Batshit by Association

by Cooper Young

Attention Politicians, Pundits, Bloggers, Authors, Internet Commenters, and All Opinionated Others:

Some of you (especially many of those in the first two categories), seem to have missed an important life lesson. Not all of you, certainly; that would be both ludicrous and existentially terrifying.  For those who have not heard this before, consider it a primer. The rest may consider it a gentle reminder.

When I was about twelve, my mother sat me down and told me to be very careful about choosing my friends. I told her “I know, I know. Not everyone is trustworthy, and some people may be out to hurt me.”

“It’s more than that, though. If you hang out with kids who do bad things like smoke and drink and steal things, people will assume you do the same.”

“But I would never do anything like that!”*

“It doesn’t matter. It’s called guilt by association.”

Ladies and gentlemen, your ideas are insecure twelve year old girls, and sometimes they need a parent’s guidance through life. Their friends are the words with which they associate; if those words are guilty of a crime, it is assumed the idea is likewise guilty. You must do your best to keep them away from words which will damage their reputation. If your words are crazy, insensitive, or otherwise cause an angry, knee-jerk reaction in your audience, your ideas will be assumed to be similarly tainted.

In other words: You can have a great idea, a valid opinion, and a strong position, but if you couch them in rhetoric which makes you sound like a nutter, they become automatically invalid.

Why? Because even those who agree with you will want you to be wrong. They feel guilty for privately agreeing with your saner points, because they fear someone might find out and pass judgement on them. Agreeing with someone’s position is taken to be the same as patting them on the back and telling them “Well said.” There is no “Poorly said, but your basic premise is on point. I think” without them having to say something extensive which carefully separates argument from rhetoric. Let’s face it: unless they feel as strongly as you do about the subject—strongly enough to risk the damage to their own reputation—that’s just not going to happen So, rather than being able to support you, they look awkwardly the other way while you are inevitably ripped apart by your detractors. They fear—say it with me now—guilt by association.

Furthermore, you stifle any possibility for intelligent debate on your chosen topic. No one wants to talk about what you meant, only about what you said. Claiming that your opponents are avoiding the “real” issues only shows that you are out of touch with your audience. If you weren’t, you would understand exactly why they’re upset. Then, they will begin making similarly radical statements about you and your position. You will think they are nuts. This will do little to foster understanding and compromise.

But how do you know what will make even your supporters turn their backs on you? Where, precisely, does the line between hilariously edgy and a one-way ticket to Pariahville (population: your sorry ass) lie?

Right around here:

1. Equating your opponent (political or otherwise) to Hitler, Stalin, Saddam Hussien, Pol Pot, or any other dictator. Choosing one who committed genocide gets you a free upgrade to first class.

2. Equating the actions of an opponent to genocide, slavery, rape, or any other major human rights abuse.

3. Randomly throwing out racist, sexist, homophobic, or other incendiary epithets in a public forum.

These are the “bad kids”, the choices of rhetoric which will instantly destroy the reputation of even the best idea. To use them is to do your good ideas a crippling disservice. On the other hand, staying away from them will go a long way toward making you a respected individual in whatever field you choose. Hell, in the current U.S political climate, simply not wedging your foot knee-deep in your crazy hole could get you elected to public office.

Kids make mistakes, though. If your ideas are caught hanging out with them, break off the friendship. Apologize sincerely and only then try to defend any redeemable qualities your idea may have. That first part is absolutely crucial and really, I promise, not that hard.

Just keep this in mind at all times: What you say is only as respectable as the words with which you say it. No one can read your mind to know what you “really” meant, nor would either party be comfortable with it if they could. Trust me. It’d be creepy.