The Trouble with Moogwads


I run now.  Every morning, or nearly every morning, to the end of the Promenade and then back home, just under five miles.  It’s good for me, and it makes me feel good for the rest of the day.  Sometimes things go wrong, like how a couple of weeks ago when it was real hot I was running in a sleeveless black t-shirt and then as I passed the Statue of Liberty I suddenly got real freaked out because I realized I was unintentionally recreating the training scene from Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out and got afraid that a fat Black guy would go by on a bike and everyone would laugh and then I would try to shut them up by pointing out that Little Mac was actually wearing a pink track suit in the training scene instead of his signature black tank and they would be like No he wasn’t and I would be like Yeah why don’t you go play the game if you don’t believe me but they would just keep saying he was wearing the black tank and I would keep arguing but then eventually realize they knew all along he was wearing the pink track suit and were just messing with me and I fell for it.  But mostly running goes just fine.

I told you he was wearing a pink track suit, ASSHOLES!!

In fact, the only other thing that didn’t go fine was that time I was finally turning back onto my street, sprinting the last block, and right as I got up to our building someone walked by smoking a cigarette and blew the smoke right in my face just as I was taking my first deep breath.  I quit smoking just over a year ago, and a big part of the way I stay quit is being fanatical about exercise, so this was an especially irritating confluence of habits.  But neither running nor smoking is the point here.

The point is my reaction.  I didn’t say anything to the person, of course, but I was pissed, and the way that being pissed happened to manifest itself in my head in the form of words was something like “Agh!  Fucking idiot!  She’s probably a…”

Probably a what?  I couldn’t finish the thought, because I couldn’t think of any category of people who seemed exemplified by the trait of “frequently blow smoke into the faces of joggers.”  And yet, even though I couldn’t, my mind still wanted me to.  My mind wanted me to ascribe a random act that annoyed me to a category of people, rather than an individual.  This, of course, is what bigotry means.  A Nazi would have finished the thought with Jew, a right-wing fundie would have finished the though with homosexual, and so on.

By saying that I couldn’t finish the thought, I’m not holding myself up as a model of enlightenment and claiming that I am utterly unprejudiced.  There are plenty of groups of people I don’t like.  I like to think that I dislike all of them with good reason:  religious fundamentalists, child molesters, panda poachers, etc.  But still, they are groups of people that I dislike.  It’s just that none of them worked for this particular situation.  Assuming that the fiftysomething woman who blew smoke in my face was a kiddie-raping panda-murderer seemed farfetched.  And as for the main group I blame my problems on, Christian Fundamentalists don’t smoke.

Ironically, in fact, as a depressive iconoclastic young urban liberal poet, I myself probably belong to the demographic most likely to smoke.  It’s just that I personally happen not to (anymore).

The question is, why do we react this way at all?  Why do our minds bother taking the extra step of ascribing group membership to the individual who inconvenienced us, rather than just say “That person did XYZ, and it was shitty,” and leave it at that?

Largely, it’s because our skulls contain tools for making connections between things.  Our brains didn’t evolve to go “Hey, that specific individual plant had water inside it; I’ll have to remember where that plant is.”  They evolved to go “Hey, that plant had water inside it; maybe every other plant that looks like it also has water inside it,” because the people whose brains did that had an eviable habit of not dying of thirst.  Fast forward a few hundred thousand years, and we have no trouble remembering which plants have water in them (that's good!), but also there is such a thing as racism (that's bad!).

That was probably a little oversimplified, but you get the idea:  our minds are relentless connection-making machines, to the point where they do this even when it barely makes sense (“That bunch of stars looks like a bear to you?  Um… okay”).  Otherwise, there’s just too much stuff to keep track of:  the more things are “all the same,” the easier it is.  Anyway, now that we can just Google it whenever we need to know what’s inside plants and junk, obviously we should just stop all this categorizing business, especially with people, because that only does bad stuff and doesn’t do any good stuff.

Except for all the good stuff it does.

Remember how I said I quit smoking?  Well, in order to do that, I didn’t just think about how the practice of smoking is bad for my health.  I had to think about people who smoke as a category, and start to define myself contra them.  And then start getting heavily into exercise, which in turn required me to define myself contra people who don’t exercise.  And obviously I had to think of such people as bad, because otherwise why would defining myself contra them be a motivator?  I’m not going to do a bunch of pain-in-the-ass stuff for an hour every damn day just to be different from people if it’s all good either way.  You only stick with that shit if it makes you better than people.

