The Brassican Heresy

Warning: The following post is long, and may contain insults to French people. And Christians. And probably frogs.

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I’d like to propose to you a daring hypothesis.

You may be surprised by it. You may be stunned. You might even be shocked. Because this is such a daring idea, some of you reading this right now may actually be horrified. There’s even the possibility – distant, but real, so I have to warn you – that one or more people about to read the following hypothesis will suffer deep psychological damage and end up under permanent psychiatric care, or possibly even comatose.

I don’t really want to just spring it on you suddenly. This is something so new, so different, so deeply significant, that I feel very strongly that it should have its own screen. It’s just not something I feel okay with plopping down in a sea of insignificant words, as if it were one common grain of sand on a vast beach.

This is something so special it demands treatment you’d immediately consider … unusual.

So. If you think you’re ready for it, brace yourself and look below the break. Here it comes:

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Broccoli exists.

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There. Pretty daring, huh? Are you surprised? Shocked? Horrified?

No? Okay, well, sorry.

Alright, I’ll admit it doesn’t seem that shocking. Broccoli is so mundane, you can find it in any supermarket. It’s so common, you can talk about it to friends in Australia, or Japan, and they’ll know what it is.

Sure, broccoli. Green veggie thingie with this short, thick branching stalk and then these sort of bunchy flowery thingies on the ends of them. You steam it and put butter on it, or maybe cheese.

See? I don’t even have to describe it very well, because you already know what it is.

I could tell you some other things about broccoli, however, things you may not know. For instance:

Broccoli is a member of the Cruciferae (or Brassicaceae) family, which includes cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, collards, kale, rutabagas and Chinese cabbage, but also the turnip, rapeseed, mustard, radish, horseradish, cress and watercress.

All these plants share a common feature – four-petaled flowers that bear the resemblance to a Greek cross which is why they are frequently referred to as crucifers or cruciferous. Broccoli is the one with the scientific name Brassica oleracea.

Broccoli and cauliflower were called colewort in the late 16th century England. The familiar head of cabbage was called “cabbage,” while the entire plant was called cabbage-cole, cole or colewort.

Did you know the Romans ate broccoli? Pliny the Elder said so. Thomas Jefferson noted down that he planted broccoli at Monticello in the spring of 1767. Strangely, broccoli only became popular in the U.S. starting in about 1930, and because so many people had never seen it before, lots of them thought it was a totally new vegetable.

Broccoli is high in fiber. A cup of steamed broccoli has about as much vitamin C as an orange, lots of vitamin D, folic acid, calcium and iron.

There, see? Now you know some things about broccoli you may not have known.

Researching broccoli just now, I came across the Postharvest Technology Research & Information Center. Researchers at the University of California, Davis, have gathered data on broccoli such as the optimum temperature and relative humidity for storage, ways to prevent freezing injury, rates of ethylene production (huh?), responses to controlled atmospheres, physiological disorders, how to prevent physical injury to it during shipping and handling, and how to recognize attack by bacterial or fungal pathogens.

More than I need to know, anyway.

However, in all of this talk of broccoli, the discussion centers on facts. Not speculation. Not guesses. Not artistic interpretations. Not wild flights of fancy, or mystic agricultural secrets, not even knowledge brought back from a broccoleptic trance (if there was such a thing, which there isn’t, because I just made it up).

The important thing is this: If you want to talk about broccoli, you’re not free to make up your own details.

More definitively: You don’t have the freedom to “believe” in broccoli just any old way. Broccoli is a real thing, a KNOWN thing.

And if you want to talk about it, or think about it, you have to talk or think using the known facts. If you use some other set of fanciful descriptions, you’re not talking about broccoli.

Let me say that again, with extra emphasis:

Because broccoli exists, you’re not free to “believe” in it just any old way, and have your belief be true.

If you say “Broccoli is orange,” you have to show evidence that there is such a thing as orange broccoli. And even if you did, everybody else who knows about broccoli will still correct your statement to “SOME broccoli is orange.” Because the existence of orange broccoli wouldn’t suddenly cause all the green broccoli to cease to exist.

And even then, you might find people saying “Oh, well, you’ve only painted some stalks of broccoli orange, so you’re not even right about that. Broccoli is still green. It’s just that you’ve painted ONE stalk of broccoli orange, and that was paint so it doesn’t count. Jackass.”

You can believe anything you want about broccoli, but if your ‘beliefs” aren’t true, even a 5 year old can prove you wrong. Because broccoli is real, and everybody knows about it.

Further, your beliefs do not affect the real nature of broccoli. Broccoli is broccoli, not whatever you in your head think it is.

On to dragonoccoli.

I might say “Dragonoccoli is a large, green, fire-breathing plant-animal hybrid which resulted originally from the amorous tryst of a Mongolian dragon with a patch of vegetables.”

Or you might say “Dragonoccoli is a board game produced by the same people who brought us Monopoly. They play it in China and the losers are thrown into the fire, hence the ‘dragon’ part of the name.”

