Apparently, in the summer of 2009, Harvard Professor and intellectual celebrity Henry Louis Gates Jr. found himself somehow locked out of his own home as a result of a jammed front door. He attempted to force his way in with the assistance of a cab driver. Cambridge police Sgt. James Crowley was called to the scene as a result of a 911 report from a neighbor who thought a burglary was in progress. The general consensus seems to be that neither Professor Gates, nor Officer Crowley distinguished themselves as diplomats on the night in question, which resulted in the arrest of Professor Gates for disorderly conduct and accusations of racial profiling made against Officer Crowley. President Obama contributed to the entertainment value of the controversy by suggesting that the Officer acted “stupidly” for arresting Gates after having been shown proof that it was his own home. In some circles the uproar over President Obama’s characterization of the behavior of a law enforcement officer, a fellow public servant, as “stupid” exceeded that of the arrest, or the provocative behavior of the professor.
I, for one, found something refreshing about President Obama’s forthright candor, although, I must admit that I suppose I will never know if his assessment of the situation was surgically correct. Generally speaking, it has become a rather arbitrary demand of social sensitivity to refrain from actually calling someone or something “stupid” in our culture. Artfully implying stupidity with the tact of plausible deniability, on the other hand, is sometimes applauded and rewarded. This situation reminded me of a controversy that confronted a father of teenage kids some years ago.
A young boy was prone to harassing his sisters and had a significant difficulty with the idea of accepting an unwanted “no” as an answer to a request. A rather boisterous altercation ensued on such an occasion. As I recall, the young boy wanted to borrow something, and his sister inconveniently declined with an explanation that he didn’t like. His hasty and self serving assessment of her audacity in declining his presumptuous request was repeatedly made clear to everyone in the house. “Stupid” he yelled, in an accusing tone. The repeated insult turned to pushing and shoving. His predictable repertoire generally migrated from presumptuous requests, to insulting pot shots, and then a manipulative violation of personal space as an accent to reinforce the punitive discomfort heaped upon his sisters for the inconvenient exercise of their freedom of choice about the disposition of their own personal property in the face of his request. This was an attractive, sometimes charming, and highly intelligent young man who was demonstrating the early signs of mastering the manipulative interpersonal devices that could be applied to either get what he wanted, or, in the alternative, leave his “marks” with experiences sufficiently memorable to discourage non compliance in the future for practical reasons. The likelihood of a future career in the military, politics, or the Mormon ministry was becoming a distinct possibility.
It has been said that he who is good with a hammer, sees every problem as a nail. The young boy’s father was an accountant, at the time, working as a chief financial officer of a public corporation involved in a rather intense and complex SEC audit. Calling things what they could be objectively verified to be was weighing heavy on the father’s mind and the annoyance of interpersonal conflict disrupting an otherwise quiet evening, particularly where the correctness of the young boy’s insulting declaration seemed improbable, struck a chord. A remedial training discussion seemed appropriate. It would focus on a comparative analysis between the dictionary definition of the word “stupid”, the sister’s behavioral choice, and the young boy’s responsive behavioral choice. For the purposes of this discussion, Merriam-Webster’s definitions 1(c), “lacking intelligence or reason”, and 3, “marked by or resulting from unreasoned thinking or acting”, were particularly handy.
An analysis of the sister’s reasons for not wanting to grant the young boy’s request failed to uncover anything that met Merriam-Webster’s standards for the applicability of the young boy’s condemnation. Neither did an analysis of the reasonableness of her expectation that her personal rights of ownership and possession be quietly respected. Unfortunately, for the young man, an analysis of the “compelling” nature of his “need” for the favor was clearly lacking in reasonable basis, as was his notion of the priority of his “need” over her property rights. Equally damning was the outcome of an examination of the reasonableness of the applicability of the term “stupid” to describe his sister’s behavior and choice. In the end, it was found that there was one particularly outstanding point of applicability for the term “stupid” in this scenario. It happened to be his notion that the very term itself should be applied to his sister for the stated reasons. This became abundantly clear, and provided a neat segue into a corollary discussion of the etymology of the word, “hypocrisy”. As it turns out, the term “stupid” when misapplied, reveals both stupidity and hypocrisy in the accuser.
I have given this discussion some thought, over the years, and wonder if the father’s personal paradigm at the time might have contributed to a missed opportunity. Whatever the possible accuracy and relevance of his object points on stupidity and hypocrisy might have been, I now think addressing the larger issue of the young boy’s propensity for manipulation would have been of greater consequence to harmony in the home and healthier interpersonal relationships for the future of everyone involved. I think it would have also been more to the point and the root of the young boy’s actual issues and motivations.
