Wesley: I can’t wait for Christmas, it’s round two of Turkey overdose for me! My wife just found out about this place called the Old Turks, they make the most amazing deep fried turkey. You should check them out Mikey.
Mikey: Actually, I’m decided to make a change. I’m going to stop eating meat all together and only consume a mushroom based diet going forward. Mushrooms are full of wonderful nutrients; they grow in abundance, help with cholesterol, increase vitality in the bedroom and enhance brain capacity. Oh and get this, they help secret hormones that makes you irresistible to women. I’m becoming a Fungiterian!
Wesley: Do you know who else liked mushrooms?!? Hitler that’s who. Enjoy being a Fungiterian, you are now in league with Nazis! #MikeyIsHitlersSon
This is of course a fictional conversation between Wesley and Mikey. I wrote the above script in order to discuss a particular tactic that too many people are using more and more in order to discredit others. It’s one thing to debate on the merits of an argument, but it’s a whole other thing to disparage ideas based on guilt by associated agreement. Yet this is the new rage going on these days; taking a position in politics and pop culture is to risk getting tarred and feathered because some scoundrel has the same position as you. Forget about it if someone who is reviled agrees with something you wrote even if that person stands in complete opposition to your belief system.
This is, of course, the height of absurdity. Anyone’s idea can be juxtaposition to another person’s position. The originator of an idea or a person who presents a theory has no control over who or what group decide to agree or cosign to his/her concept. I write this in light of the kerfuffle between Cornel West and Ta-Nehisi Coates in which the former took the latter to task for his obfuscation. One of the last rejoinders that Coates made in response to West’s critique was not to address the charges but to dismiss West’s stance by associating him with intolerant right-wing bigots. In fact, Coates’ last tweet before deleting his account was a veiled attempt to disparage West by linking him to an Alt-Right opinion leader named Richard Spencer. Coates then went on to throw the entire kitchen sink as he moonwalked away from Twitter.
“Feminists, White Supremacists, and Leftists All In Agreement” ~ Ta-Nehisi Coates
With that, Coates exited stage neoliberal left without acknowledging the heart of West’s critique about Ta-Nehisi’s brand of journalism and advocacy. In his final act on Twitter, Coates laid the groundwork for others to follow. His apologists fell in line and picked up the guilt by association framework from Coates. West laid out a convincing case as to why Coates is no sojourner. By presenting injustice through an ideological lens and speaking truth to only one equation of power, he is partaking in diversion instead of standing for justice. Comparing Barack Obama to Malcolm X—as Coates does repeatedly—is like comparing Fredrick Douglas to Clarence Thomas. Malcolm X stood up to the system of injustice that is bleeding the masses, Barack Obama was and is the black face that gave cover to it. Coates’ loyalists refuse to address these stubborn facts and instead choose to defame West by alluding to who happens to nod their head in agreement to West’s assessment. A thousand people can say amen to a sermon but people pick and choose the few unsavory characters from the congregation as a way to marginalize their opponent.
This is a dangerous game that we are being led to as a society. Instead of engaging in conversations, discussions are aborted by whisper campaigns and innuendos. The Russiagate non-story is a prime example of how the establishment is using guilt by association as a sledgehammer to bludgeon anyone who diverts from the media narrative. Of course Russia tried to influence our election, it is called geopolitics for a reason. Almost every nation tries to manipulate the internal politics of other nations. I really don’t think that our government has any leg to stand on and accuse others of meddling seeing that the CIA has toppled more nations than Julius Caesar. Yet the corporate media and the political class are gloming on to this bullshit story in order to discredit independent journalists who insist on speaking truth to power. This is McCarthyism on steroids; we perpetuate this insidious attempt to silence dissent when we too jump on the bandwagon of marginalizing people by ascribing guilt based on who associates with their ideas.
By the by, I’m not saying that we should not judge people or condemn those who partake in duplicity and hypocrisy. After all, in this article I took both Obama and Coates to task for being neoliberal stooges. Yet I did so based on the merit of their work, they have a paper trail of policies and positions which I used to arrive at my conclusion. I did not cast aspersion because of who who else agrees with their policies or by presenting selective quotes and comparing it to the words other people said. If people likewise decide to judge my work, I hope they do so not based on who has the same positions as I do but based on the specifics of what I write. I write about this because I know full well how this guilt by association game is played and how some love stigmatize people who stray from conventional wisdom–it’s a favorite convention some people use to dismiss my writing.
For the record, I was once Obama’s biggest fan. But after assessing his eight years in office and witnessing the way Obama perpetuated the Bush policies of corporatism and warmongering, I could no longer avert my eyes and pretend that I was not duped by Barack. In the article I wrote about his presidency [read the First Bank President], I lay out specific cases of Obama’s malfeasance and note how he was nothing more than an agent of the very system he was supposed to change. I’m not saying that people have to agree with me; all I ask is that people engage and discuss my articles based on the merits of what I write. Instead, too often people rush to defend Obama by saying that some writer from Breitbart or Red State agrees with me. So what? If Donald Trump agrees with Albert Einstein, does that mean the theory of relativity is useless?The state of civility is devolving into the abyss and discourse is nearing a nadir. Too often people enter into dialogue not to debate but to debase others. We don’t have to be all Kumbaya and speak only pleasantries; if we are to make advancements as a society, we must have hard conversations and frank discussions. But when we have these talks, let us not talk past each other and let us listen to one another. Debate ideas based on the ideas and not based on who happens to agree with them. Trying to smear people by association and slandering others based on third party proximity is a rhetorical ploy that should be retired. If I decide to become a Fungiterian, address the merits of my case for mushrooms instead of disfavoring my idea because Pol Pot loved mushrooms too. #GuiltByAgreement
Lies proliferate; truth endures::
Check out the latest Ghion Cast where I discuss the notion of accepting quality because of fame instead of realizing quality on it’s own.
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.