In many ways, I’m just lucky.  Since anybody can accurately tell which individuals are out of shape by looking at them, there’s no need for me to pick a group of people (based on, say, the color of their skin) and assume that they’re all out of shape.  And since I happen to actually be smart, I have no need to claim intellectual superiority based on my race or gender — I can claim it just fine by actually doing smart things in my capacity as an individual, thank you very much.  Were I some dumbass in a trailer park, on the other hand, then maybe the fact that I happen to be the same race and gender as Einstein and Shakespeare would seem like a bigger deal.  This doesn’t excuse racism or sexism, of course — it’s just stating a fact about their origins, which I did because I am trying to do something about them.

…Which also made it necessary for me to slander people who live in trailer parks as a category, because I needed a memorable feature to attach to the concept of stupid people, and you can’t tell whether people are stupid just by looking at them.

Well, maybe by how they’re dressed. 

 "This works on so many levels!"

This is also, conveniently, how prudes can effortlessly tell who is a slut.  This was harder to do back when everyone dressed the same, of course — hence the convenience of scarlet letters.  Everybody who had one was one fewer person with a chance of getting into heaven instead of you, and this made for an amusing mental game to play while walking around the village from day to day, as well as an effective constant reminder to be extra careful not to become one of those people yourself.

Okay, so this is retarded when the prized behavior is a stupid one like not having sex.  But what about when the prized behavior is a genuinely valuable one like exercising, or not smoking, or working hard in school?  Sure, we can say that any genuinely valuable trait should be reinforceable with positive role models rather than negative ones:  rather than talking about how all the kids who don’t study are going to work at McDonald’s, just talk about how the kids who study the most are going to be rich.  But the first problem with that is that the kids who study the most are actually going to be teachers and hence poor.  And the second problem is that it doesn’t work.

For example, anyone who’s ever coached a little league team knows that boys are easier to control than girls.  Partially, this is because boys are just naturally a bit more hive-minded.  Additionally, there’s the fact that boy culture is predicated on physical violence, so the ever-present threat that the alpha boys will beat up anyone who steps out of line does a good portion of the coach’s work for him.  But ultimately, you’ve got the fact that every boy comes with a built-in way to get him immediately to stop or amend any undesirable behavior:  just tell him he’s acting like a girl.  (By junior high or so, this gets changed to “faggot,” but the conditioning is already 99% finished by then.)

In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the various achievement gaps where boys come out ahead are attributable to the fact that there is simply no comparable insult you can use to motivate a young girl in the same way that you can motivate a young boy by comparing him to a girl.  Calling a girl a boy would only be an insult regarding stuff like knowing how to dress or put on makeup — i.e., the stuff that people are trying to get young girls to care less about.  In terms of all the stuff we want them to care more about, being called a boy would be taken as a compliment, especially after a lifetime of overhearing adults scold every boy who sucks at something by calling him a girl.

In fact, even after the entrance into sexual maturity and commerce between the genders, the Girl Who Can Do Boy Things — drink beer, watch sports, laugh at Beavis and Butt-head — remains an eminently desirable figure, as long as she fulfills the prerequisite of physical femininity (“Even though I’m hot, I’m not like the other girls”).

And even in the advantaged (i.e., effectively insultable) group, in the long run the reinforcement is crippling.  I was born smart, and then encouraged to get even more smart, and on the whole this has worked out well for me.  But the process made me hate stupid people.  And not just to a healthy, disapproving-of-racists degree, but to the degree that if I am talking to someone and it becomes clear that they don’t know the story about how John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the same day and Adams’s last words were “Jefferson still lives” but actually Jefferson had died a few hours earlier, it honestly makes my skin crawl as if the person had told me that they’d always fantasized about fucking a half-decayed moray eel in the eyehole before an auditorium full of kindergarteners.

And someone who doesn’t know that isn’t even necessarily stupid.

