Book Review: Dumbocracy by Marty Beckerman

Marty Beckerman is the author of the recently released Dumbocracy: Adventures with the Loony Left, the Rabid Right, and Other American Idiots.

Beckerman is in his twenties and has written articles for Playboy and The Huffington Post. So it’s easy to pigeonhole him as a young liberal who leans so far to the left that he falls over.

You’d be wrong. In fact, Beckerman dislikes both sides of the political spectrum. Specifically, he dislikes the ends of the spectrum. Dumbocracy is a look at the extremists on both sides of the major cultural issues of our day: Abortion, gay marriage, the War in Iraq, etc.

I read this book in a few hours while on a plane last weekend and found that it helped the time pass by quickly. It’s not that often you get to read a very eye-opening interview with members of Fred (“God Hates Fags”) Phelps’ family and a very anti-climactic interview with the (now deceased) Jerry Falwell in the same place. Right next to a promotional blurb by former presidential candidate Mike Gravel.

His writing style is similar to Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi though he’s not taking a side. In fact, I thought I’d enjoy seeing Beckerman ripping on the “other” side throughout his adventures, but every time that happened, I quickly found myself reading about people on my own side of the issues displaying the same types of behavior and yelling the same kinds of annoying slogans as the opposition. It’s humbling, discouraging, and a reminder that there must be a better way to communicate our values to other people.

It’s unsettling to say the least. But funny. Very funny.

Here’s the opening line, for example:

Opinions are like genitals: if you force others to swallow yours, something is seriously wrong with you.

Ok, so this isn’t a children’s book. In fact, the ad hominem attacks (like referring to President Bush as “King Retard”) take away from a more serious critique of the people Beckerman describes. If you can see past that, though, this is an entertaining book to read. Hell, after I was done, I wanted to have a beer with the author and I don’t even drink.

A different book may have taken sides on the various issues, but that’s not the goal here. The point is really just to hold a mirror to both sides, whether you like what you see or not.

In case you think this is just a book of insults, there is actually some very impressive analysis, too.

In the chapter on abortion, I especially liked this passage:

Never mind that both sides are pro-life and pro-choice. Christians cherish the lives of babies; feminists cherish the lives of women. Christians believe that women should make better choices in bed; feminists believe that women should choose whether they’re ready for motherhood. They might actually find some common ground if everyone were to shut the fuck up for five seconds.

Listen, pro-lifers: abortion is a necessary evil.

Listen, feminists: abortion is a necessary evil.

It’s a book marketed to liberals, but I think conservatives could find a lot of value in it. We’d be better off if we listened to what the other side had to say without getting into a shouting match. There’s power in civilized dialogue. And when you see how idiotic both sides look when the extremists get the attention, you can understand why compromise is so difficult and why we’re rarely able to make progress on the issues that matter to everyone.

More information on the book and the author can be found on Beckerman’s website.

You can also watch this promotional video for Dumbocracy!



  • Simon

    It probably showing my own bias that I never find the liberal side just quite as dumb as certainly as venomous as the other one…

  • Sarah T.

    “Abortion is a necessary evil

    Joke’s on you, Marty Beckerman. I don’t believe in evil, and even if I did abortion would not be any more evil than any other voluntary medical procedure.

    I like how he creates two strawmen and tries to mediate some sort of peace between them.

  • Polly

    Those to whom this book mostly applies are the least likely to “get it.” The religious right will adopt the typical persecution complex and write him off as having a darkened mind. The other side will do…well…pretty much the same thing.

    Because if it’s one thing all extremists have in common it’s the fundamental belief that the ONLY answer is THEIR answer. Everyone else just needs to be educated, converted, or eliminated.

  • mikespeir

    Whew! I’m glad I’m normal.

  • Zar

    It’s a good thing he points out that abortions are not candy and puppy kisses. Feminists are totally unaware of that, and think it is a funny-sunny leisure-time activity.

    I think the guy makes an error in assuming that both sides to any issue are equivalent. When pro-choicers start bombing people he’ll have a point.

  • Polly

    Whew! I’m glad I’m normal.

    Whoa, let’s not jump to conclusions, just yet…

    :) j.k.

  • grazatt

    What does he say about gay rights in his book?

  • http://www.cvaas.org R.C. Moore

    Beckerman tries to pass off Ivy League application essays as the work of a professional writer. There is no insight, no points to mull over, just cleverness and name dropping from his college GE courses.

