Wednesday, November 18, 2015

We're Just Like Everybody Else: Even Countercultural Organisations Get the Ad Hominem Blues....

As some of you may know I spent a good deal of the 1990s doing historical, sociological, and ethnographic research on Mormonism in the buckle of the Mormon Culture Region belt, Provo. One thing I will never forget about my foray into Mormon Studies is a review article written by BYU professor and FARMS member William Hamblin in a 1994 issue of FARMS Review. The FARMS review, published by the Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies, was, along with FARMS, central to the intellectual culture of modern Mormon apologetics and polemics in the era after Hugh Nibley and was greatly influenced by Nibley's various and sundry forays into apologetics and polemics and most famously his often ad hominem polemic against Fawn Brodie, author of a biography on Mormon leader Joseph Smith titled No Man Knows My History. Nibley gave his polemic against Brodie the patriarchal and paternalistic title, "No Ma'am That's Not History". What stuck out to me about Hamblin's review of a book edited by Brent Metcalfe on modern approaches to Book of Mormon Studies, which borrowed heavily from modern Biblical Studies, and which still does these many years later was its secret message, a secret message embedded in, before the article was reedited, the fist letter of each of the early paragraphs of the review essay, the message "Metcalfe is a butthead".

Ad hominems like this, of course, have been part and parcel of polemics for some time and perhaps have become even more common these days thanks to the new digital social media. Ad hominems are also, I am sad to report, common currently at what once was a countercultural institution, the Honest Weight Food Corporation. As many of you may be aware there is currently a cultural war going on at the Corporation between the forces of corporatisation, bureaucratisation, routinisation, standardisation, and those who still prefer their coops cooperative. One of the figures who has been critical of the Leadership Team's and a faction on the Board's attempt to end the membership worker programme which has been at the heart not only of Honest Weight but, until the 1980s and after, other coops across the US, is lawyer and former judge Cate Doyle.

A rumour has recently making the rounds at Honest Weight about Kate Doyle, no doubt because she is spearheading the legal response and rejoinder to those powers that be who claim the member worker programme at the Corporation is illegal, may put the Corporation into financial jeopardy, and want to rid themselves of it, is a rumour in which questions are raised about the character of Doyle. While all of us no matter who we are all have skeletons in the closet we might wish to forget the reality is that character is simply not the issue nor is it really relevant here. What is issue is whether Doyle has valid points. The ad hominems that have been floating through the Corporation are a distraction from the real issues in question and, as such, raise the question of where they have come from and if they were meant to distract from the real issues.

What I find so sad about all this is that when it comes to ad hominem attacks the once countercultural coop and the Mormon polemical and apologetic organisation find themselves strange bedfellows with someone like Lee Atwater and his heirs. Lee Atwater, the man who said that what matters is not the truth but what political strategists like himself convinced people was the truth. Lee Atwater, the man who used the fiction of Willie Horton and his revolving door of crime to help his client, George Herbert Walker Bush win the presidency over Michael Dukakis. Lee Atwater, the man who trained Republican strategist Karl Rove and future president George Walker Bush. Lee Atwater, the man who apparently never met an ad hominem he didn't like.

So does the company you keep say a lot about you?

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