Barrett Brown: jailed journalist, author, totally-not-spokesman for Anonymous, and general pot-stirring jackass*.
(*note: term jackass used with utmost respect and admiration)
Arrest did nothing to stop Barrett Brown from publishing. From his new home in a Texas jail, he weighs in on everything from censorship to political history to jailhouse race dynamics to cookies. His work creates this awkward juxtaposition of sarcastic humor with very grave topics. Since I’ve been reading his jailhouse publications, I’ve laughed out loud more than once. But I’m not even sure if I should enjoy what I’m reading. The Nixon administration? So not funny. Censorship? Not a joke. The overcrowded prison-industrial complex? Hahah–nope. But the witty-as-fuck tone, and even outright jackassery, works. Every time, no matter what the topic, that’s exactly what drives home the point – whether it’s the severity of the injustices he comments on, or those he himself is now caught up in.
So I’m excited to read his next book, Keep Rootin’ For Putin, and feeling kind of weird about it.
The review on Vice a few weeks ago proved that 1) I really need to become the kind of person who gets advance review copies and reads stuff before everyone else, and 2) the book is going to be everything you’d expect it to be – a veritable trove of of Barrett Brown’s poignant, if harsh, observations about the so-called “experts” who shape mainstream political dialogue.
Sadly, I’m not yet the kind of person who gets to read books before everyone else. (note to self: BE THAT) So I picked up Brown’s 2007 book, Flock of Dodos, instead. Turns out, it’s a glorious exposé of the world of Intelligent Design wherein he and co-author Jon P. Alston dissect the alleged “scientific” arguments for re-branded creationism, like so:
“[Intelligent Design] claims to be a scientific theory. That’s fine, because I claim to be a nun. The U.S. National Academy of Sciences doesn’t agree (with ID being a theory, that is; they have yet to weigh in on my nunhood)”
Having not given Intelligent Design much thought to since college (which is about when this book came out and about when, I think, the subject was enjoying a bit of a boost in popularity), I found the book to be a refreshing exploration of a relatively (to me) unfamiliar topic. Not that ID, or religious topics in general, usually pique my interest. They really don’t. (Not because I think they’re not important, just because other things are important too. And to be honest, I know a little more about Copyright law than I do about the Bible, so that’s generally what gets my attention.) But a well-argued case is a beautiful thing, no matter the topic. And these guys can argue!
If you watched the recent Bill Nye debate, you were probably struck by the calm elegance with which he could debate a topic which evokes such violently passionate dissent. Instead of harsh insults, Nye uses words like “remarkable” and “extraordinary” to describe his opponents’ views, and we all understand exactly what that means. His is a polite and dignified style of argument.
Flock of Dodos is the exact opposite.
From the start, the authors warn:
This will not be a polite book. Politeness is wasted on the dishonest, who will always take advantage of any well-intended concession…
And holy mother of Darwin, were they ever not kidding. Flock of Dodos throws out the calm elegance that is polite society’s way of dealing with controversy, and replaces it with painfully honest (but, as is clear, very well-deserved) ridicule. Take this metaphor, for instance, on Intelligent Design as a science:
Intelligent Design is indeed supposed to be a scientific concept, in the same manner in which I’m supposed to be doing my laundry on a consistent basis. And just as I try to hide the fact that I’m wearing dirty underwear by spraying myself with Lysol, William Dembski and his buddies are attempting to hide the fact that they’re wearing the Dirty Underwear of A Priori Religious Dogma by spraying themselves with the Lysol of Scientific Respectability. Now, my Lysol gambit will fool many people, just as Dembski’s Lysol gambit will fool many people. But there will always be someone who sees through the ruse. In my case, it’s my mother, who, like all mothers, has psychic powers. In Dembski’s case, the ruse will be understood for what it is by any reasonable person who cares to examine Intelligent Design.
But, like with Brown’s articles, the style works. The insults and sarcasm and bad metaphors don’t replace solid fact and genuine reason, but instead serve to drag the fantastical claims of the creationists into the harsh light of day. ID supporters claim to be scientists, after all, and Flock of Dodos provides a healthy dose of good old fashioned scientific skepticism, (mixed in with equal parts lulzy wit of course.)
In all seriousness, though, the book was precisely what I hoped it’d be. Since following the author’s (one of them anyway) noble journalistic efforts and Anonymous antics, and seeing what Barrett Brown can do in just an essay (and from behind bars, while fighting for his freedom!), it really is worth taking a look at what he can do in book-form. And I for one can’t wait to see what he does next.
As for the Intelligent Design debate?
I think I’m ok with leaving that in my college days.