Or someone else might say “Dragonoccoli is a bacterial infection of the knees in people of French descent, the only known cure for which is eating large amounts of snails and putting two drops of garlic butter in your eyes every four hours.” (And no, I’m not making fun of people of French origin. Grow up, frog.)

Then again: “Dragonoccoli is a famous Italian opera in which a puppet carved by a kindly old man dreams of becoming a porn star, and who seeks the favor of a magical Blue Fairy to turn him real, and who gets his wish and goes on to become the darling of the porn industry. It’s also the source of the phrase ‘getting wood.’ ”

See? As there is no such KNOWN thing as dragonoccoli, you and I — and a billion other people — can say any darned thing about it we like, and not only insist we’re right, but conjure up the deep personal satisfaction of rightness.

But with broccoli, we’re not that free. We’re not free to just make up stuff. Because there will always be broccoli, real broccoli, known to billions, to prove us wrong.

Now let’s talk about Bill.

Bill is a friend of mine, a real person I’ve known for about 13 years. I know what he looks like, I know where he lives, the sound of his voice, I can tell you some of his bad jokes, I know some interesting parts of his life history, I know the names of his wife and kids and dog.

If I go out and ask 100 people to tell me what they think might be some of the attributes of my friend Bill, they might say he’s tall, he’s Black, he has a shaved head, he has a tattoo of an anchor and chain on his forearm just like Popeye, or any number of other things.

All of these things might be true of one Bill or another out there, but they would be false about MY Bill. Bill, the real Bill, the specific Bill I’m talking about, is nothing like that.

You might get those 100 people in a bar together and pour them all a few stiff drinks and get them arguing about the nature of Bill, and they might create descriptive flights of fancy that would put Mark Twain to shame. But unless they’ve met Bill, there will be no substance to anything they say. Their voices might rise to the rafters with the passion of their suppositions, but unless they’ve met Bill, they won’t have any reliable evidence that he even exists. They won’t be talking about Bill.

The fact is, you can’t just make stuff up about this specific Bill and have it be true. Nothing you say about Bill will be accurate, except for the occasional rare hit of a wild guess.

Just as important, nothing you say about Bill will affect him in any way. His appearance won’t change, his nature won’t be altered. He will still be this specific Bill, just as he is.

And now to gods.

What can you say about them? I must’ve read about hundreds of ‘em (Godchecker.com claims to list more than 2,850), everything from prehistoric people’s stone idols to the Scientologists’ idiot Evil Galactic Overlord Xenu.

But just with the Christian “God” alone, if you talk to a dozen Christians, you’ll get a dozen different descriptions.

God is love. God is the essence of all being. God is in our hearts. God is my co-pilot. God’s in Heaven, all’s right with the world. God is the universe itself. God is a real person, only bigger and meaner, and shoots lightning out his ass. God is the Holy Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Ghost. God is the Creator. God sees the fall of every sparrow.

And on and on, if you keep asking people, for the next 50 million pages and 237 years.

Yeah.

But can you say “God is green”? Probably not. Certainly no Catholic would agree with you. Can you say “God is white”? Oooh, not without some argument from Christians who’d accuse you of deliberate racism. You could say “God is male,” but you’d get indignant argument from people no less devout, to say that SHE is NOT male.

Except you COULD arguably say “God is green.” You COULD say “God is white.” You COULD say “God is male.” And you’d get some agreement from people who’d clasp their hands together, lower their voices, roll their eyes devoutly heavenwards, smirk confidently and intone “God … is … ALL THINGS to all people.”

You can say anything at all about God, or gods, and arguably be right … or wrong.

Or you can save yourself the trouble of arguing by keeping your god-beliefs completely to yourself. And even in this you’d find some agreement, under the theory that freedom of religion means just that, and nobody can tell you what to believe and we’re free to believe anything.

We’re free to believe anything at all, ANYTHING, about our own personal god or gods. And the things we believe may be parallel to what other people believe, or opposite, or even so violently counterposed to what they believe that you want to kill the deceptive bastards.

We’re free – legally and socially, anyway – to believe anything at all about our favorite god. But we’re not free to believe just anything at all about broccoli. Not if we want to talk realistically about broccoli.

Pay attention now, because this is important:

We’re not free to believe just any old thing about broccoli because broccoli exists and has specific, detailed, definable, known attributes. You don’t have the freedom to believe in broccoli in just any old way. You have to “believe” in it in the way it is, the real way it is. You’re not free to believe just any old thing about my specific friend Bill, because Bill is a real person and has his own unique attributes. Not if you want to talk about broccoli, and Bill.

So how is it so many of us believe we’re free to believe anything at all about God/gods?

Either a god — a real, existing god — has specific, detailed, definable, known attributes, or he/she/it does not. If he/she/it does not have such attributes, he/she/it … Does. Not. Exist.

If there is a god, if it’s a real thing, it’s … some way. It’s not something you make up in your head. It’s not something the guy next door makes up in his head, or even something the Pope makes up in his head.

It’s this thing or the other, but whatever it is, it’s really, really that way. As broccoli is green, a god is whatever color it is. As broccoli is a stalked vegetable, the real god is whatever physical form and material (or non-physical, immaterial) nature it is. As broccoli is good steamed with butter melted on top, this particular god is best related to in whatever way it is best related to.

