首页  | 专栏作家


中国日报网 2022-12-27 11:13


Reader question:

Please explain “self own” in this headline: Flat Earthers Proving the Earth Is Round Is the Worst Self-Own in Documentary History.


My comments:

Self-own means a self-inflicted defeat, and a thorough defeat at that.

Flat Earthers are people who believe the world is flat. They don’t believe the planet we inhabit is round, i.e., ball-shaped. They believe it’s flat, like a plate.

In our example, some Flat Earthers make that point and, apparently, while making an argument to prove that the Earth is flat in a documentary film, inadvertently prove that the Earth is, indeed, round.

Hence, this self-undoing is dubbed a self-own – in fact, the “worst self-own in documentary history.”


Literally, this means you beat and own yourself. In colloquialism in parts of America, if you defeat your opponent badly in a game or debate or something, you are said to “own” your opponent. This expression probably has to do with America’s history of slavery. If you own slaves, you have total and absolute control of their lives. Hence, if you own your opponent, you dominate him. You have them under your thumb. They’re completely at your mercy.

From this comes the expression, self-own. It means self defeat, a self-inflicted wound.

Still thinking about the World Cup, which concluded in a spectacular final between France and Argentina with Lionel Messi winning the title for the first time, I have a soccer analogy for your here. In the game of soccer, an own goal is the ultimate self-own.

And own goal, of course, refers to the ball you inadvertently put into your own net. A defender tries to kick the ball away from goal but miss-kicks with the ball ending up their own net.

The own goal is the most disappointing thing that can happen on the pitch. You may lose a game because of it, and you only have yourself to blame.

Any self-own is like that. You put in an effort, only to find the whole endeavor self-defeating.

And all you can say, honestly, is: “My bad.”

Let’s read a few recent media examples of self-own:


1 In the last couple of weeks, as the purges of alleged racists have intensified in every sphere, and as so many corporations, associations, and all manner of civic institutions have openly pledged allegiance to anti-racism, with all the workshops, books, and lectures that come with it, I’m reminded of a Václav Havel essay, “The Power of the Powerless.”


It’s about the dilemma of living in a world where adherence to a particular ideology becomes mandatory. In Communist Czechoslovakia, this orthodoxy, with its tired slogans, and abuse of language, had to be enforced brutally by the state, its spies, and its informers. In America, of course, with the First Amendment, this is impossible. But perhaps for that very reason, Americans have always been good at policing uniformity by and among themselves. The puritanical streak of shaming and stigmatizing and threatening runs deep. This is the country of extraordinary political and cultural freedom, but it is also the country of religious fanaticism, moral panics, and crusades against vice. It’s the country of The Scarlet Letter and Prohibition and the Hollywood blacklist and the Lavender Scare. The kind of stifling, suffocating, and nerve-racking atmosphere that Havel evokes is chillingly recognizable in American history and increasingly in the American present.

The new orthodoxy – what the writer Wesley Yang has described as the “successor ideology” to liberalism – seems to be rooted in what journalist Wesley Lowery calls “moral clarity.” He told Times media columnist Ben Smith this week that journalism needs to be rebuilt around that moral clarity, which means ending its attempt to see all sides of a story, when there is only one, and dropping even an attempt at objectivity (however unattainable that ideal might be). And what is the foundational belief of such moral clarity? That America is systemically racist, and a white-supremacist project from the start, that, as Lowery put it in The Atlantic, “the justice system – in fact, the entire American experiment – was from its inception designed to perpetuate racial inequality.” (Wesley Lowery objected to this characterization of his beliefs – read his Twitter thread about it here.)

This is an argument that deserves to be aired openly in a liberal society, especially one with such racial terror and darkness in its past and inequality in the present. But it is an argument that equally deserves to be engaged, challenged, questioned, interrogated. There is truth in it, truth that it’s incumbent on us to understand more deeply and empathize with more thoroughly. But there is also an awful amount of truth it ignores or elides or simply denies.

