Friday, March 22, 2013


My difficulty with the charged language of feminism reminds me of another polarizing topic. I wrote the article below to articulate the frustration I've felt when talking about religion. Everything applies just as well to feminism, except that I believe feminism has done much more good than harm.
Occasionally a friend sees my writing as bigoted against religious people. The following metaphor explains why that perception is inaccurate.

Every so often I write about a chainsaw murder. I point out that the killing was deplorable, and decry the misuse of such a dangerous tool. I say that the act was despicable, irresponsible and childish, and that it never should have happened. My friend replies as follows.

"Hugh, how dare you? I own a chainsaw, and I use it responsibly. I keep it locked away in my garage so that no one else can get to it. I use it for landscaping, and for cutting up firewood. I even make art with it. Have you seen my chainsaw sculptures? I'm not hurting anyone! I am so sick of your bigoted attacks on chainsaw owners!"

I was not criticizing owners of chainsaws. I was criticizing the misuse of chainsaws.

To understand a tool, look at it the way the universe looks at it. The essence of a tool is force multiplication, and the universe looks at force multipliers the way Maryland cops look at New Jersey plates. Whether it's a gun or a plow blade or a computer, the universe exacts a heavy toll. Folks have to digest the food to get the muscle power to dig up the ore and cut down the trees to make the tools to dig up more ore and cut down more trees to make machines to harvest more materials to burn and filter and mix and process and press and stretch and purify and heat and cool and hammer and quench and assemble that tool. Without all that work bound up in it, the tool in your hand could not allow you do do that which you could not do without it.

When I look at a tool, I see vast swaths of energy gathered over time and concentrated. I admire the power of a tool used wisely, and fear the power of a tool used fecklessly.

Religion is one of the most powerful tools humankind has ever seen. And even the most cursory glance at history reveals its potential for misuse. Its potency, and the wantonness with which that potency has been directed, terrifies me. I have every right to point out the misuse of the tool. I do not deny that the tool is also capable of doing useful work. I do believe the tool has done more harm than good, but this belief does not invalidate my screeds against the tool's misuse, nor does it equate to bigotry against those who use the tool responsibly. And while we're talking about those who use the tool responsibly, they should understand that there is a connection between the purchasing power they exercise when they buy the tool, and the continued existence of a tool that is so often misused.

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