The difference between attacking bad ideas and attacking peopleThe difference between attacking bad ideas and attacking people

This opinion piece is a pre-written response to what I anticipate, at the time of this writing — Jan. 13, 2018 — to be yet another public diaper-filling over an opinion piece I wrote Jan. 14 that is no doubt insufficiently fellatory of the Mormon religion. The irony, of course, is that the piece to which I refer is about the Mormon overreaction to an obituary that was itself insufficiently fellatory. And the point that I feel I will almost certainly have to elucidate — both here and no doubt repeatedly in the future — is that there is a difference between attacking bad ideas and attacking people.

After having worked variously over the past three years for The Independent as an album reviewer, opinion columnist, humor writer, copy editor, opinion editor, and assistant editor, I was recently appointed sole editor. It is not the first time an employer has asked me to take leadership of a business. I believe it is because I am loyal, I do what I say, and I am damned good at what I do. Being terrible at several other things, I can state confidently and without feeling a twinge of narcissistic guilt and the things I do well I do very well — like most everyone else.

Another thing I’m good at, and I can thank my parents for this, is standing up for myself and what I believe to be right.

And I believe that there is hardly anything more slimy, vile, reprehensible, and cowardly than attempting to silence someone because of their views.

I’ve been writing in southern Utah for over three years, which is about three-fourths the amount of time I’ve lived here. Most of the times when I’ve publicly criticized Mormonism and the LDS Church, I’ve received two things: an avalanche of ad hominem attack and a deluge of covert emails from strangers confessing their own negative experiences at the sharp end of the Mormon stick — ones they are afraid to air publicly for fear of retaliation.

Ad hominem is something I pay no attention to whatsoever since it is the bottom of the rhetorical barrel and just one notch above physical violence — the last resort of the civilized and the first resort of the intellectually stunted.

But those secret admissions I received, and particularly the palpable tenor of fear that accompanies them, are something I have never experienced anywhere else in this country.

This atmosphere of authoritarianism does not belong anywhere within United States borders.

The difference between attacking bad ideas and attacking people is that the former is pathetic and uncivil while the latter is our collective and mutual responsibility. Recorded history is littered with atrocities. But I’d argue that most atrocities were not committed because the people involved were inherently evil. From communism to fascism and from the Inquisition to the Crusades and even the Mountain Meadows Massacre, atrocities have historically been the result of bad ideas embraced by often well-meaning but otherwise fallible people. As Sting famously sang, I’m sure the Russians love their children, too.

First, the glaringly obvious: As ideas have no agency or personhood, they cannot suffer from any kind of offense. Attacking an idea has no ethical implications, and there is no such thing as a sacred or holy idea. Therefore, it is our civic responsibility to attack bad ideas just as it is our responsibility to ourselves and each other to remove fallen debris out of a roadway. If one clings so steadfastly to an idea that he or she suffers emotional collateral damage when the idea is attacked, it is his or her own fault for embracing a falling bomb. The lesson is not to cling to ideology.

I of all people am aware that good and otherwise intelligent people sometimes believe in bad ideas, and I am grateful for those who had the courage to confront me about the bad ideas that I formerly embraced. Having been around for 38 years, I have spent the greater portion of that time being fervently religious and at one point in college even considered abandoning my studies in music performance and composition — an aptitude for which I had since a very young age — in favor of attending seminary.

The process of cutting through my delusions may not have been pleasant, but like the extraction of a rotting tooth, it was necessary regardless and to my immeasurable benefit.

Secondly, all people succumb to bad ideas at one point or another, and no one is perfect. Therefore, attacking a person instead of an idea is always a mistake. If I had been ridiculed for my admittedly insane religious beliefs, it would not have helped me. It would have only bred the worst in me: anger, hatred, malice, resentment, and every other flavor of emotional poison. It would have likely hardened me against hearing the truth, doing me further harm.

But instead of being attacked, I was mercilessly educated, and a respect for my ability to reason coupled with a refusal to pander to my feelings paid off when I finally saw the fallacies I’d been blind to for what they were and acquired the knowledge necessary to dispel the ignorance under which I had operated for so long.

Everyone deserves a shot at the truth in this short life rather than to be perpetually infantilized by political correctness.

This is why we must attack bad ideas: It is not the government’s place to do so but rather the people’s — and it is not merely our place but moreover our duty.

We should all be vigilant in identifying bad ideas and dismantling them in public view. No healthy society fosters taboos towards certain quarantined areas of discussion. Assertions made without evidence, such as those made within the mental penitentiary of religion, can be dismissed without evidence.

This is to say that when we hear repeated a hopelessly implausible story full of holes large enough to fly 757s through about golden plates, magic rocks, hieroglyphics, nonexistent civilizations, made-up languages, divinely mandated racial superiority, etc., the burden to disprove said nonsense rests not upon the shoulders the skeptic but rather upon those of who propagate such tall tales.

No society would last for long without the collective sense not to believe in manifest fiction with nothing whatsoever of substance to verify its accuracy. As such, we as Utahns, as Americans, and as global citizens have a duty not only to each other and to ourselves but to our descendents not to consider politics or feelings when examining bad ideas but rather to focus solely on evidence.