We may not know these things. But the nature of a god, if it exists, is something real, some real collection of attributes.

Got it? A real god is THIS way, or THAT way, and not any other way.

Here’s my point:

If your god exists, if there is a real god, you’re not free to believe any old thing about it.

(A little aside: “Believe in” is the wrong expression to use if you’re talking about a real thing. I don’t “believe in” broccoli or Bill, I know them, accept them, interact with them in the real world. I can demonstrate their reality even to skeptics. “Belief” to a religious person is a stand-in for the word “faith,” which is an immediate admission that the thing isn’t real enough to demonstrate — coupled with a projective determination, a powerful delusional desire, to make it be so anyway.)

You can’t have it both ways. You cannot at the same time seriously believe in the existence of a thing, and feel free to just make up stuff on the spot. You can’t just repeat something you heard on the street, or even in church, and make a claim of belief. You can’t respond to a question with whatever pops into your head.

You have to find out what it’s really like.

If a specific god really exists, it has real attributes. If you KNOW some of those attributes, you might honestly claim to believe in that god. But if a specific god exists, and has real attributes, and you do NOT know those attributes for certain, you are not relating to that specific god.

If you’re making stuff up, even a little bit, you CAN NOT honestly make the claim of belief. You truly do not believe in that god, and you are LYING if you say you do.

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  • ‘Tis Himself, OM.

    If you’re making stuff up, even a little bit, you CAN NOT honestly make the claim of belief. You truly do not believe in that god, and you are LYING if you say you do.

    The problem is the goddists don’t claim to be making stuff up about their favorite god(s), they’re interpreting what the god(s) tell them. Now to the unbeliever, interpretation may look exactly like making stuff up, but to the believer it’s totally different*. The god(s) tell the believer exactly what is to be believed. The believer “feels it in their heart” and “has faith” that what they made up interpreted is “god’s own truth.”

    By the way, I’m sure you’ve noticed that when someone claims “God talks to me” that God has exactly the same opinions and prejudices as the mouthpiece.

    *This is a prime example of Sophisticated Theology™.

  • Pierce R. Butler

    Somewhere on Panda’s Thumb, and possibly elsewhere, Wesley Elsberry has a great little riff about the members of the brassica family – whose diversity comes primarily from the work of human farmers – illustrating how much genetic potential there is for natural (or artificial) selection to work on, as one answer to creationists’ insistence that “types” never vary.

    He doesn’t say anything, sfaik, about the 1st Pres. Bush’s vocal antipathy towards broccoli.

  • TGIAA

    Thank you.

  • Jim Baerg

    “rates of ethylene production (huh?)”

    Ethylene is involved in the ripening of many plants. So often fruits are picked green & then gassed with ethylene to make them (sort of, kinda in a way) ripe.

  • anthonyallen

    Ha.

    I’ve been kinda saying that for years. If someone asks me whether I believe in god, I tell them that if there is a god, I won’t have to believe.

  • Happiestsadist

    This post has made this atheist with a fanatical love for cruciferous veggies of all types, but especially broccoli, absolutely delighted.

  • Kevin

    Yes, I’ve been saying this sort of thing for the past few years.

    It’s the first of my “5 hurdles to prove the existence of your god”.

    To wit: What is it? Describe what it is. Not what it does (attributes like omnipotence). What is it made of? Who says so? How do you know? Does every theist in the world agree with this assessment? Does every non-theist? Why not (because the latter is a self-answering question)?

    Every single religious person I’ve posed this test to fails at the first hurdle.

    God has an ontological problem. Your god and that guy’s god over there, too.

    So, theists, please stop using the ontological argument. Because you don’t know what your god is made of.

    BTW and FWIW: No matter what has been brainwashed into your head, broccoli is not edible.

  • http://vincentdeporter.com Vincent Deporter

    Wonderful. Funny, and to the point. Logical bulls-eye yet again, Hank.

  • ‘Tis Himself, OM.

    No matter what has been brainwashed into your head, broccoli is not edible.

    An erroneous slander on a noble vegetable which, despite rumors to the contrary, is quite delicious and nutritious.

  • http://noahsarc.wordpress.com Ian MacDougall

    I took a trip to Brittany once: cauliflowers to the horizon. But my favourite cruciferous plants are brussels sprouts and cabbage; like broccoli best cooked in a lidded saucepan with only enough water to just cover the bottom and so prevent burning, and with a small dash of olive oil and a low heat to simmer.

    Very filling, and high on non-fattening nutrients. I could go on but if I did, then Hank, you’d have got me started.

  • Harry Kier

    I’m a member of the kohlrabi sect myself. Broccoli is mainline. Just about everyone and his uncle believes in it, but it takes faith to believe in kohlrabi ;-)

  • Zachariah

    I just wanted to say that this is a very well thought out piece. It got a little rambly toward the end, but overall it was a unique way to go about the argument. Thank you.

  • Serb

    ;; Slow, steady applause.;;

    You sir, are brilliant.


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