It sees America as in its essence not about freedom but oppression. It argues, in fact, that all the ideals about individual liberty, religious freedom, limited government, and the equality of all human beings were always a falsehood to cover for and justify and entrench the enslavement of human beings under the fiction of race. It wasn’t that these values competed with the poison of slavery, and eventually overcame it, in an epic, bloody civil war whose casualties were overwhelmingly white. It’s that the liberal system is itself a form of white supremacy – which is why racial inequality endures and why liberalism’s core values and institutions cannot be reformed and can only be dismantled.

This view of the world certainly has “moral clarity.” What it lacks is moral complexity. No country can be so reduced to one single prism and damned because of it. American society has far more complexity and history has far more contingency than can be jammed into this rubric. No racial group is homogeneous, and every individual has agency. No one is entirely a victim or entirely privileged. And we are not defined by black and white any longer; we are home to every race and ethnicity, from Asia through Africa to Europe and South America.

And a country that actively seeks immigrants who are now 82 percent nonwhite is not primarily defined by white supremacy. Nor is a country that has seen the historic growth of a black middle and upper class, increasing gains for black women in education and the workplace, a revered two-term black president, a thriving black intelligentsia, successful black mayors and governors and members of Congress, and popular and high culture strongly defined by the African-American experience. Nor is a country where nonwhite immigrants are fast catching up with whites in income and where some minority groups now outearn whites.



And here we are. COVID-19 was the known unknown epidemic that gave us the recession that might destroy Trump’s core argument for his reelection. And the emotional intensity of the horrifying video of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of a cop created for the public, stuck at home for months, a shot of resistance adrenaline. More to the point, Trump’s response to the epidemic has more plainly revealed a man utterly out of his depth in ways even his strongest supporters must now quietly understand. And then his tone-deaf, tin-pot dictator act in reaction to the Floyd protests and subsequent riots put him beyond the pale for many of the persuadables. Left-wing activists, for a change, didn’t play into his hands – although they’re doing their best in Minneapolis and Seattle.

Bereft of incendiary rallies, Trump flailed. His COVID press conferences became so embarrassing even he realized it was time to end them. His knee-jerk defense of acts of utterly indefensible police brutality, and the way in which some cops were obviously thrilled by his love of state violence — and engaging in gratuitous violence and thuggery, as he had long said they should — was deeply disturbing to many, including me. He was shown incapable of compassion for the sick, deranged in his medical forays, and crude and counterproductive in his failed attempt to impose order. That hideous, authoritarian performance in Black Lives Matter Plaza outside the White House was both frightening and pathetic. When he held up a Bible he has never read, it didn’t evoke anything but nausea.

And the polling suggests a real slide – down to his core base of 40 percent in FiveThirtyEight’s poll of polls, with disapproval jumping four points since May. Only one incumbent president had a higher disapproval number at this point in his first term – George H.W. Bush – and he went on to win a mere 37 percent of the electorate in November, bleeding support to Ross Perot and Bill Clinton, and losing the election. This time, there is no third-party candidate, but Joe Biden is winning over 90 percent of those who disapprove of Trump, and a 40 percent approval rating just isn’t enough to counter it.

I’ve never allowed myself to feel real confidence that he would lose in November, but I have to say this time seems different. The economy may rebound – but Trump will still be presiding over an unemployment rate that would be far higher than the one he inherited from Obama. COVID-19 is an unknowable factor, but it sure doesn’t seem to be over to me, and there could well be a big surge in the fall – possibly prompting another attempt at a national shutdown, which in turn could be widely resisted. If that happens, it’s probably over, and only a major self-own by the Democrats– a convention beset with mob violence, for example, or a Biden debate performance that deepens worries that he’s simply too old for the job, or a platform aiming to defund the police – could derail it. But this is the first time in years that I feel emboldened enough to say: Know hope.

- Is There Still Room for Debate? By Andrew Sullivan, NYMag.com, June 12, 2020.


