BY MATTHEW HERBERT
Sometimes a picture really does say it all. Like this one:
The man in the photograph, if you do not know him, is Jerry Falwell, Jr. He’s a rich, famous evangelist who charges pious, eager minds $22,000 a year to receive moral instruction at Liberty University, in Lynchburg, Virginia. He runs the place, under the same “holy orders” as his dad before him.
He is a dipshit, as you can see in the picture–or so I will argue in a moment.
But first, I’d like to give that term–dipshit–some philosophical depth. Consider my effort a small gesture in the same spirit as Harry G. Frankfurt’s admirable 2005 book that developed the pungent but vague idea of bullshit into a precise, usable concept.
The first qualification for being a dipshit is that one must look like one. I am aware of the non-scientific, indeed, question-begging nature of this criterion. Bear with me though. For half a century, the idea that criminals had criminal faces was a going scientific theory, thanks to Cesare Lombroso. In his influential 1876 book Criminal Man, Lombroso wrote that the wrong kind of face was a sure sign of criminality and could even indicate a “love of orgies and the irresistible craving for evil for its own sake, the desire not only to extinguish life in the victim, but to mutilate the corpse, tear its flesh, and drink its blood.” It was a picturesque theory.
Anyway, guided by Lombroso’s thinking, for years and years police actually harassed and arrested people for the way they looked. Lucky that doesn’t happen anymore.
While Lombroso was eventually debunked as a criminologist, I bravely advance a variant of his theory that still awaits falsification. How can you tell a dipshit? Start by looking at his face. I mean, check out Falwell up there. And if his companion burns with a higher wattage of intelligence, she has taken special care to conceal it.
Which brings me to the next criterion. A dipshit is a special kind of stupid. By this I do not mean that his mind is an entirely vacant house. He is more of a middling ignoramus, but of a certain brand. The dipshit is a bold, aggressive fighter for the kind of intellectual solipsism that Alexis de Tocqueville observed among Americans. “In most of the operations of the mind,” Tocqueville wrote, “each American appeals only to the individual effort of his own understanding.” In the 19th century, Americans treated matters of epistemology as matters of politics, asserting that, in a free country, their knowledge claims were as good as anyone else’s. It mattered not whether those claims were based in proven common sense, hoary superstition, or outlandish religious fantasies. What mattered is that they were honestly come by in a country of free and equal citizens.
Today this attitude has become supercharged. Tom Nichols, in his timely and insightful 2018 book The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why It Matters, argues that what used to be a special political attitude toward knowledge has become a kind of deranged existential stance that encompasses one’s whole identity. Americans still believe, as Nichols puts it, that “having equal rights in a political system also means that each person’s opinion about anything must be accepted as equal to anyone else’s.” But now people take personal offense at expertise. Nichols writes, “The issue is not indifference to established knowledge; it’s the emergence of a positive hostility to such knowledge.” The dipshit puts himself vocally and visibly in the service of this hostility.
But surely we can recognize a kind of rebellious, ragged glory in this individualism. Shakespeare said, “To thine own self be true.” Aren’t the people I’m scorning as dipshits actually following an inner light, living authentically as “students of real life,” or some such?
No. Being a reactionary simpleton is a choice, made brazenly in the face of demonstrably better options. It is not the same thing as being an honest, average Joe who navigates life’s trials with zeal and conviction, learning along the way. This voluntarism is a distinguishing mark of the dipshit.
The dipshit is (just) conscious of the great repository of human knowledge that helps us flourish. Thanks to this knowledge, surgeries get done, airplanes keep flying, and teachers continue to teach our kids how to calculate standard deviation. But the dipshit’s refusal to harmonize his life with a culture whose collective knowledge dwarfs and ennobles his own is a deliberate act of self-trivialization. He hates and fears the most open-ended part of being human–the ability to learn, and the dependency on others we experience as learners. We should no more flinch from naming the dipshit as such than H.L. Mencken hesitated to call out the “lesser sort” of man, who shouted hosannas to drown out science and poetry. Mencken’s lesser man may not know what a philistine is, but he is an expert at being one.
