Many years ago, Alan Sokal epically owned stupid pomos* by submitting a ridiculous parody article* to their prized journal, Social Text. The article was titled “Transgressing the Boundaries: Towards a Transformative Hermeneutics of Quantum Gravity”. Its most characteristic features was that it was stupid, ridiculous and also completely idiotic as long as taken seriously.
When it was finally revealed that the article was a parody of pomo “thought”, all hell broke loose in the pomo virtual reality, and Sokal was criticised by the numerous disgruntled pomos, who were, naturally, wounded to the core***.
(By the way: I read Sokal’s Beyond the Hoax, but not his first book — yet. I too, thought he was rather full of himself. However:)
Allow me to enlighten you: he pwned the pomos* epically. It was a one-in-a-hundred-years, Iliad-scale epic pwnage. Probably no one will get to pwn anybody like that for years, if ever. It was awesome. It was spectacular. It was effective.
Therefore, Sokal has a right to be smug.
As a matter of fact, I think that fake modesty, and the emphasis on not being smug or even a little bit proud of one’s accomplishments has a lot to do with that sort of Christianity that was pervasive in Europe and beyond for a long long time, and in which one is never allowed to feel good about oneself, basically.
(A somewhat traumatising**** exchange between Sendai A and her grandmother, when Sendai A was a little kidlet, and her grandmother was still alive:
Sendai A: Look! Look! Look what a pretty princess I sculpted in clay, getting the whole room dirty and clayey in the process! Even the curtains! And so what if it doesn’t look like a humanoid, least of all a princess, I SCULPTED IT YAY! SHINY!*****
Grandmother: Yes, it’s pretty.
Sendai A: IT IS ISN’T IT!
Grandmother: But don’t be so full of yourself. If it weren’t for the talent given to you by God****** you wouldn’t be able to sculpt princesses, or maybe even move your hands and legs or speak. You should pray and say thanks more often.
Sendai A: Whaaaa???
Suffice it to say, the relations became somewhat strained between me and the grandmother since then, until she realised she can’t stop neither me from, um, being me, nor my parents from “worshipping the devil and bowing to the idols”******.)
But I digress.
The thing is, when you do something as epic as Sokal, you are entitled to feeling smug. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. We’re entitled to feel good about ourselves when we do something well. We’re entitled to feel good about our accomplishments.
The ridiculous emphasis on always playing down anything you do in western culture is intrinsically bound to the concept of always being grateful for imaginary help to an imaginary bearded sky-fairy. We don’t need that, guys. This might be also why, at least in my experience, the accusations of smugness usually come from the Xian, right-wing side of an argument*******.
Not to mention that if you consider the accusation of smugness in your opponent a valid argument, interesting things are bound to come up, like here:
And a few lines later:
GEE SOMEHOW ONE DOESN’T SEE THE SMUG ATHEISTS SMUGLY PROCLAIMING THE APPEAL OF THE WORD OF DAWKINS THAT SHINES LIKE THE SUN THAT VERY OFTEN. I WONDER WHY.
Or not, really.
(Naturally, swiftly followed by a nonapology. Classy, Andrew Sullivan, really classy. But then, I guess you’re just a smug theist engaging in a typical smug theist snarkfest, huh?)
(Also: not agreeing with Andrew Sullivan is bigotry now? Good one. Almost had me there. Awesome trolling!)
** OMD I read it, so I know. It makes you head all achey when you realise that at least 20 people must have thought it was a brilliant idea to publish it. Ow! (I do realise Social Text had no peer review policy at that time. Yet, somebody had to read and approve, so.)
*** Fortunately, confirmation bias and complete ignorance saved them from the uncomfortable necessity of revising their views in such a way that they conform to reality or any such nonsense.
**** For both participants, not the reader.
***** Obviously, I haven’t changed at all since then.
****** She might have said “the Holy Spirit”. Batshit Catholic theology is not my area of expertise.
****** My parents are Buddhists.
******* Apart from the pomos*. They’re a separate wing all on their own.