Some time after this discussion I enjoyed the opportunity to listen in on a presentation made by a clinical psychologist to a gathering of parents of wayward teenagers. The group had assembled to pick up their boys from a camp type retreat for teenagers who had become abusive chemical dependants. This particular young man’s mother and father were in attendance. The father was gratified because it seemed something he was unsuccessfully trying to convey to the mother over the previous couple of years was now validated by the clinical psychologist.
Generally, parents of abusive and chemically dependent teenagers quickly find their way to discussion groups that explain and caution against the dynamic of “enabling” the bad choices of the chemical dependants. They get told about boundaries and it is customarily pointed out to them how they failed to raise the kid up in a way that contributed to appreciation and respect for boundaries. They receive coaching in how to be more assertive in the application of the principles of “tough love”. These elements of the discussion were not new to me or to the parents. What was new, and very useful, was a particularly insightful revelation that became clear as the psychologist unfolded for the parents something that is really a challenge to grasp for many of us until it is pointed out. Then, when we get it, the fog of frustration clears and the big, empowering, “ah ha” moment arrives with many multiples of the exhilaration that one feels when the DMV clerk announces that all your paperwork appears in order and hands you your auto registration sticker with no further adieu. Life can now move forward with no more wasted effort and exasperation.
Far too many hours spent previously in the circular maze of discussions with a belligerent teenager whose once lauded IQ seemed to evaporate amidst a barrage of unfounded and ridiculous arguments and positions were now understood for what they actually were. A manipulative game employed by manipulative abusers, was now exposed with its key element. This key is what the manipulator must be able to count on to be successful. It must be contributed by the “marks” (victims) in order for the manipulation to work. This key element was now revealed to be quite simple, and entirely within the control of the parents all the time. Access to this key could easily be denied to the manipulative teenager. It was entirely appropriate that access to the key should be denied. And yet, it rarely is, because of the misunderstanding of the game in play by the manipulator’s marks.
Not many of us are perfect in sincerity at all times, and not many of us are entirely corrupt manipulators, but understanding the extremes sheds light on the tools and dynamics at play when interactions occur. Perhaps the most commonly shared and exploitable weakness of sincere people is naivete’. Sincere people have a tendency to project, incorrectly, sincerity onto those with whom they engage. This projection drives their attitudes, perceptions, and therefore, their approach to others. Sincere people are uncomfortable with encouraging an incorrect perception of who and what they are. Sincere people are equally uncomfortable with misrepresenting what they really want and what they are willing to do or exchange in order to get it. In short, sincere people strive for authenticity. They are regularly found to overlook the fact when they are, at times, in the minority, and that the majority is not wired this way at all. Sincere people strive to actually be what they value. Their stripes are easy to spot. Manipulators, on the other hand, strive to be perceived to be what other people value. They are social chameleons. The difference is profound.
Manipulators, whose approach to life approximates being the antithesis to sincerity, abhor and avoid authenticity with all of the craftiness that they can deceitfully muster. Paradoxically, they often include themselves on the list of targeted marks for their deception. It is their desire and goal to be perceived to be that which they are not and the acuity of their intellectual prowess is focused on the development of the skill of appearing, while not being. Inevitably, they become habituated to duplicity. Most of them don’t want to believe who and what they are because acknowledging it is too painful. So, they develop compartmentalized brain paths of processing to sequester the actuality of their behavior from the reasoning faculties that contribute to awareness of what the reality of their behavior really means. Self reflection must be repressed and avoided. They adopt warped philosophies that help rationalize and excuse their resultant intellectual sloppiness, contradictions, and hypocrisy. It is almost inevitable that the denial of reality, itself, is often justified by some members of this group, as they grope for a comfortable psychological escape from the painful primordial awareness of the unavoidable causal relationships in the universe that they are betting their lives and happiness against. It is not an insignificant thing to be a manipulator. It is a very serious intellectual, psychological, and spiritual choice that has very significant and serious intellectual, psychological, and spiritual ramifications and consequences if pursued over time. Ultimately their ability to appear sincere is enhanced by the troublesome fact that they sometimes come to believe their own lies.
Sincere people often do not see and understand manipulators for who and what they really are, and so, being naïve, they allow themselves to be drawn into discussions whose objective, from the manipulators point of view, has absolutely nothing to do with the mutual sharing of a reasonable conclusion that the sincere individual hopes for. The “fight” or “argument” or “altercation” that becomes so commonplace in the homes of chemically dependent abusive teenagers and their parents, is not only the chronic manifestation of the fundamental discord between the parties, but more saliently, might be the actual objective of the abusive teenager in the most extreme cases.