    If you like this kind of stuff, there are a million blogs like it you can read for free. Show some economic common sense.

    Or read George Carlin. Much better, and informed with a life time of experience.

  • http://www.cvaas.org R.C. Moore

    Zar said:

    It’s a good thing he points out that abortions are not candy and puppy kisses. Feminists are totally unaware of that, and think it is a funny-sunny leisure-time activity.

    The pro-choice movement was started by feminists sick of the back-alley butchering of women by illegal abortion providers. The strides made to make this a safe procedure should not be trivialized. Feminists are obviously much better informed on this issue than Zar is.

  • http://sanguinity.livejournal.com Sanguinity

    Zar: I can’t say I’ve met any feminists who think that abortions are candy and puppy kisses. The feminist position is about whether or not the procedure is available and who gets to make the decision. It’s never been about whether or not abortions are fun.

  • http://www.freethoughtflorida.com Rose

    Thank you, Sarah T. I was coming here to say something to that effect.

    I also take issue with his notion that I’ll find something to agree with in the statement “Christians believe that women should make better choices in bed”. I find this offensive for at least three reasons:

    1. It’s not always the woman’s choice to be ‘in bed’, but that’s the obvious. Where are the men in this argument? If women are to make better choices in bed, where are the men who are supposed to respect that?

    and

    2. What’s implicit here is the judgment against a woman’s sexuality: Women who get pregnant before they’re ready to be mothers made a poor choice and therefore deserve to have the child as “punishment” – a vile opinion that demeans sexuality and motherhood at the same time.

    and finally,

    3. Why is it a woman’s “choice” to get pregnant? And why does that “choice” override any other?

    PS: Did you guys read the second part of Zar’s comment. It’s a big clue. He/she’s not being serious about abortions being fun.

  • Lost Left Coaster

    I don’t think it is a fair characterization to say that Beckerman doesn’t take sides. He clearly does; by calling abortion a “necessary evil” and expecting feminists to just shut up and accept his wisdom, he is clearly taking a side. I am a feminist and pro-choice and I take strong exception to calling abortion a “necessary evil” — you are telling a woman that has had an abortion that what she did is evil, that making a choice about her own body and her own reproduction is evil. Making this choice is anything but evil! A woman has a right to reproductive freedom and choice. Beckerman makes this statement as though he were finding some kind of middle ground, but indeed he did not. He is, in effect, calling women evil for wanting to control their own bodies.

    Also, I find it extremely annoying that he says that anti-choicers are worried about “babies.” A baby is a human being that has been born. They are not talking about babies. They are talking about fetuses. This is an important distinction. I’m not saying that a fetus has no value; I’m saying that a fetus is not a baby. Throughout that entire passage Beckerman really is adopting the language of the anti-choice people.

    And I agree with Rose completely: I take strong exception to the statement that “women should make better choices in bed” — a very sexist statement, and what the hell does that have to do with being “pro-choice”? Anyway, even Beckerman’s sexist characterization (that he thinks is somehow reasonable) is totally off the mark — the anti-abortion forces want women (and men, but they mainly obsess about women, it seems to me) to adopt their specific neanderthal attitudes about sexuality.

    This book strikes me as another one of those absolutely useless postmodern screeds that makes fun of everyone while accomplishing exactly nothing. I haven’t read it, though. But it sounds unpleasant, if his “analysis” about abortion rights is any indication.

  • grazatt
  • noodleguy

    Above all this book sounds immature and unintelligent.

    Not something I’m interested in.

    Also: since when is this post all about abortion. Sloooooow down people I think we’re supposed to be commenting on the actual book here. Instead people seem to be ignoring absolutely everything else and espousing long essays on their position on abortion.

    My position on abortion is very simple: Who cares? Aren’t there more important issues to debate out there? The economy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (I know its a shocker, there’s two of them, Freedom of Speech, etc etc…

    For some reason a circlular moralist issue that revolves around a debate between fundie pro-lifers and foaming-at-the-mouth feminists does NOT seem like something I really should care about…

    Still, this book looks retarded.

  • http://www.freethoughtflorida.com Rose

    I agree w/ you noodleguy that this guy sounds immature and untelligent – and the youtube vid posted by grazatt confirms it in the most horrible detail – but the abortion critiques have everything to do with the book, since the comments are directly related to the passage Hemant quoted.

