Paul “Shirley, you can’t be serious”
As the crisis in Haiti wears on, the supporters of shortcuts to thinking like Rush Limbaugh and Pat Robertson are trickling out.
And now, there’s Paul Shirley. Glancing at the title of his letter (“If You Rebuild It, They Will Come”) it’s easy to think it would be in reference to his career, but it’s actually not. There are some choice nuggets that I’ll get into below, but if you haven’t read his clusterfuck of a post in full I recommend that you do to get the whole picture. It’s a banquet of callous false analogies that similarly dim-witted trolls will eat up.
(A quick history lesson for those of you asking, “Isn’t Paul Stanley the guy from KISS?”: Paul Shirley is—was?—a middling basketball player who wants to be a writer; or he’s a middling writer who wants to be a basketball player. I’m not sure. He’s played on eleven teams—most notably the Bulls in 2004 and the Suns from 2004-2005—and, oddly enough, he’s lasted no longer than one season on each team. Since 2006 he’s been a regular columnist on ESPN.com writing My So-Called Career. In 2007 he put out a sophomoric book about his life in the NBA titled Can I Keep My Jersey?, a question the NBA answered with, “No, you may not.” What I’ve read of this book raises the question, “Was the final draft written in crayon?”)
Anyway, yes, his letter. Let’s start with this:
I haven’t donated to the Haitian relief effort for the same reason that I don’t give money to homeless men on the street. Based on past experiences, I don’t think the guy with the sign that reads “Need You’re Help” is going to do anything constructive with the dollar I might give him. If I use history as my guide, I don’t think the people of Haiti will do much with my money either.
What’s that? Gross oversimplification and conflation of subjects to justify a poorly thought-out position on something important, you say?
This isn’t about some homeless guy on the street any more than it’s about Brett Favre’s inability to make a consistent career decision (see what I did there?) or Dunkin Donuts’ terrible coffee. Shirley compares the problems of his homeless man caricature to the problems afflicting an entire country and expects to get away with it. It’s a time-honored sleight of hand amateurs use as water wings when they’re in the deep end of cogent ideas and don’t know how to swim. Like any brilliant piece of sophistry, Shirley conveniently leaves out important details (like anything substantive about our imaginary hobo: is he American? Does he have resources like welfare or a shelter to go to? Does he carry a polka-dotted sack tied to the end of a stick?) and ignores others (you give a dollar to a homeless guy it’s a direct exchange; you donate to the relief effort, the money’s going to organizations trying to get these folks food, water, and to… y’know… unbury them).
So much for wearing “logic-colored glasses”, eh Shirley?
Oh! Here’s another fun instance of blaming the victim:
We did the same after Hurricane Katrina. We were quick to vilify humans who were too slow to respond to the needs of victims, forgetting that the victims had built and maintained a major city below sea level in a known target zone for hurricanes. Our response: Make the same mistake again. Rebuild a doomed city, putting aside logic as we did.
Seems simple, right? We’ll assume there’s money available to escape squalid physical circumstances (to say nothing of national and cultural identity) and move ’em to a place without any natural disasters! Let me just pull out my Foder’s Guide to Safe Places… oh look honey, it says here on p. 35 that there are no earthquakes, tsunamis, cyclones, tornadoes, blizzards, sandstorms, or volcanoes on the fucking moon.
Oh, wait a minute…
It still isn’t [so simple]. And I’m not as naïve as I once was – I don’t think the people of Haiti have the option of moving.
Uhm, wait, man, so what are you… what… so which is it? Should they, or shouldn’t they move to the moon? Should you quit the Tonight Show or not? Are you or aren’t you retiring?
Look, I’m no spring chicken here. Was there corruption in Haiti before this? Undeniably. Will there be corruption after this? Probably. Should Haiti sort that problem out A.S.A.P.? Absolutely.
But here’s the thing: Shirley’s trying to make this argument about responsibility when it’s not about responsibility, it’s about simple human compassion; it’s about seeing someone fall hard on their ass and stretching a hand out to help them up. Yet this guy has the brass cojones to cynically advocate withholding relief to Haiti and snidely remark that Haitians should “maybe use a condom once in a while”. Shirley strikes me as the kind of man to see his next door neighbors on fire while he sits in a lawn chair, garden hose in one hand and Natty Light in the other, thinking, “Hrm… my water bill was a little steep last month, and those pricks probably fell asleep with a lit cigarette. Pssh, forget it. They shoulda moved.”
Except it’s a little more severe than that, isn’t it? Just two days ago, the foreign minister estimated 150,000 dead in the capital alone. For those who need the mental shortcut: that’s like 9/11—fifty times in a row.
Stop reading this for ten seconds while you absorb that number.
Now think about what this writer/basketball player—born in a comfy San Francisco suburb—is saying to the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere after a colossal natural disaster with at least 150,000 people dead:
For all I know, Paul Shirley may be the most thoughtful, affable person able to write an essay at a fifth grade level. Now thanks to his asinine column he can add “heartless half-witted miser” to his list of qualities.
[As a postscript, I humbly request that you donate to the relief efforts. My horse in the race is the Red Cross. Donate at www.redcross.org or text HAITI to 90999.]