Parents often approach discussions with the abusive teenager with the idea in mind that “he’s missing something”. “I raised him to be reasonable. I’ll point it out. He’ll get it, and everything will be fine.” Unfortunately, what is often being overlooked is that the abusive teenager isn’t missing anything at all. He is absolutely as aware as his parents of the absurdity of his request or arguments. The point of the “discussion”, for him, is not a reasonable outcome. His goal for the discussion is accomplished almost immediately as it begins. He has not missed or overlooked the holes in his position or arguments, rather, those holes are part of the fun. He sees them clearly but has absolutely no intention whatsoever of acknowledging them. His objective is not mutual understanding, or peace, or harmony, or reconciliation. All too often his hidden objective is to subject the non-compliant parents to the punitive exercise of wasting their precious time and energy and pushing the limits of their patience by dragging them through a never ending maze of ridiculous arguments designed with the very purpose and goal of discord, frustration, and, if possible, exasperation, in mind.
The exasperation of the parents, for this teenager, is the grand slam. If discord between the parents, themselves, can be achieved, that is the best possible outcome. Nothing could serve the purpose of distraction of focus on the inappropriateness of this teenager’s behavior more effectively. That is the objective, and that objective is made possible because the naive parents, thinking that the objective of the gathering is to reason together to find truth and justice, hand the key of empowerment over to the abusive teenager, simply by engaging.
Neither truth, nor justice, nor harmony, are the objectives from the abusive teenager’s perspective at all. Often, he is smarter than the parents on a certain street level. He is engaging in the process of subtle mockery of the parents by baiting them into a discussion, knowing in advance what all of their points and arguments will be, and having quietly resolved within himself that he has no intention whatsoever of acknowledging respectfully the truth or reasonableness of anything they say. The point is to draw them into the process of undermining themselves by taking up this discussion which, many times, he does not even have a reasonable right to engage in. Their reasoning, while appropriately shared, at times, as an educational thing, is not within his appropriate province to question, from a disciplinary perspective. In the moment he engages the parents in a discussion that shows inappropriate deference to his challenges of their reasoning, by presenting a defense of that reasoning, they have empowered the teenager beyond his appropriate place, and diminished his respect for them in the process.
This self-eroding process that naïve parents find themselves caught up in, quickly turns into a downward spiraling vicious cycle of domestic anarchy. Such is the objective from the abusive teenager’s perspective. Discord between the parents themselves, is the best possible strategic outcome to serve this end. The discussion, itself, was a ruse. Harmony and understanding was misrepresented to be the goal. “Wanting to understand” was feigned by this teenager to bait the parents into the discussion, and once, so baited, the trap is set and the game begins. Now, running out the clock can only serve the abusive teenager’s interests. He accumulates as many tactical credits as possible measured in the self undermining behavior that the parents can be drawn into. If the parents ultimately acquiesce to the unreasonable request, either outright, or with some negotiated condition that the teenager should be reasonably required to perform anyway, that is an unexpected bonus, and he can brag to his friends that he “played” his parents for the fools that they are. The damage to the teenager’s respect for the parents through this process is incalculable. The naivete’ of the parents is a large part of the problem. The key that they handed over to the teenager was the empowerment that they gave him and that he, himself, knew all along that he didn’t deserve and wasn’t entitled to.
Donning the mantle of an illegitimate claim of power or authority or deference of any kind can be psychologically intoxicating. It can become highly addictive in an emotional sense. Many abusive or otherwise wayward teenagers grow up to become master manipulators. Such was the case with the Mormon “prophet” Joseph Smith and his successors.
How did it come about that in our culture a patently obvious fraud that masquerades as a religion, and which, within most of our lifetimes was once widely understood to be the cult that it actually is, has now managed to find not only undeserved religious tolerance, but the added support of otherwise seemingly credible members of elite society who call out anti-Mormonism as bigotry?
Merriam-Webster defines a bigot as one who is “obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices: especially: one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance.”
I would like to think that it goes without saying that police officers are expected to be unyieldingly devoted to the opinion of the state on the subjects of traffic signals, property rights, and burglary. This unyielding devotion is not, apparently, deemed to be “obstinate”. Of course, we are not talking about devotion to the officer’s personal opinion, but rather the opinion of his employer. What of those who personally share the unequivocal view that a red light should be respected by drivers passing through an intersection? What of those who share the view that critics of the red light rule are kinduv’ nutty for their contrary view which gives rise to reasonable questions about their rationality. Somehow we all get that obstinacy, to be obstinacy, presumes not just any prejudice, but unreasonable prejudice.