2 During Tuesday’s televised hearing the House Select Committee on the January 6 Attack revealed the names of eleven congressional Republicans who attended a December 21, 2020 White House meeting with then-President Donald Trump and his top aides to discuss ways to promote his false claims in an effort to overturn the election.

The January 6 Committee “introduced evidence that the White House coordinated with members of Congress to encourage the Big Lie and to fight the election results,” reports Heather Cox Richardson at the Milwaukee Independent.

“Representative Mo Brooks (R-AL) set up a meeting between members of Congress (and one member-elect) on December 21, with the subject line: ‘White House meeting December 21 regarding January 6.’ That meeting included Trump, Pence, Meadows, Giuliani, and ten representatives: Brian Babin (R-TX), Andy Biggs (R-AZ), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Andy Harris (R-MD), Jody Hice (R-GA), Jim Jordan (R-OH), Scott Perry (R-PA), and recently elected Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA).”

Social media users expressed astonishment that barely hours later, Rep. Matt Gaetz, who attended the meeting on how to overturn the election, took to Twitter to mock John Bolton. One of Trump’s former National Security Advisors, Bolton that same day had told CNN: “As somebody who has helped plan coup d’etat, not here, but other places, it takes a lot of work.”

In response, Gaetz declared, “John Bolton is against any coup he didn’t help plan!”

Many mocked the Florida Republican, with some taking his remark as a confession – inadvertent or not.

Attorney George Conway was among those taking a shot at the pro-Trump Florida Congressman. He tweeted, “PRO TIP: don’t enter into any criminal conspiracies with Matt Gaetz,” and a one-word response: “Um…”

Minnesota attorney Matt Pelikan, responding to Conway added, “Just Matt Gaetz out here admitting to a coup and somehow thinking it’s a dunk on John Bolton.”

“Don’t think Matt has any room to talk about ‘planning coups’…the entire planet now knows he was at the WH (along with his House cohorts in crime) in Dec. 2020 to plan the Jan 6 insurrection,” wrote one Twitter user.

“Nice self-own, Bevis,” wrote another.

“Is this a confession, Mattie?” asked a Twitter user.

- ‘Nice self-own’: Matt Gaetz mocked for criticizing John Bolton’s coup confession, AuterNet.com, July 13, 2022.


3 Mr. Rogers was trending Thursday night after Mercedes Schlapp, a senior adviser for President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, compared Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s town hall to the beloved show.

“Well @JoeBiden @ABCPolitics townhall feels like I am watching an episode of Mister Rodgers Neighborhood,” Schlapp tweeted, misspelling TV icon Fred Rogers’ last name.

Schlapp was criticizing the different tones between the Biden town hall, hosted on ABC, and the Trump town hall, hosted by NBC. Critics insisted ABC moderator George Stephanopoulos went easier on Biden than NBC moderator Savannah Guthrie went on Trump.

In Miami, Guthrie grilled Trump for 18 minutes before opening the forum to audience members' questions. Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, Stephanopoulos went straight to voters' questions and allowed the former vice president to give sometimes long-winded answers.

Schlapp was criticized for comparing the Biden to Mr. Rogers, with some calling it a “self-own”as the children's television host was known to be patient, inclusive, and kind.

“Pretty telling that this crew thinks Mr. Rogers is the bad guy,” tweeted Democratic strategist Zac Petkanas.

April Reign, the activist who created the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite, called it the “worst self-own I’ve seen this political season”especially given “the universally beloved Mr. Rogers was from Pennsylvania, where Biden was tonight.”

‘Worst self-own I’ve seen this political season’: Mr. Rogers trends after Trump adviser goes after Biden town hall, USAToday.com, October 16, 2022.


About the author:


Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


(作者:张欣 编辑:yaning)


Curve ball?


Rude awakening?


Pie in the sky?


Egg on my face


Beginner’s luck?


It blew his mind? 大吃一惊

中国日报网 英语点津微信
中国日报网 双语小程序