Utah is such a beautiful place – the diversity of landscape, and natural wonders is nearly unparalleled in the continental united states. Oddly enough, the diversity of political opinion is nearly as extreme – the same state that foists Bill Bennett, Orrin Hatch and Karl Rove on the American political system produced one of the only mayors with temerity enough to protest the president of the United States when he visited Salt Lake City (our very own Rocky Anderson ). The extremity of contrast is a little disorienting, and the polarization between the conservatives (the majority of which are members of the LDS church) and the liberals (a few of whom are also members of the majority faith, though most are made up of more pedestrian Catholics, Episcopalians, Unitarians and University educated folks. Utah is home to one of the most antagonistic college sports rivalries in the country as well – with BYU blue to the South, and U of U red to the north. Attending the University of Utah itself is an interesting exercise in culture clash, as over half the student body is LDS, and the vast majority of the faculty are gentiles from out of state (and the vast majority of tenured faculty have been around long enough for some real resentment of the political and cultural influence of the LDS church to take root and fester).
One plus, of course, is that it’s so easy to feel morally superior when surrounded by such obvious bigots and loons.
I grew up in Provo Utah which, despite the reputation of our State capitol, is actually the heart of the LDS church. My gradual alienation from Mormonism revolved around the rather obvious (and obviously distressing) examples of insanity that only an intolerant majority can produce. One of the seminary teachers affiliated with my high school gained a level or local stature, and notoriety, for his persuasive lectures about Satanism in modern music (seminary is voluntary religious instruction students can elect to enroll in, in lieu of a class period, tramping across the parking lot to a church-owned building and back again – or routinely using as an excuse to take a long lunch, or sleep in an extra hour). There were organized album-burnings at some of the local high schools – Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, and AC/DC were prominently featured. The cultural landscape would’ve been much more improved if they’d been burning Osmond albums.
Though Utah has stumbled a step or two out of the dark ages, there are still incredible examples of intolerance to be found. Utah has one of the most efficient (and, to local political figures, terrifying) lobbying groups in the country – the Utah branch of The Eagle Forum.
Their willingness to utilize their frighteningly efficient telephone tree (run by shriveled old conservative women, as nearly as I can tell) to bully state legislators and other elected officials is legendary. The Utah Eagle Forum is headed by Gayle Ruzicka – perhaps the most highly motivated brittle, intolerant and unpleasant person on the face of the planet.
When you live in Utah, as a member of the political minority, you become sensitized to intolerance. It becomes painfully (and repeatedly) obvious how the lack of dialogue and collaboration between the political parties damages the integrity of the political system. I’ve been horrified at the ease and rapidity with which the Republican majority, beginning with Gingrich, has been able to alienate and isolate the minority party. Even unlikely political figures from the past have voiced alarm at the utter lack of collegiality between members of opposing parties – cross-aisle collaboration is seen as evidence of disloyalty. Punishments are meted out if members vote against their party. In short, the integrity of our political system has been gravely undermined by the subjugation of broader national interests to narrow party politics.
So, I’m sensitive to the role dialogue between people of differing perspectives plays in facilitating more favorable outcomes. I’ve watched with horror as bigots of various stripes have successfully marginalized, then silenced contrary perspectives, and seen the withering effect of homogenized viewpoints where individual differences to disagree are not only not respected, but are actively condemned.
So I’ve been disheartened to see these elements active in liberal communities as well, most particularly at Daily Kos.
Satire has been a particularly potent form of social commentary for as long as people have been commenting on social interaction. It’s no accident that Jon Stewart (and now Adam Colbert) and Bill Maher are afforded a greater level of credibility than “more serious” journalists – satirists are afforded a degree of latitude we don’t allow more serious commentators. The same was true of court jesters – the jester had license to criticize even the king (so long as it was kept lighthearted). Even Utah has Saturday’s Voyeur.
And Kos has Switters. Or had Switters, anyway – he’s apparently been banned from posting.
I thought about making this a more academic piece – talking about the dynamics of coalition formation, the impact impermeable boundaries have on the qualities of/interactions between elements within the system contained therein, enantiodromia as a phenomena in today’s political system (creating enemies in the service of making us safer, for example), the importance of free speech from a systemic perspective, the perils of projection, or the ludicrous ineffectiveness of teachers who cannot comprehend a student’s perspective. But I won’t. I’d just like to invite the people who are most adament in their repression of ideas to take a long look in the mirror.
If you don’t recognize the person staring back at you, perhaps it’s time to reconsider the manner in which you respond to otherness. Please. The country (the world, really) can’t afford your arrogant disregard for people who don’t conform to your narrow view of what constitutes appropriate behavior, any more than we can afford the parallel intolerance of our current Republican leadership.
Lighten up, Kos. Even if you don’t get the jokes, or don’t appreciate the language, that doesn’t make Switters any less an artist, or serious commentator, than it made Geddy Lee a servant of the Devil, in mid-80’s Provo Utah. Don’t be the secular, Democratic analogue of Provo, Utah. The world deserves better of you.