As I’ve been online I’ve started to notice certain behaviors. After reading religious, sports, and political discussion boards I see the same behavior over and over again. I wrote about my deal breakers some time ago. I’ve also discussed the way that words can be abused and manipulated. My research has taken me into robbers, terrorists, warmonger, neocon, and on this blog neo apologist.
I bring those points up because of the minor tempest that occurred between Jonathan Neville and Stephen Smoot last week. The latter wrote an article assessing, critiquing, and essentially debunking the use of a letter by Heartlanders, or those that believe in a strictly North American setting. Instead of focusing so much on the use of the letter in question, or even larger issues of geography’s role in Book of Mormon historicity, this post examines the rhetoric of Neville and its application in striving towards productive dialogue.
First, a couple of caveats. Much like Smoot I don’t have a problem with those that believe the geography of the Book of Mormon takes place in North America, a limited setting, and even a hemispheric model or one that believes the Book of Mormon is some kind of fiction. What does bother me is when some people claim, as Neville does, that if you disagree with his position than you are fundamentally in error and disagreeing with the prophets. I also get annoyed, as I discussed with churchistrue last week, when people critique or scoff at other positions while showing the same negative qualities they critique. These individuals call others dogmatic, simplistic, weird, and literal, even as they are vague, simplistic, weirdly literal and dogmatic in their own positions.
With that introduction I wanted to use Neville’s response to Smoot as an example of the way that loaded terms and nicknames and other terms can be used to shape the discussion and really detract from the discussion. To save space you may assume that all quotes are from Neville’s response and I invite you to read his whole article for context.
M2C intellectuals terrified of Letter VII
This is the title, and it reads like a headline from a rag magazine, so I think it’s great (or really bad) example of his editorializing.
Book of Mormon central writes a series of articles called KnoWhys, which are accessible articles written for a general audience that summarize past research on the matter and connect it to larger issues in Mormon scripture study. Neville uses this bastardized version of the term 12 times in his short article including in the second sentence. Just two sentences in Neville displayed two of the most childish ways to engage a discussion.
M2C intellectuals feel threatened
This is editorializing and mind reading. He can’t know exactly what they feel, but he can interpret their actions in the most sinister way possible. I call this the Judge Judy test. I’m a writer that works from home (except for my third job driving for uber on nights and weekends, Viva Las Vegas.) As a result I watch Judge Judy every day, and she does an excellent job of finding out what people say, not the interpretation of what people say. If a witness says they “feel threatened” she would immediately say something like, “No, no, no. I don’t want to know how you felt or your editorializing, what did they actually say and do?” And writing an article, even one as bare knuckle as Smoots, still doesn’t warrant that editorial.
[Like] Ephesian sellers of idols who tried to silence the Apostle Paul.
The second half of the sentence where he said the intellectuals were threatened. This is poisoning the well. A long time ago I wrote a paper that won me the George C Marshall award. In discussing isolationists my roommate wrote: Morgan, I can tell you don’t like these guys. Ever since that point I’ve tried hard, even if I disagree with somebody, to avoid poisoning the well.
I also found that people often use analogies to carry their arguments. Instead of specifically describing the congruities between apologists and idol sellers, Neville makes an allusion and expects his readers to fill in the blanks based on the negative comparison. Thus in a sentence that is painfully short of details and specific arguments, and just the third one in his article, he makes as many as 5 childish and tendentious errors (for the same of brevity I skipped over explaining several of them): mind reading, editorializing, poisoning the well, and two short hand insults.
I could stop now but there are even more egregious examples that demand inclusion:
This [deletion of his article] is typical of the way the M2C citation cartel censors any information that contradicts the M2C dogma.
There is so much in this sentence but the biggest offender is “citation cartel” with dogma coming in second. He explains it later, but he’s upset that other material is quoted and not his. And he is upset that places like Meridian, FairMormon, and church correlation materials will repeat what he sees as unrighteous and pernicious research. Like the word robber in the Book of Mormon, or terrorist in modern discourse, cartel is used for its pejorative and shock value more than its clinical definition and explanatory power. In plain language, he is tossing bombs and insults at people he doesn’t like, and not making a serious and substantive argument.
The Mormon research world is small, but as somebody who is a part of it, I’ve never gone to the meetings of the cartel and with a secret handshake decided to exclude Neville. I ignore his work because I find his behavior odious and his professional work is a joke. My work stands on the strength of my research and arguments, and not because I’m with a certain faction. In fact, I don’t go to Deseret Book because I’m shocked and appalled they carry his crap instead of so many other good books out there. So either the cartel fell down on that one, or he has a vital outlet that many Mesoamerican scholars don’t have and there is no cartel. I can’t speak for Book of Mormon Central and the rest of the cartel but after reading posts like this [start sarcasm voice] I can’t imagine they have any reason to dislike Neville or maybe not use his work.
This title [of the KnoWhy] demonstrates the unrelenting arrogance of these intellectuals.
Playing fallacy cop is on my list of deal breakers especially because debates usually descend into mutual accusations of ad hominem. (It also leads to what I have named Deane’s Dagger: Any critique of a person’s tone automatically invites the same accusations against that writer.) That being said, this is a pretty blatant example of ad hominem that should be identified for what it is. There is also a rather stunning irony here, as Neville’s central case is that the Mesoamerican setting means you don’t believe in the prophets, and yet Neville assumes the role of speaking for church leadership and judging the worthiness of members, which is actually pretty arrogant.
I never agreed to join a church run by intellectuals, but that’s what these M2C ‘scholars’ are attempting to establish.
I’ve never taken the scare quotes seriously and that’s likely because of this sketch. Its funny in SNL, but sad in this case: https://youtu.be/vlDuD8zPMI0?t=8s
If you think that a person has made a faulty case I would like to see a counter argument and specifics explaining why. But scare quotes around the word scholar is petty and says more about the person using the scare quotes than the argument in question.
This is a debate that many at Wheat and Tares might not care about. I totally understand that if you don’t believe the Book of Mormon is historical, or think the book is providential but don’t care for its location you probably believe the intramural debates over its geography are silly and pointless. That’s great and I thank you for reading anyway. Regardless of the topic, the way we discuss issues matter. Arguments that are light on substance, reason, and evidence but make extensive use of emotionally charged words like cartel, scare quotes, absurd nick names, and excessive editorializing do a disservice to the truth, discussion, and increasingly the fabric of the country in this rancorous age. (Also, Neville’s favorite tactic when called on his tone seems to be forcing people to sift through his 50 blogs for citations. Hit control f and type “citation” on Smoot’s post to see scores of examples.)
Those that think Trump’s twitter feed is the herald of the apocalypse should care as well as those that think denying service to a Trump supporter is awful. I used to teach a class on Pakistan, and my students would often assume a sense of superiority over Pakistanis that riot over rumors of a flushed Quran or believe the CIA and not terrorists are responsible for violent attacks. But people here in America can lose their jobs before they get off the plane, and racist notes can get thousands of shares before turning out to be false. While Smoot threw some elbows, I think Neville’s reaction perfectly displays the major problem our society faces in processing truth and having productive dialogue and its why I discussed it here.