It is interesting to note that while the juvenile game of identity politics is lately most often (or at least most publicly and famously) played by the left, the religious have made a fine art of it.

Here in Utah, it is not enough to judge a person on his or her merit; rather, what matters first and foremost, it seems, is whether or not someone is Mormon. A person’s merit is only be given a chance at examination after his or her religious affiliation has been evaluated.

This is wrong, harmful, and stupid, and every person with a functioning conscience knows it.

Every non-Mormon — or to be disingenuous and pedantic about it, gentile — knows exactly what I am talking about and has suffered the political seasickness resulting from navigating the constant ingroup/outgroup turbulence that pervades southern Utah. I know I have.

There is only one path forward. Our Founding Fathers recognized that factionalism is anathema to the longevity of any society. And what we can comfortably bet against is an intellectual exodus from the realm of reason to the badlands of religious delusion. On the contrary, the LDS Church is currently spraying ex-Mormons all over the countryside like uncontrollable diarrhea. (More on that soon.)

This is not to say that non-Mormons should return malice or mistreatment in kind. We absolutely should not, which is precisely my point in discriminating between attacking ideas and attacking people: A Mormon who discriminates against you is merely a friend you haven’t made yet who is still intoxicated by the hallucinogens of indefensible religious belief.

Our First Amendment rights are precious and are among the defining elements that truly do make America the greatest nation on Earth. For a government to be able to dictate what people believe is as monstrous as for it to be able to dictate what people say, and part of what makes America great is that our protection against such tyranny is woven into the identity of America itself.

This is why we must attack bad ideas: It is not the government’s place to do so but rather the people’s — and it is not merely our place but moreover our duty.

The very same Amendment that guarantees our freedom to believe in the most outlandish and contrived bullshit humanity has ever conceived also delivers us the tools to peacefully examine and discard said bullshit.

For us as a people to hold these tools in our hands when so many before us were denied them and to choose not to use them to the best of our ability is not only a failure on our part to advance the development of enlightened society and the betterment of mankind but a betrayal of both our ancestors and our descendants.

I do my best to bear no ill will toward anyone based on their race, class, age, gender, nationality, politics, or religion — as should we all. And when I state an uncomfortable truth, it is not an attack on a person or group. When I say that religion is the purest social cancer, a noxious tribalist poison, and a socially fatal virus of the mind, it is my sincere and well-informed belief that it is so. It is not an attack upon any person but rather upon a collection of bad ideas with flimsy evidence to support them, and if someone reacts to this as if they have been attacked personally, I cannot in good conscience hold myself responsible, because as conservative firebrand Ben Shapiro is so fond of saying, facts don’t care about your feelings.

I do care about people’s feelings, but if my fellow American suffers from hurt feelings because he or she chooses to cling to a falling bomb, it is my primary responsibility to attempt to loosen his or her grasp. If someone is offended or hurt by something I say, all I can say is that I’m sorry you were offended or hurt. I don’t go out of my way to hurt or offend anyone.

But one’s feelings are solely his or her responsibility and never mine. Clinging to an ideology is a great way to get hurt.

My personal pledge is that every viewpoint will remain welcome on our platform, even those I personally disagree with.

In fact, I particularly welcome and encourage people to present views I personally disagree with. I particularly welcome the opportunity to be publicly proven wrong.

My views are not The Independent’s, and true to its namesake The Independent promotes no particular ideology or political party but instead aims to provide and maintain the proving grounds necessary for good ideas to defeat bad ideas through public discourse. It is fundamental to its role as the region’s premier arts and entertainment publication to foster an environment of ruthlessly unencumbered and rigorously defended free speech.

It is my sincere opinion that Facebook’s comment section is a playpen for dimwitted losers. It’s a room with padded walls and no windows. It’s as safe as it is irrelevant. Everything said there sinks to the bowels of the dark web, where it belongs. No one cares what is said on Facebook, least of all me. Therefore, if you disagree with something you read at The Independent, you are free to sulk, be butthurt, and leave tedious droppings on Facebook.

But you have no one to fault but yourself if you do not speak up with a letter to the editor or opinion piece of your own.

If you believe that you are right and someone else is wrong, this is my personal challenge to you: Be a man — or a woman, or an Apache AH-64 attack helicopter, or whatever you are — and use your First Amendment rights to shine the light of truth, if you believe you possess it.

Because as they say, sunlight is the best disinfectant.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Jason would you please reach into the rhetorical barrel and elucidate the exact meaning of the word “fellatory.”

  2. Sesquipedalians such as fellatory used in the specific context above reflect a deep cynicism as well as the fact one is deeply vested in the commentary of another. This concern to broach the level of using a sexual insult or inuendo surely reflects a closed mind troubled by the words of another that choses to lash out rather then simply ponder or shrug off the opinion of another human. Wit is no longer wit, and vanity wins the day as the ego holds sway – poetically stated: A novel approach may be to not give a S**T and turn on your TV and watch tbe NFL or the Discovery Channel. Peace, Love, & Bobby Sherman

    • Aww … c’mon, it was just four syllables, hardly a sesquipedalian. And I don’t watch TV. If I did, the NFL would be the last thing I’d devote any time to! But you are always welcome to come over and listen to some old Steve Roach or John Scofield albums with me.

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