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.
A few weeks ago, a one-time colleague messaged me on Facebook. He wanted me to know there were lots of you out there who are with me on the crazy things I say here. Some of you, he said, aren’t in a position to say so, at least not as out loud as I do, but you get it. I know. I was once in that spot too and had a secret identity where I could ramble on. Wasn’t supposed to do that either, but I did anyway, just because.
I’m not saying I think you should do that too, although you certainly could if you wanted (just watch out for Facebook’s fake name policy). My friend and former colleague, though, asked what those of you who can’t be as outspoken as I am could do in these trying times.
I told him what I’m about to tell the rest of you. You’re already doing hundreds of things to make a difference. Because you “get it,” every single thing you do is influenced by what you “get.”
Every time you smile at a stranger, regardless of that stranger’s race, religion, or whatever, you make a difference. Every time you shed a tear over some senseless killing, you make a difference. Every time you lend a hand to a friend, you make a difference. Every time you listen, really listen, you make a difference. Every time you don’t laugh at a racist, homophobic, trans or sexist “joke,” every time you congratulate a colleague on a job well done, every time you thank someone for help they’ve given you, every time you walk out your front door unafraid, every time you open your eyes and see the beauty around you, you make a difference.
And every time you make a difference, you create change.
It’s an ugly world out there these days. It’s damn frustrating, to see the same ridiculous things over and over and over, the same divisiveness, the same anger, the same hatred, the same fear. If I could snap my fingers and all that would majickly vanish, believe you me I would. But I can’t, you can’t, nobody can. In fact, we cannot change one single person, with one single exception – we can change ourselves. And interestingly enough, making changes within ourselves creates a culture of change and vanquishes the culture of stagnation. That happens for one simple reason: We are human.
We are human, not cyborgs programmed to respond this way to that situation and that way to this situation, although it sure does look like that quite often. And most of the time it seems easier to go through life like that – uploading our programming from politicians and news channels and regressive family members and then regurgitating it whole back out into the world. But we are human. We can think for ourselves. It may seem difficult at first, but we can trust ourselves to know when to act and when not to act, to know what is a threat and what isn’t, and, most importantly, to know that every other person on this planet is human just like us.
Do some humans make dangerous and frightening decisions? Hell, yes. Sometimes we do too. Sometimes our closest family members, our closest friends do. But here’s the beauty of being human: We can see those people individually, see their decisions as theirs alone, and then come to our own conclusions about what happened and what we can or cannot do about it. And we can do that very, very simply.
And in that pause, listen. Drop your personal storyline and listen. If what you hear makes you uncomfortable, that’s ok. We’re not supposed to comfortable all the time. That isn’t life; it’s a make-believe land where everything and everyone are the same and nothing and no one ever change. I don’t know about you, but I get a laugh when I hear folks complaining about “flip-flopping.” Show me someone who has never changed their opinion on something and I’ll show you someone who’s stuck. Not where I want to be.
It would sure be nice to create some monumental change that ended war, ended a culture based on fear of other. That’s highly unlikely. And besides, real change comes in incremental – and small – steps that can become larger strides as we become more confident in who we are as humans. And those small steps start with how we relate with other living beings. What is society, anyway, but a simple relationship writ large?
It’s slow, I know. But it snowballs. Starting with you and me, then spreading to everyone we know, everyone with whom we come into contact. It grows. It blossoms. It forms the basis of a strong and good society. It doesn’t stop anyone from behaving in dangerous and frightening ways, but it stops us from reacting in-kind and snowballing less virtuous behavior.
In that way, every breath we take makes a difference.