What of those who personally share the view that Jim Jones, now referred to as the “Mad Messiah”, and who manipulated the members of the “People’s Temple” into a mass suicide in 1978, was a mad man, categorically undeserving, together with his teachings, of religious tolerance? At what point would such a strongly held personal opinion be deemed to be exempt from being branded as bigotry? Only after widespread news coverage of the mass suicide? What if the lunatic, Jim Jones, confined his manipulation to claims of exclusive divine agency to represent God simply for the purpose of exploiting the time, talents, and financial contributions of his members, but where such claims were a patently obvious and plainly discoverable fraud well within the threshold standards of the incriminating evidence for which grifters who do not invoke the name of God, but otherwise engage in fraudulent misrepresentation for financial gain at the expense of their naïve victims, are regularly sent to prison? Would heartfelt adamant critics of such blasphemy and malice now be lumped in with members of the Ku Klux Klan for bigotry since the name of God was invoked?
I think most thoughtful people will be quick to recognize how these analogies miss the mark. To recognize that Jim Jones was a lunatic, or that the Mormon Quorum of Twelve apostles are grifters, is not to hate the naïve members of their cults or to wish or promote any ill will or unreasonable discrimination upon those members. The misunderstanding, I think, gets some of its fuel from an understandable point of ambiguity that is hard to steer clear of. To be anti-Mormon, is to be “against” people who are Mormons, for being Mormon. I think it’s hard to be anti-Mormon without crossing over into the land of bigotry. Unfortunately, being anti-Mormon is often referred to as “anti-Mormonism”. Wikipedia now holds that “Anti-Mormonism is discrimination, persecution, hostility or prejudice directed at members of the Latter Day Saint movement, particularly The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.” This treatment of the term is grossly inadequate, and probably influenced heavily by contributions from Mormon manipulators who benefit from a certain lack of clear distinction between being anti-Mormon, and anti-Mormon-Deception. Many of us, myself, being a former Mormon High Priest included, refer to the beliefs and teachings of the Mormon Church as “Mormonism”. I am unabashedly anti-Mormonism, if what we mean by that is anti-Mormon-Deception. I am not anti-Mormon. I do, however, favor the view that reasonable discrimination against naivete’ and stupidity is in the common interest of any culture.
Success, for a master manipulator, would be to accomplish the goal of being perceived incorrectly to be who or what he needs you to believe that he is, even though he knows he is not, to the end that his con is financially successful. A significant milestone for a very successful master manipulator is to accomplish broad public acceptance of the misperception that he promotes. I think consideration for the master manipulators’ hall of fame should be expected for those who accomplish the wide scale recruitment of the press, government officials, and other religious leaders in condemning as “bigots” those whose presence of mind and thoughtfulness leads them to the inescapable conclusion that the obvious grifters are, in fact, grifters, and that their claims are a patently obvious fraud, plainly discoverable to anyone with the objective discipline and research skills of the average high school student. Provided, of course that such high school students also possess the rare qualities of sincerity and objectivity that have not been displaced with the more typical social compulsion to conform one’s conclusions, no matter how absurd, to that which is widely accepted as politically correct or financially profitable or economically expedient.
In the end of the day, to label an anti-Mormon as a “bigot” is understandable. Not always appropriate, but understandable. There is certainly an element of bigotry in any arbitrary ill will heaped upon the sincere victims of Mormonism. They should be compassionately viewed with at least as much deference, kindness, consideration and respect as any child taken with fantasy, or any aborigine sheltered from the modern world. To the extent possible, where appropriate, their fantasies and notions should be overlooked and their capacity for meaningful and significant social contributions supported and enjoyed. I am grateful for those who, throughout my life, treated me this way, before my awakening to the fraud of Mormonism.
To arbitrarily condemn those who subscribe to anti-Mormonism, on the other hand, as “bigots”, with no further discussion of the matter, is stupid and serves the manipulative and divisive goals of those self serving Mormon grifters who call themselves Prophets, Seers, and Revelators. These grifters are pretenders. They have presumptuously donned the mantle of spiritual authority with false claims of divine agency and they are violating the personal space of American institutions with ridiculous claims that tie up courts, disrupt lives, and distract public attention from the reality of their obnoxious and illegitimate exploitation of the faith and sincerity of the naïve. Like the unwise parents who seek the social approval of their abusive teenagers for parental choices and decisions, some elements of American culture empower malicious exploitation of faith by extending excessive deference to that which does not even deserve respect.