I’m sure you’ve seen an article recently reminding us all that “the other side isn’t dumb” and scolding us for mockery. While there’s some validity there, to be sure, following this to the letter leaves us exactly where we are: with preposterous ideas masquerading as legitimate in an increasingly loud theatre of the absurd.
There’s one thing I wholly agree with in this article though. The other side isn’t dumb, but not because “the other side” just has different views. The other side isn’t dumb because there is not an “other side.” There are many, many “other sides,” if we must label views different from our own somehow, but I’d rather not get all caught up in that. Really. If we take it to the extreme it’s going in, all we get is not even “us” vs “them.” We end up either with “me” vs “everybody else” or some bizarre form of hypocrisy, and frankly that just seems too tiresome for me.
Truth is, we all have different views. Views are just thoughts. Ideas. They’re not “us.” They may change over time, with new information. They may not.
Some of us, though, grip our ideas so tightly that we think they are us. When that happens, the very idea of changing them, let alone actually changing them, is utterly terrifying. It makes us grip them even more tightly, weaving them even more closely with our idea (thought!) of our identity. Pretty clear where that leads.
Those of us who do that, on any level at all, are certainly not “dumb.” Scared, yes. Of course we’re scared. It’s a scary world out here. And wrapping ourselves more tightly than ever because of that will never make us less scared. Quite the opposite.
Here’s the problem. Some of these ideas that we hold onto so fervently are … well, dumb. Once more, we’re not dumb for having them. But the ideas themselves … not smart. Not supported by facts. Supported only by the other thoughts we have roaming around in our minds, all of them feeding on each other.
Patience is a virtue, I’ve heard. I think it’s true, definitely something to cultivate because, frankly, honest-to-goodness powerful and lasting change doesn’t ever, ever, ever happen overnight. It takes time, and time takes patience. We must be willing to talk with one another, listen to one another, and, yes, understand the ideas we’re hanging onto, just like that article suggested.
There’s a limit. You’ve probably heard the word “enabling” used, mostly referring to, perhaps, family members and friends who “enable” their loved ones’ addictive behaviors in one way or another. It’s hard to find the line, but in every case, there is one. There’s a line that must be drawn so that we’re not “enabling” other folks to continue destructive, self or otherwise, behavior.
And so we have it with some of these ideas that we cling to. There comes a time when enough is enough, when it does no one any good – and can actually be damaging – to wait around while bad, harmful ideas continue to fester unchallenged.
In his own 2011 defense of mockery, University of Minnesota-Morris biology professor PZ Myers wrote, “Mock. Point. Laugh. State facts. Satirize. Call a lie, a lie. Mock again. Laugh again. Point to facts again. Repeat. Repeat again.”
And Thomas Jefferson (I think you know who he was) wrote, “Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions.”
Jefferson said that back in 1816. He wrote it in a letter in which he was denouncing the Christian doctrine of the trinity, which he called “the mere Abracadabra of the mountebanks calling themselves the priests of Jesus.”
I have no public opinion on the trinity doctrine, but I think Jefferson’s advice applies to all “unintelligible propositions,” and there are a lot of them. It’s unintelligible, for example, to use religion to deny rights to people that particular religion doesn’t approve of. It’s unintelligible to call for killing people just because you don’t like them. It’s unintelligible to insist that the president of the United States was born outside the country in the face of evidence that proves otherwise. It’s unintelligible to believe the world is 6,000 years old. It’s unintelligible to use assault weapons to take over a federal bird sanctuary and claim to be patriots.
Mock. Point. Laugh. State facts. Satirize. Call a lie, a lie.
“Directly calling out the sheer ignorance and bone-headed stupidity of politicians and pundits is critically necessary to a functioning democracy. But the reason this is so isn’t because ignorant, arrogant boneheads and their followers will suddenly become informed and enlightened, renounce their erroneous and backward views, and sincerely apologize to the American people for all of the pointless suffering they have caused throughout their careers. (As if.) Calling out sheer ignorance and bone-headed stupidity is vitally important so that everyone else knows that there are other people who think these are really stupid and terrible ideas. Because maybe, upon hearing of this, many people might consider the possibility that these are, in fact, really stupid and terrible ideas.”
I realize that some of you may be uncomfortable with such directness, and honestly, that’s just fine. I, for one, won’t think any less of you if you determine that mockery just isn’t you. The willingness to mock, of course, is just another idea, and not something that separates us.
I ask for the same in return. From where I stand, we’ve made great progress in this country of late and can make even greater progress when the last vestiges of harmful ideas are released back into the void from which they came. Then there’ll be other damaging ideas we’ll have to contend with. One of them could even be mockery.
But right now, mockery is a valuable tool, one I’m willing to use to get us over this hump of weak and fearful obstruction. There are many other tools, some of which I’ll also be using. Pick the ones that work best for you, and remember we’re all the same here. The other side isn’t dumb because there is no other side, but there are some pretty dumb ideas that no longer serve any useful purpose and instead are harming other living beings. They need to be eradicated. Not the people who hold them. The ideas. They need to be let go, sent on their way. Otherwise, those “stupid and terrible ideas” will continue doing what they’re doing now: holding us back, keeping people in fear.
Personally, I can’t stand seeing so many fearful people. It hurts my heart. So I’m going to mock, and call a lie, a lie. And it’s ok. No one who feels uncomfortable with that approach should try it. I do, and I’ll deal with the consequences.