One of the Bible’s most beautiful, inspiring verses, Philippians 4:8, is an ode to not being a philistine. It runs, “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.” The dipshit sneers at this attitude. If shouting it down doesn’t dispel it, he may wave a gun in the face of its champions. You will recognize the dipshit by his hostility to the Philippian virtues.
Finally–and this is more of a corollary to the main criteria, not a criterion as such–to be a dipshit is to earn permanent obloquy. There is no coming back from it. This is because, unlike crimes or sins, which deserve serious attention that can result in judgment, dipshittery is a base, clownish thing that sits inert, unadjudicated by decent folk. It is a low-pressure mass in the soul, unable to attract the freshening winds of moral deliberation.
Dante illustrated ingeniously that sins have varying degrees of seriousness. To offend gravely brings grave consequences. Alas, there can even be a kind of grandness to evil, just as there can be transcendent mercy in forgiveness. Furthermore, serious evil can be didactic, as anyone who has read The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky knows (I am thinking especially of the “Rebellion” chapter). The dipshit has no acquaintance with this moral register. Unaccustomed to engaging in matters of any moral weight, he retains the stench of cheapness until he dies.
Well, that’s the outline of the thing. Now, on to cases.
I have already anticipated much of what I would wish to say about Reverend Falwell, above. Again, he certainly looks like a dipshit, something his students and acolytes should try harder to appreciate. Unfortunately, they will get hung up on other things–his state of undress, the drink in his hand, and the overall lewdness of the mise en scene. They err, as usual.
The real offense of Falwell consists, not in the license he takes, but in his expectation that his followers will adore him in public and thereby collude in his fraudulent increase of wealth and power. It is not enough that Falwell fleeces his sheep for millions of dollars a year. He clearly believes he has debased them so far that he can get a lusty “Hell yeah!” from them when he tweets out his creepy idea of what real Christian men get up to on their yachts. His deepest dipshittery consists in his belief that his followers are as crass and stupid as he is. I don’t know, maybe they are. That would be a shame.
And here we have Mark and Patricia McCloskey, the St. Louis couple who brandished their guns at Black Lives Matter protesters in June.
Dipshit face? My computer lacks a font large enough to check that box appropriately, at least for Mark. He displays a mastery of the form. Patricia, in a more mysterious frame of mind, is vacantly scanning the middle-distance, possibly lost in contemplation of some secret pain. If her reverie were to let her hand drift just five degrees husband-ward, though, this scene could be down one dipshit. They probably should have take more gun-brandishing lessons.
Maybe from this guy? Honestly I kind of hate to call him a dipshit. There are like a dozen pictures of him on the internet, and he looks this jolly in all of them. Which doesn’t jibe with the rest of his appearance, that of a sketchy special forces soldier who, after an unwanted discharge followed by a years-long Krispy Kreme jag, finds occasion to line up the scope of his sniper rifle on your chest and then put a hole the size of a coffee can through it. Which is what the Barrett M28A1 rifle is for. And, yes, the helmet is for special operators; it’s so they can hear better. Plus it’s pretty light.
But back to the man himself. His name is Brandon Lewis, and he owns a gun shop in New York. It is with a sigh that I do, in fact, pronounce him a dipshit. By gathering together with other putative gun rights protesters in Richmond, Virginia, the former capital city of the Confederacy, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, he put himself oafishly at the service of a cause that could not fail to threaten and demean African Americans. If he wishes his real cause, whatever it is, to receive due attention, he should write a letter or give a speech, not dress up as Commander McFeed, First Special Reconnaissance Detachment of Gastronomie Directe.
Okay, I’m not trying to duck the hard part of the job here (you know, writing), but I think a short formula should serve the case of Stella Immanuel. She’s the doctor who went on national TV to defy pretty much all the public health measures that have proven effective at limiting the spread of COVID-19 so far. So here’s the formula: Belief in demon sperm + doctor × steps of National Capitol = Dipshit.
Still, Immanuel strains against the stated criteria in two ways. For one, if she is a real doctor, she risks doing actual harm by advocating batshit crazy healthcare ideas and amplifying the Trump administration’s panorama of bullshit about the virus. It is one thing to have slack-jawed yokels sound off about serious matters that impact the health of millions, but to have a credentialed expert do so?–Immanuel certainly deserves the same airy disregard we give the dipshit, but she also calls for professional rebuke and sanction. She should know, and act, better.