    But I have a non-abortion question for you. Hemant says,

    And when you see how idiotic both sides look when the extremists get the attention, you can understand why compromise is so difficult and why we’re rarely able to make progress on the issues that matter to everyone.

    Does anyone believe this guy has a chance of bringing either side to the table? If that aforementioned video is any indication of his sense of humor then he’s not likely to have broad appeal. To me, he’s downright offensive, and not much different than the “extremists” he criticizes. He’s still using the extreme to get attention – in his case, extreme rudeness.

    PS – I don’t foam at the mouth – it would ruin my lipstick. ;)

  • Aj

    In the chapter on abortion, I especially liked this passage:

    Never mind that both sides are pro-life and pro-choice. Christians cherish the lives of babies; feminists cherish the lives of women. Christians believe that women should make better choices in bed; feminists believe that women should choose whether they’re ready for motherhood. They might actually find some common ground if everyone were to shut the fuck up for five seconds.

    Listen, pro-lifers: abortion is a necessary evil.

    Listen, feminists: abortion is a necessary evil.

    If that was true then “pro-lifers” wouldn’t be against sex education and many of their arguments wouldn’t start with “they should have responsibility”. It’s absurd to suggest that those people “just want women to make better choices”. It’s also another example of the unjustified assumption abortion is wrong. It completely ignores the basis of the “pro-life” movement in religion.

    I dislike this type of “I’m the middle-ground”, and anyone that disagrees with me is on the fringes type person. It’s not enough to label others “extremists” and that makes them wrong. One of the problems in debate today is that people think that the middle of two points is always right. That’s got to be some kind of logical fallacy, perhaps I’ll look into it, or ask someone else.

  • Lord of Cocouts

    I dislike this type of “I’m the middle-ground”, and anyone that disagrees with me is on the fringes type person. It’s not enough to label others “extremists” and that makes them wrong. One of the problems in debate today is that people think that the middle of two points is always right. That’s got to be some kind of logical fallacy, perhaps I’ll look into it, or ask someone else.

    I think it’s the middle ground or false compromise fallacy. I’ve also heard it called the fallacy of the assumed middle (in opposition to the fallacy of the excluded middle).

  • http://thebitchreport.blogspot.com/ Milena

    To rip on the abortion passage a little more, wanting women to make “better” choices in bed does not make pro-lifers pro-choice, because they’d still be forcing their choices on women.

    Seriously, the whole feminist/Religious Right comparison he seems to be setting up in this book is completely wrong. Feminists want to expand people’s freedom of choice and eliminate as much of discrimination as possible. We’re not forcing women to have abortions against their will. The Religious Right, from my perspective at least, want to force their morality on everyone (thus limiting choice) and continue to have the right to discriminate as they see fit. See, not the same thing. And yes, that’s mostly a critique of the abortion passage, but if his “analysis” of this particular issue is that limited, can the rest of the book be that much better? I doubt it.

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  • Jack

    Aj – It is a fallacy, called the “Argument to moderation (Latin: argumentum ad temperantiam, also known as middle ground, false compromise, gray fallacy and the golden mean fallacy)”, according to the wikipedia page on it.

    That said, it doesn’t seem like he’s saying the middle ground is correct, it looks more like he’s saying that it’s not a false dichotomy and both sides have their points. It’s hard to get that, however, as it seems to be buried under a mask of arrogance which implies that he thinks he’s the only correct one.

  • Aj

    Thanks for naming the logical fallacy. I’m pretty sure in the quote he sets of two strawmen, or at least falsely represents two position, then gives his position as the “middle” thus right position. It’s unintelligent and lazy in my opinion. He complains about no one seeing the shades of grey but where’s the grey everytime he frames an argument as two simplistic sides where he can be the middle. That he thinks there’s common ground doesn’t mean he thinks there’s a false dichotomy. If he does think there is a false dichotomy he’s even more ignorant than people are giving him credit for.

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  • noodleguy

    I think basically the guy is out to do two things:
    1) Set himself up as looking intelligent and moderate, as opposed to those ‘crazy’ right and left-wingers. Since he’s actually neither of these things he has to stereotype both sides as being nuts.
    2) Sell a lot of books by writing politics as some sort of black and white clash of civilizations type story. Its an emotionaly satisfying story where there are the evils of both sides, and him sitting being all moderate in the middle, but it isn’t anything close to what real life is like.

    Also, Rose

    PS – I don’t foam at the mouth – it would ruin my lipstick.

