Friday, January 21, 2022

Fear and Hatred in Zarahemla


Nationalist Chinese WW2 Propaganda Poster 

    Kendal Anderson is a libertarian writer (I originally put thinker, but as you’ll see, I think that is too generous,) with a new blog called Book of Mormon Perspectives. I wasn’t expecting to find much, but I was curious about what he had to say and found an amazing series of poor arguments that turned out to be right in my wheelhouse. What follows is a brief review of his ideas and supporting evidence that shows how an author can use a string of faulty or vague statements to build an argument that appears compelling but falls apart upon cursory examination.

    The review begins in the section called “Fear and Hatred.” (That section plus the famous movie inspired the title of this post.) There is so much wrong is so little space my rebuttal goes mostly line by line, but I suggest you read a few paragraphs to get a gist of his argument and then read my breakdown.

    We don’t start out too bad. He starts by quoting Alma 48:1-2 and the use of towers by Lamanite leaders to disseminate anger inducing sermons that will eventually inspire the Lamanites to war. Those scriptures are important. Though propaganda is more easily disseminated in modern age so using a modern term without the distinction between ancient and modern isn’t the best foundation.  Moreover, as I was checking past writings about the use of modern concepts in an ancient book, I found a paragraph I wrote that is frighteningly like the argument Anderson is about to build:

He [builds his argument about propaganda] by quoting a modern writer [discussing] the use of modern mediums in a modern society.… He then advanced his conspiracy theories with an uncited quote from Ezra Benson [and] he admittedly ‘imagines’ what Amalickiah says. Unsurprisingly, it sounds like George W. Bush’s rationale for his foreign policy. 

    Using modern concepts and inventing quotes are tactics you will see Anderson commit as you read below. I don’t discuss it here, but Anderson also used a book from a close associate of Ezra Benson so my description of their playbook holds up well. All quotes are from his section on fear and hatred unless otherwise cited.

Group hate, based upon fear of a foreign enemy, can make murderers out of average citizens, who can be easily persuaded to support an unjust war when a ‘strong leader’ declares it.  

    Group hate can make people do those things, but the author mentions hatred as the only assumed reason for war. He ignores the long Christian tradition that war can be based in love. A long line of historic thinkers from Augustine all the way to the modern Catholic theologian Paul Ramsey talked about love and the latter used the story of the Good Samaritan as a justification for warfare that is directly opposed to hatred. Anderson also misquotes the term strong man and says strong leader. That may not seem like a big deal, but when a person is building an argument out of a house of cards it matters.  

We all saw this happen in 2003 when Bush declared an unconstitutional war on Iraq with no evidence of WMDs.

    There is no indication, primary source, or statement that shows hatred inspired the Iraq war. The United States was attacked on 9/11 and as a result they responded to Taliban that sponsored the terrorists, and Bush preemptively attacked a long-standing source of terror. People can debate the soundness of those reasons, especially in Iraq, but neither are necessarily derived from hatred. To support his contention Anderson needed to provide evidence.

    Also, it’s popular to complain that there was no declaration of war, but the authorization of force from congress was functionally the same. This ranks up there with “we’re a republic and not a democracy,” and “the civil war didn’t end at Appomattox” that are annoying, pettifogged facts people use to sound smart but don’t really mean anything. Finally, that congressional resolution which authorized the war listed many valid reasons beyond WMDs, though that was the one most focused on by the Bush administration. 

Even the supposed prophet of God, Gordon Hinckley, capitulated to government propaganda in a talk called War and Peace.   

    I highlighted the bold word and members of the church can assess if that is the proper way to speak about prophets. Propaganda is also a loaded term. I talk a great deal in my first book, and elsewhere, that many terms are used for their emotional value and not for their descriptive value. So, when I see an emotionally charged word it’s a clear signal that his argument is based upon emotion and not facts, which is supremely ironic considering the author’s main argument is that governments use fear inducing propaganda to inspire war. In my review of Anderson’ book I relied upon Richard Hofstader’s famous description of the Paranoid Style in American politics, and part of that style is becoming what you oppose. It shouldn’t surprise me that Anderson uses fear and hatred in building a case about how evil governments use fear and hatred.

    Moreover, he is on poor factual ground as well. My mentor when I was an undergraduate wrote a book about war time intelligence and his take, published shortly after the Iraq war, was that the administration presented the worst case, least likely scenario about WMDs, but that isn’t necessarily lying or propaganda.

[Hinckley] was wrong; the intelligence was faulty. He should've quoted the Book of Mormon and spoke out against unjust war.