But the point here is that, for all the bad press it gets, assigning negative characteristics to an “otherized” group can be beneficial for the people who do it — and not just in a self-satisfied “making you feel better” way, but actually assisting in a lifelong process of self-improvement.  The process is so important to our development that prejudicial ideas will contort themselves in every way imaginable to avoid explosion.  After a while, in fact, the disparaging terms take on lives of their own, with little if any actual connection to the maligned groups to which they supposedly refer.  Take the way that frat guys use words like “gay” and “fag,” for instance.  Is using the same cheap move over and over in a two-person fighting video game somehow characteristic of homosexuals?  No.  But it is “gay,” and your friend is being a “fag” when he does it.  And telling him this would be a totally common-sense and effective way of getting him to stop, if not for the fact that it happens to be horribly unfair to actual gay people, who didn’t even do anything.

So, if all that’s necessary is for the word to refer to a group of people who represent any and all undesirable behavior, regardless of whether said undesirable behavior actually has anything to do with the members of that group… why don’t we just make one up?

Not just a word, but a group itself.  I nominate Moogwads.

If you have never actually met a Moogwad, consider yourself lucky, because they suck.  They are dumb as posts, but think they know everything.  They are butt-ugly, but are found attractive by morons for some reason.  They are constantly trying to be funny, but aren’t.  Whenever everybody is trying to do something and it almost works, rest assured that a Moogwad will fuck it up at the last second, and then blame everyone else.  They never pay for things, because they are either broke from being irresponsible or secretly have a lot of money and are just greedy.  They are simultaneously devious and gullible.  They are not only unimaginably cheap at video games, but then bitch about it later on if someone does the exact same thing to them.  They never get laid.  Unless you happen to be against sex, in which case they are sluts.  In light of all this, it truly is amazing that they get such special treatment and everything is so easy for them.

Is this a shockingly accurate description of groups of people you don’t like?  Of course it is.  This is because Moogwad is an acronym for Member Of Other Group We All Dislike.  Since the sole defining trait of these people whom we dislike and who aren’t us is the mere fact that they aren’t us and we dislike them, there is no way for prejudice against them to be inaccurate.  Hence, prejudice against Moogwads should immediately be adopted by everyone… in lieu of prejudice against everyone else.

Logically, there is no reason not to do this.  If there is another category of people about which you still firmly believe that 99% of them suck, then even if you are right it is still slightly inaccurate to use a name for those people as an insult, since 1% of them do not suck.  Therefore, simply import all the individuals from that group who do in fact suck into the new category of “Moogwads.”  The new term is 1% more accurate, and can also accommodate new people who suck, as needed.  Hell, since Moogwads suck by definition, technically it isn’t even prejudice.

Additionally, the word Moogwad itself is an ideal insult from a formalist perspective.  Like many of the most successful derogatory terms, it is two syllables with the accent on the first and a “g” sound in the middle.  The “oo” sound makes it humorous, and the back-vowelized, almost schwa-like “a” of the second syllable renders it an eminently satisfying term for expressing anger.  It ends in “-wad,” a nostalgic throwback to junior-high insults.  The bovine associations of the initial “moo” imply stupidity, servility, herd mentality, and ultimately powerlessness.

Moogwad lends itself easily to useful phrases like:

        —“Fucking Moogwads!”

        —“Stop acting like a Moogwad.”

        —“What are you, some kind of Moogwad?”

        —“No special rights for Moogwads!”

        —“Hey Moogwad, why don’t you go back to Poofam*?”

                                                                        *(Place Of Origin For All Moogwads)

The only downside is that there is no way to tell who is a Moogwad without actually interacting with them.  Entire pre-existing categories cannot be imported wholesale into the category of Moogwad, only individuals on a case-by-case basis.  This is the price we pay for the just nature of our opposition to Moogwads:  we must sacrifice convenience for accuracy.  There is no way to tell a Moogwad just by looking.

Even if you’re at a theater and you see someone coming out of one of those fucking movies that’s just called “[Something] Movie” and is just a bunch of references to other recent movies and half the time it isn’t even an actual joke about the other movie but just someone repeating the exact same dialogue from the other movie and how is that even a joke?  Give him the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe he’s only there because his mom made him take his little brother or something.  He isn’t necessarily a Moogwad.

Unless he’s also wearing this:

 "But however did you KNOW I was a douche? Are you PSYCHIC?"

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