    Haha, okay that made me laugh out loud. Although don’t forget, what’s the difference between a hockey mom and a pitbull…

    Jack is dead on about the fallacy of his argument. Argumentum ad temperantiam isn’t seen often nowadays, but it is still out there. Sigh, THIS is why they need to teach rhetoric classes in schools! People ought to be trained in rhetoric at least somewhat so that they don’t fall for nutty stuff like this. Do you have any idea how much the face of politics would be changed if people just learned their fallacies? Politicians would actually have to make logical arguments, instead of the ethos/pathos BS they spew all too often.

  • http://lippard.blogspot.com/ Jim Lippard

    Sarah T., Rose, etc.:

    In an ideal world, people would use contraception so that abortions were unnecessary. Abortion is not just like any other medical procedure, it’s usually the result of a painful decision-making process and it often has serious long-term emotional consequences.

    I’m a man, so I haven’t myself had an abortion, but I know women who have. I think you are taking it lightly in exactly the way that Beckerman’s comment suggests that you shouldn’t.

  • stogoe

    Yeah, no thanks. I prefer actual analysis to rabid agnosticism and false equivalencies. There is a right side on the issues, and we have the evidence. Pouting and stomping that “well, the liberals do it too*” is frankly uninformed and worse than useless.

    *Two misogynists is not equivalent to inciting a mob to violence. It’s not.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    R.C. Moore and Sanguinity, check the batteries on your irony meter. Judging from Zar’s second paragraph, the first paragraph looks awfully sarcastic. Actually, the over-the-top saccharine bits about “candy and puppy kisses” and “funny-sunny leisure-time activity” already indicate sarcasm.

  • noodleguy

    This debate is getting beyond absurd. Seriously the longer it goes on the more I must laugh at it.

    In an ideal world, people would use contraception so that abortions were unnecessary.

    This is a pretty useless argument since we do not live in an ideal world.

    There is a right side on the issues, and we have the evidence.

    Way to think in black in white, and to cite “evidence” that you don’t back up.

    Judging from Zar’s second paragraph, the first paragraph looks awfully sarcastic.

    I was wondering how long it would be before someone picked up this (obvious) fact. Of course Zar is being sarcastic. It is beyond hilarious that anyone would take it as serious and then use those arguments. It’s like Pat Buchanan just started citing Steven Colbert as his number one source.

    Although if I am wrong and Zar is not being sarcastic then…well…its a sad day when your arguments are so absurd you seem like you’re making a joke, man.

    Anybody watch Jon Stewart’s segment on abortion night before last? I don’t remember specifically, but it was pretty similar…

    Two misogynists is not equivalent to inciting a mob to violence. It’s not.

    Two misogynists don’t make a right, they make a religious right, yah?

  • http://www.freethoughtflorida.com Rose

    Well, here’s something we can all laugh at:

    “Derisive” Air Quotes

  • Desert Son

    noodleguy posted:

    I think basically the guy is out to do two things:
    1) Set himself up as looking intelligent and moderate, as opposed to those ‘crazy’ right and left-wingers. Since he’s actually neither of these things he has to stereotype both sides as being nuts.
    2) Sell a lot of books by writing politics as some sort of black and white clash of civilizations type story. Its an emotionaly satisfying story where there are the evils of both sides, and him sitting being all moderate in the middle, but it isn’t anything close to what real life is like.

    I think your 2) is more likely his 1), and his subsequent numbers are likely ancillary.

    But then it’s been a long day, and I’m feeling particularly cynical.

    No kings,

    Robert

  • http://intj-mom.livejournal.com INTJ Mom

    I liked the quote from the book about abortion, but I’d expand the thought to say “Christians believe women should make better choices in regards to when they have sex and who they have sex with.” I’d say that’s more accurate than just saying they should make better choices in bed.

  • covert vector

    Ugh, this guy sounds like an idiot, promoting the fallacy that if you choose the middle position on an issue, well that means you’re the sensible moderate in comparison to all those other extremists.

    One thing I wish people like him would understand: forced pregnancy is extremist. The opposite extremist position is forced abortion. Which feminists do not advocate-they advocate the moderate position, letting women choose what they want to do with their bodies. I think the insinuation that feminists are the radical ones is ridiculous- we think women shouldn’t die from back-alley abortions and should choose their path in life the same way men do. And no, they are not evil for doing so.


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