As to less serious matters, can we honestly ascribe a dipshit’s face to Immanuel? It’s not that I hold back for fear of aggrieving the fair sex. It’s more that Immanuel actually has a pretty charismatic delivery. She shows enough vim that one wishes she actually had a bracing moral or something else of good report to declaim. She could, indeed, be the kind of preacher Abraham Lincoln said he liked–one who appears to be fighting with bees. This is all in contrast to, say, Falwell, who is so loathsome one is almost glad that noble words never find their way through his throat. Were he to speak worthy phrases–which he could only acquire by theft–one feels he should be punished with electric shocks for abusing man’s noblest gift. Let him stick with the mouth slurry that suits his character.
This guy, Brian Cash, is a tough call, and not just because it’s hard to look like a dipshit while simultaneously doing a viable impression of an enraged wolverine. The crossover is very hard.
Tragically, Cash seems never to have been admonished as a child to say it don’t spray it. The times are not right for expectorating speech. Or, so says the governor of Michigan, whose COVID-19 mask-and-lockdown policies Cash and others were protesting on April 30th, when the picture was taken.
Days later, Cash took an opportunity to explain his overwrought appearance to the media, telling the Detroit Free Press that the photo left out important nuances. Cash was not erupting at the two law officers mere inches from his face, but at another law officer behind them who, the day before, had been filmed ejecting three protesters from the Michigan State House. The ejected protesters were women, and Cash found the manhandling of them ungallant. In the photo he is inviting the law officer, actually the Sergeant-at-Arms, to assault a real man for a change. Cash clearly intended the encounter to be instructive.
So, let us pass by the fact that Cash had probably not read the findings of Dr. Sima Asadi, et al., in the September 2019 Scientific Reports noting that “Aerosol emission and superemission during human speech increase with voice loudness.” From Asadi et al. it can be deduced that one’s fury droplets do not, like Luke Skywalker’s photon torpedo, travel straight to the object of one’s attention. They disperse, in a cloud-sort-of-dealio. (It’s in the paper.)
Of course one can’t be faulted for the scientific papers one hasn’t read. That’s not what I’m suggesting here. (Although those of us with enough leisure should read more science.) Where Cash takes a hard turn toward Dipshitville is in his militant service of an aggressively stupid political campaign based on childishly simple lies. Of course Cash and his fellows do not believe in COVID-19 (he says as much in his DFP interview). Or, they do believe in it when they say it was sent here by China, but then they go right back to not believing in it.
But this garden variety hypocrisy is only the tip of an enormous iceberg of anti-intelligence. Another nuance the photo of Cash leaves out is the performative accouterments of the gathered protesters, which included military fatigues, nooses, Confederate flags, and, of course, assault rifles. The protesters assembled that day were from a dozen anti-government militias in Michigan. (One political group backing the militias is The Michigan Freedom Fund, recipient of more than half a million dollars in donations from U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.)
Guided by canny, connected politicians, the Michigan militias are trying to flip the script of the small-government, gun rights movement. Despite appearances to the contrary, they say they are not white nationalists, but rather color-blind freedom fighters resisting any and all government overreach. In a remarkable profile of the movement, New Yorker journalist Luke Mogelson recently observed that many militia members see themselves on the verge of a new revolutionary war to re-establish the liberty of all citizens. I repeat: they actually think they are getting ready to wage war against the United States. Officially, the militias are about freedom broadly construed, not just White gun rights. “We want gay married couples adopting Chinese kids to be able to protect their marijuana fields with their machine guns,” a Boogaloo militia member told Mogelson.
In reality, though, the movement’s White Christian identitarian instincts cast a long shadow. When BLM protesters asked to join the militias in a June demonstration in Lansing (actually on the eve of Juneteenth, a date likely chosen to offend BLM), the BLM partners were tentatively accepted but then, when it turned out the form of government overreach they were there to protest was the excessive policing of black Americans, they were shouted down, insulted (as “thugs” and “gangbangers”), and hustled off the scene. The white militias instead cheered the police, whom they had flamed just weeks earlier as pro-mask, fascist stormtroopers. Times do change, rapidly sometimes.