    I again bolded his sustainment of the prophet. I would like to know which verses Hinckley should have quoted. In addition to Anderson being vague, President Hinckley did quote Alma 43:45-47 along with numerous other scriptures. I suspect Anderson wanted something more to his liking, but he should have been more specific.  As you’ll read in my review of a recent book on Mormon pacifism, there are verses in restoration scripture and the Bible that can be used to support both just war and nonviolence. (Mormon thought is so preliminary on the matter that many discuss and argue about the topic as though they alone have the answers or they’re the first ones to notice the tension between peace and war.) A vague denunciation of the prophet for not quoting “the Book of Mormon” is useless.

The Nephites were nationalists just like we Americans are. It is easy to hate the idea of a foreign people that you've been taught is an enemy.

    This is a broad statement that needs support, especially because there are verses that directly contradict this idea. Alma 48:23 says the Nephites were sorry to take up arms and send so many unprepared souls to meet God. That is the opposite of hatred and suggests a loving heart that wanted to avoid war. This is before we consider Ammon, the former crown prince who was so concerned about Lamanite salvation he evangelized to them. If this isn’t an ethno-centric exaggeration, it was the Lamanites that taught their children to hate (Mosiah 10:17). As I described at the beginning of this piece, nationalism, like large scale propaganda, is a modern concept. Thus, the author must provide specifics to show a premodern form of nationalistic propaganda that equals modern America.

This is why very few Americans care when drones kill foreign women and children; they are part of the abstraction, the collateral damage.

    Again, this follows the playbook I described at the top. Anderson provides pure fiction about the average American. If he relied on facts and not creative fiction to support his arguments he would know that Americans generally support drone strikes against terror targets, but that support drops a great deal if it causes civilian casualties. While any death is tragic, there is a robust body of thought that governs the morality of double effect, and this body of thought guides policy makers. The argument that Americans hate the world so much that they condone the indiscriminate killing of civilians is a lazy and wrong argument.

[Quoting Alma 25:26] Let us take up arms against them, that we destroy them and their iniquity out of the land, lest they overrun us and destroy us.

    This is a very important verse but not for the reasons the author thinks. First, let us consider that he ignores the Christ like love that Ammon had for the Lamanites which inspired his mission, but then he selectively uses Ammon’s words when they seem to support his theory that Nephites were hateful. Second, Ammon’s mission inspired a series of events that caused the death of innocent Nephites. A short summary of that post includes how Ammon’s mission was successful because of his martial skill. It caused the death of many of his converts, resulted in the Lamanite attack on Ammonihah (which was seen as God’s punishment of that wicked city), caused innocent civilians around Noah to be captured. And required a massive battle to recover them. That battle resulted in God’s punishment of the Amalekites, but also resulted in the death of many innocent soldiers.  All of which supports the idea that maybe Nephite policy makers that wanted to “take up arms…and destroy them” had some merit to their preemptive war.

Kill the abstraction before they kill us. We are better than them; they are savages and terrorists. We should just nuke the entire Middle East. They are little more than animals. They won't stop until we are all dead so we should kill them first. Don't let them practice their religion here. Every Mosque is a terrorist cell. Throw them all in Guantanamo and torture em. Go Murica!

    This is in quotes, but I’ve never heard any person or policy maker say anything remotely like this. It figures that the only direct quote from this author is a fictional straw man to show the platonic ideal of a fearful and hateful American. Once again it matches my description of libertarian arguments at the beginning of this piece. The author is vague or silent when it comes to citing scriptures and data to support his claims but suddenly verbose when inventing fictional American hatred.

The human mind is more powerful than the world's most advanced quantum computer. There are no limits to the amount of knowledge and data it can hold. Our potential to learn new concepts and store them in our brains is limitless.

    This is the merciful and massively ironic conclusion to his piece. The human mind is amazing, but significantly less so when filled with ideological blinders and lazy thinking.

    The author’s piece isn’t as revelatory as he would like us to believe. His piece shows how conspiracy theorists and posers can sound convincing without knowing or showing much. They take a bunch of vaguely familiar ideas without supporting evidence, mash them up, start stacking, and after a paragraph or two the argument starts to sound authoritative. But that’s only an illusion. When you take the time to examine each idea, as I did above, and then provide evidence for those rejoinders, the reader finds that strong man was incorrectly transposed as strong leader, the hatred of Americans and Nephites were invented, basic ideas of just war like the loving heart and doctrine of double effect ignored, the Iraq war was authorized by congress, President Hinckley did quote clear verses in the Book of Mormon that support just war, the author’s scriptural support is nonexistent or selectively used and so on. Truly, this author has an appearance of scholarship, but without the logical command of details to have the power of scholarship (2 Tim 3:5).

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