Monday, June 21, 2010

Insane Clown Posse and Science: Deliberate Ignorance

Insance Clown Posse is a rap group known for dressing up like clowns and demonstrating proficiency with using the word "fuck" as an adjective or adverb. Their fans, called Juggalos, often border on the fanatical. Recently the group released a song called "Miracles" in which they assert that all sorts of everyday things are miracles. This list includes eclipses, giraffes, magnets, rainbows, butterflies and how children look like their parents.

Warning: the following video is painful. The pain comes not just from the stupidity of the lyrics but the fact that the music just sucks. Watch at your own risk.

By itself, this song might be dismissed as silly. However, the song contains the lyrics "And I don't wanna talk to a scientist/Y'all motherfuckers lying, and getting me pissed." When this song came out, there was a fair bit of uproar. Although science is abused by people everywhere in the political spectrum, it is rare for such a direct attack to occur. Taken together with the fact that every single thing listed in the song was some bit of science that is normally explained before people are in 9th grade, the reaction was predictable and humorous. They included Learn Your Motherf#@kin’ Science: A Textbook for Juggalos(amusing but for the fact that they explain rainbows incorrectly) and Rebecca Watson's imagining of how the song lyrics were devised.

This could have ended there. But Insane Clown Posse managed to dig themselves in into an even deeper hole. In one interview, the interviewer asked them if they knew yet how magnets worked and they replied that they were proud that they did not. They also wrote an official response to criticism of the song in which they made it clear that not only don't like learning but "We feel like these haters are the big dumb, popular jocks ganging up on the little class clown scrub." It isn't clear to me in what universe Insane Clown Posse operates if they think that the people who like science were the "big dumb, popular jocks." I'm also a bit confused by the notion that the people who know things like how a rainbow works are "dumb" but it may just be that I'm too stupid to understand. Similarly, it may be due to my stupidity that I'm wondering how they would be sure to put a comma between "dumb" and "popular" but not between "big" and "dumb." Is big actually an adverb modifying dumb? Is "big dumb" some sort of compound adjective? If only scientists were popular; I suspect that such a world would be a much better place.

This could have ended there but then Insane Clown Posse made another mistake: They had a concert in San Francisco, a city full of nerds. Noisebridge, a volunteer group devoted to science education around San Francisco decided to use the Posse's visit to their fair city as an opportunity to educate the Juggalos. They made a series of posters explaining how various things work, with titles like "Fuckin' butterflies, how do they work?" They then dressed up with Juggalo-style clown facepaint as well as labcoats, and went to the concert. They videotaped the result:

As you can see in the video, the Insane Clown Posse roadcrew had seen the Noisebridge website in advance where they had planned the event. Apparently, the Insane Clown Posse was not happy with these scientists, forced them to leave, and tried to take away their video camera. Now, one might think that this was just the work of an overzealous roadcrew claiming to have authority from the people in charge, but there's the not so tiny detail that one of the Insane Clown Posse members bragged on his Twitter account that they "ran those scientist haters off." I wish I were making that up. If I had seen the phrase "scientist haters" in any other context I would have guessed that it meant people who hate scientists. What we have here are people who are so proud of their ignorance that they actually interfere with other people engaging in a humorous attempt to educate.

Now, what could possibly make this situation worse? If you guessed "Insane Clown Posse claims to be religious" then you win a gold star. The exact nature of the band's religious status is not clear. Although songs include lyrics about murder, cannibalism, and necrophilia, the individuals who commit these actions always suffer at the end. They have a series of songs centering around a Carnival which punishes people, and the last such song contains the lyrics "Truth is we follow GOD, we’ve always been behind Him. The carnival is God and may all juggalos find him! He’s out there!” And did I mention they hate gays? So the Insane Clown Posse apparently, hates science, hates gays, and believes in a deity whose chief job is to punish people. If you're wondering if they self-identify as Christian then you win another gold star.

Still, the level of anti-science attitudes here is shocking. It resembles nothing more than a caricature of what is wrong with contemporary Christianity. I don't think that band's Christianity has anything deeply to do with their anti-science attitude. For example, they haven't come out strongly against evolution. The correlation in this case is to some extent probably incidental. But there is a real lesson here and it is contained in their strange idea that scientists are the "big, dumb jocks." That idea is very divorced from reality. How can someone be so wrong about the world around them? Let me suggest that it is because science is the best method we have of finding out about the nature of reality. It isn't the only one, but it is the most reliable and the one that has given us the most fruit. So, when you take an attitude that is so anti-science and against the minimal knowledge of how basic genetics works, or any of a hundred other subjects, you are going to not have good methods for telling whether your beliefs about reality map accurately to reality. And the more effort you make to deny science, the further divorced from reality you will become, to the point where you believe the nerdy guys who work in the labs and like to understand how things work are actually "big dumb, popular jocks."


treehouses said...

Josh, don't feed the trolls, Juggalos included.

Jr said...

The whole thing strike me as funny more than anything else. I think Walt of Ars Mathematica had the right reaction

SJ said...

Joshua, you are invited to post here-

SJ said...

Thanks for coming over Joshua. By the way, there's absolutely no reason for believers to be afraid of science.

Religion needs science. Being a good person isn't worth much if we still live in caves.

Noble Caboose said...

Hey, thanks for this post.
I had a hard time finding a post about this that had been adequately researched and I'm glad you had some answers that were backed up by sources.

I wrote my own post on the subject and linked to you in it.


Anonymous said...

i like this band.don't hate not all of them hate gay and scientists just
the singers.But it's ok ever has there own thoughts...get over it

Juggalofamily4lifeMMFWCL said...

Im sorry but who ever posted this is an Ignorant Juggahoe!!! Icp doesn't hate anyone and of course they are gonna get pissed if people come into their concert and make fun of them. They accept every one they way they are. And they are religious just most people look past there message. But the Juggalos get it because they have been through a lot of the same stuff. And haters you won't be in Shangri-La so we don't have to worry about you. Also haters and Bigots have you ever burned your self on something that is they way your flesh will burn in the after life. And to all my family Always Keep It Wicked MMFWCL!!!!

Clownssaid4ucku said...

Ya to the guy who wrote this. You are pathetic. You do fantasize doing your mom. Slit your wrist you racist scum. Dont hate on we juggalos for what we listin to. It's like judgin us bein evil by skin but in this case what we listen to.

Anonymous said...

You think it matters how smart everyone is or what they believe? I feel sorry for you dorks because your so weak and feeble. Get a life fuckers and you best be glad I wasn't in that line.

Anonymous said...

I see your point but who are you to judge them? Its their belife, I personally am an atheist but I would still call myself a juggalo. The whole point of ICP is they premote possative things such as religion, they are anti racism and in all good guys. But I guess some people will never understand

Anonymous said...

"the nature of reality" is nonsense. there is no such thing.

smart people only care about what they can do with things. there is no nature of reality only what we can do with tools such as scientific knowledge. It's just another tool, a very useful tool but a tool nonetheless.

That's the point "f'in magnets how do they work" is a line expressing appreciation for magnets, for miracles. Realist Scientists try to claim that because we can create a set of descriptions that acts as a blueprint for doing things with magnets that this makes it less miraculous and that's nonsense.

I have a feeling ICP would have no problem with instrumentalist scientists.

Normal Humans Everywhere said...

LOL. Juggalos know nothing of spelling and grammar.