It takes a whole heap of stupid to believe (and perform) the lie that Michigan’s militias are color-blind freedom fighters and that their cause is in any way enlightened by political principle. Cash, and a literal army of fellow dipshits, kick in with this supply of stupid, amply. What is required is the ability to ignore historical nuances (that word again) like these, noted by Mogelson, which capture the scale of the militias’ lie perfectly:
According to [the militias’ libertarian] narrative, police brutality against African-Americans, and the weaponization of law enforcement to suppress Black activism, were not manifestations of institutional racism; rather, they arose from the same infidelity to American principles of individual freedom that, in our time, defines the political left. The false equivalency of the anti-lockdown movement with the civil-rights movement appeals to the libertarian conviction that all government interference is inherently oppressive. It also elides the fact that the civil-rights movement demanded government interference on behalf of oppressed people.
The dishonesty is enough to make you spitting mad.
Maybe rest is what we need. Which is where Mike Lindell could come in to help. He makes the world’s best pillow, or so he says. Many of his customers agree. They sleep like babies, they say. The problem with Lindell is, he wants us to end our 244 year-old secular republic and replace it with a theocracy.
Well, it goes against my character, but I’ll play this game for a moment. Let’s consider that theocracy. If you’re going to have an established religion, I say have one with some oomph or grandeur to it. Give me an ancient, Latin-speaking pope grasping his throne with cruel old eagle-claws–someone who openly wants to dominate and says what he means.
Not this simpering, pray-for-a-good-parking spot, Jesus-make-me-rich evangelism of suburban megachurches with their book stores and cappuccino bars. The evangelical megachurch movement is not just a deranged outgrowth of low culture; it shows clear signs of debauched cruelty. Have you heard the “Christian pop” music played in its houses of worship or on the radio stations they spawn? It can only have been conceived by people who wish for the very idea of sound to be hateful to human beings. Give me old-time hymns any day, in which the singers melodiously entreat God to bring mankind’s suffering to end. They do not create that suffering anew.
But it is precisely this crassest, most demeaning and rebarbative form of religion that is in pole position to become our established church, as Lindell would have it. His dipshittery is emblematic of the whole sorry lot who share his enthusiasm.
In the picture above, Lindell is the business guy with 18 chins in the blue suit. No, not the business guy with 18 chins and blue suit trying to use x-ray vision to stealthily check out the wiener of the first guy in the blue suit. The guy with the mic. That guy. That’s Lindell. In March this year he said the following about Donald Trump’s election:
God answered our millions of prayers and gave us grace and a miracle happened on November 8, 2016. We were given a second chance and time granted to get our country back on track with our conservative values and getting people saved in Jesus’ name. As I stand before you today, I see the greatest president in history. Of course he is; he was chosen by God.
So, it takes a real dipshit to still believe in the divine right of kings, right? I mean, we did not just fight wars (one of which lasted 30 years) to suppress the wickedness of this idea, but we actually reached a point where we saw it for what it was–a ridiculous fabrication. But when Lindell says Trump was elected, he means that in more way than one. (Actually I’m probably giving him too much credit, so let’s say we can easily understand a double entendré there even if Lindell doesn’t know what one is.)
As with any rich person who gets involved in political campaigning, we must always ask why the getting of money is supposed to qualify anyone to comment on anything other than the getting of money. In a news interview on August 18th, Lindell exercised his rich-guy license to comment right up to the edge of dipshittery as I’ve defined it. Challenged on how he could in good faith promote an untested herbal medicine to treat COVID-19, on which he stands to profit immensely, Lindell ranted for a full 10 minutes that his motives were divinely sanctioned, he had a Christian heart, and that sort of thing. He was also fulsome in his adoration of his demigod, Trump.
Drearily, I could go on. But you get the picture. I’ll close for now.
Religion has taught us that that it can be therapeutic to name your enemies. There’s nothing so testing of the soul like contending in the dark with demons you can’t see. I hope I have breathed new life into an old term that helps with the job of naming, and seeing, some of them.