out such letters out of self-preservation. But patronizing his business to give him pro-gay letters will only give him more money and more opportunities to write anti-gay letters. And the fact that giving him pro-gay letters won’t work is pretty obvious when you see what he wrote. He simply wouldn’t understand them.

This is illustrated most poignantly in the postscript to McGovern’s dumbass letter. When you see just how badly written the letter is, and thereby just how minimal his understanding of the nature of the problem is, it becomes pretty obvious that it wasn’t homosexuality that destroyed his daughter’s life. More likely it was his reaction to her homosexuality that destroyed her life, as the letter shows that this is clearly not a guy who reacts to homosexuality in anything like a mature or rational manner. If this is a guy who can’t distinguish between the results of homosexuality and the results of his own reaction to homosexuality, then there is little hope of convincing him to behave otherwise with letters extolling the virtues of education. He needed that education years ago.  That ship set sail long ago. By this point, he’s a lost cause. Fuck ‘im.

I say all this because I object to correcting the letter not just because I want the restaurant owner to look like the stupid bigot that he surely is. I also want people to see the juxtaposition between ignorant views and the lack of cognitive ability that is often (but not necessarily always) associated with them. Let people see what the real problem is here: A man who cannot even write 4th grade level English is harassing gays for existing in his vicinity. Ed McGovern doesn’t realize it, but his real complaint is that the existence of lesbians makes the world too complicated for him to process. Unable to blame his own stupidity for this dilemma, he decides it must be the fault of other people who don’t fit into his tiny, comfortable worldview. His inability to comprehend becomes the lesbians’ problem, and the only way his tiny reptile brain can express this is by babbling about Jesus for a little bit.

What I hope people would see is not just that bigots are stupid. It’s also important to be able to recognize the importance of linguistic proficiency, and how failing to educate someone in how to express themselves clearly and coherently increases the likelihood that they will hold bigoted opinions. I’m not saying that there has never been an eloquent bigot, but they certainly aren’t common. It’s this causal connection that’s important–it’s why some kinds of ignorance are associated with some kinds of attitudes towards others. Organizing one’s thought is important, and a news story like this could be a good object lesson. This is what disorganized thought looks like. And the result of a mind untrained to organize itself is often bigotry: people thinking that their own inability to comprehend others is actually harm being done to them by others.

You can’t really get through to these people, because they can’t comprehend language well enough to understand what you’re saying. It’s this whole attitude of “I’m too dumb to understand it, so it’s evil,” that we need to be combating. If they’re too old for there to be any hope of actually teaching them how to communicate clearly, then often the only way to counteract their actions is to mock them. I’m more than willing to have a civil conversation with someone who at least shows that they can communicate in grammatical English. But if someone shows they can’t even do that, attempts at communication are pointless. Just point at them and laugh til they shut the fuck up.

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