–Ans, –Ites and –Isms

Political ButtonsFor a long time, I have wrestled with the notion that I need to commit to a political party. Every time I have gone to declare an allegiance of one kind or another, something has stayed my hand. I have been ashamed of this for some time, thinking that perhaps I was too wishy-washy, too uncommitted, too weakly opinioned. I have been enticed by several political ideologies, most notably feminism and libertarianism, and have come close to choosing one on several occasions.

But again, something has kept me “aloof from all these parties” despite engaging in their several discussions as often as I felt drawn to them. Finally, I believe I have reached the root of the issues I have with choosing a political party.

I admire many people who subscribe to an ideology of some sort or another. (Many of whom are permas here at M*.) They have passion and conviction. Their ideas are well-reasoned, and generally based on good principles. Above all else, they tend to be thinkers, people who are dedicated to ferreting out truth and right. And I love spending time with these sorts of people. I love being challenged to look from new perspectives and being drawn to passionately defend one’s viewpoint against another’s.

So what holds me back?

When a person experiences certain events in their life, they begin to become involved in the things surrounding that experience. We see it all the time with breast cancer, women’s reproductive rights, homosexuality, domestic violence, and a myriad other interests. Eventually, they find themselves a group of people who believe as they do on that topic. Elated to find like-minded individuals, they realize that HERE is their tribe! Here are the people just like them. They have found their calling. They are a [Libertarian/Republican/Democrat/Feminist/LGBT activist/etc.] They begin to attend conventions, subscribe to blogs, involve themselves in meetings and groups, and associate more and more with the people who have the same label they have given themselves.

They probably don’t subscribe to EVERYTHING the group stands for, but it is close enough that they feel a valuable part of the group.

The more time they spend with like-minded individuals, the stronger their convictions get, the more well reasoned their arguments. Eventually, they begin to adopt more and more of the ideals of the group without even realizing it. Their minds become firmer, they begin to feel more and more justified in their beliefs. Anyone who disagrees may or may not be treated respectfully, but either way they disagree simply because they don’t understand the brilliance and perfection of the group ideal. That way, their arguments can be dismissed comfortably.

As time goes on, the group ideal becomes a trump card, a lens, an idol. Everything must be seen compared to the ideal, whether it is the gender equality of the feminists or the freedom of the libertarians. Those who make decisions based on other factors become blind at best, and the enemy, heretics at worst.

And thus a dogma is born.

One of the great moral stands of the Book of Mormon is the illustration of the damage that can be done by the creation of –ites. Almost immediately, the two main –ites of the Book of Mormon are born. At times, this is a genetic cultural divide. But after the dissolution of –ites at the coming of our Lord, when “there were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of –ites;” the –ites re-emerge. At this point, it is clear that the distinction between Lamanites and Nephites becomes primarily ideological, theological rather than biological.

And while the very first –ites mentioned after the coming of Christ were “true believers in Christ,” and the division was clearly righteous vs. wicked, that lofty moral state did not last long. Eventually, the Nephites were just as wicked as the other –ites, and it was purely political.

I believe this is because of the dynamic I discuss above. I’m sure that every one of us find it easy to see the problem in a group opposed to our own, but find it very difficult to accept that ANY division, ANY label, ANY –an, –ite, or –ism falls equally prey to self-feedback and pride, even ours. And the more committed we are to whatever ideal the group is formed around; the more difficult it becomes to see the problem. After all, the ideal is generally a good and righteous ideal. How could it NOT apply to every situation, and indeed even be the goal to achieve in every situation?

While divisions among people and labels can help in the short term, unifying groups and solidifying good principles, I believe that the capacity to nurture pride and damage society is far greater than the benefit.

And this is why I am glad to say that I will not be joining a political party.

25 thoughts on “–Ans, –Ites and –Isms

  1. Your reasons are valid, and I think that many people share similar feelings. However, you have to look and see what the election laws are like in your state. I live in New Mexico which is a closed primary state, which means that you can only vote for the party candidates in your registered party. (If this is good or bad, I haven’t decided) I have chosen to be in a party so I can vote in all the elections my state holds. Voting is too important to me not to be affiliated with a party (good or bad as that may be).

  2. Thanks, Geoff! If my opinions bear resemblance to George Washington’s, that is a compliment indeed.

    John—I agree. My point is that when we self-label and become actively entangled in the opinions attached to that label, it runs a real and almost ever-present danger of becoming soul-consuming. I have interacted with many, many good people for whom that is a real problem, and they don’t see it.

    Joyce—That is true, but I’m not creating a blanket statement that declaring an affiliation on paper is bad. I’m saying that associating closely and actively with any ideological group puts one in danger of self-feedback and pride.

    Adam—Thanks!

  3. I’m registered and not with any political party for much the same reasons.

    For the states I’ve lived in with closed primaries, there were always plenty of other non-party related items to vote on. I figure the parties can take care of themselves, and hopefully they will put forward their best for whatever position there is for the general populace to vote on.

    One of the things I found interesting in the scriptures was when the Nephites were divided by their enemies, not by themselves:
    4 Nephi 1:36 – And it came to pass that in this year there arose a people who were called the Nephites, and they were true believers in Christ; and among them there were those who were called by the Lamanites—Jacobites, and Josephites, and Zoramites;

    Do we still do this now, dividing our (percieved) enemies into factions, those we really dislike to those we might almost get along with?

  4. But after the dissolution of –ites at the coming of our Lord, when “there were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of –ites;” the –ites re-emerge. At this point, it is clear that the distinction between Lamanites and Nephites becomes primarily ideological, theological rather than biological.

    Just wanted to quibble that this isn’t clear to me.

  5. SR, you articulate the problems with political parties and dogma very well.

    I think that you actually are part of a group: Independents. And as an Independent, you are the most coveted and important type of voter. I used to be an Independent myself, and in a way, I still am, because I frequently come over from the left to the right on a number of issues.

    But a while ago, I made a deliberate decision to align myself with the Democrats. I did so, not because I agreed with everything they said, and disagreed with everything Republicans said, but more, because I wanted to really become passionate and involved, to connect, to fight, to participate in a more active way, to be part of the push and pull.

    So I take a stand. But I do so with the assurance that many people are taking the stand opposite of me, to balance me out, and provide context. I know my stand is incomplete and dangerous when it becomes the only voice.

    But independents are also an important part of the political action, because they are frequently the reasonable, rational people who can bring the left and the right together to accomplish positive things. They are the glue that keeps our country from descending into civil war.

  6. Concerning Washington’s view: On the other hand, in the US system, a two party system was inevitable and unavoidable because we have a winner takes all system. You either join one of the two parties (or make an alliance with them anyhow) or you cause those further from you to win.

  7. Frank—That’s a great point, and something interesting to think about. I think we do, but that we do that with all groups, not just enemies.

    Adam—I’m not sure how much clearer it could get, when it says flat out that the Nephites were the true worshipers of and believers in Christ, and the Lamanites were those who rejected the gospel.

    Nate—it is possible that I am an “Independent,” but until there is a unified ideal, with Independent conventions and discussion groups, etc., it isn’t the sort of label I’m talking about. And if it did become that sort of label, it would no longer apply to me.

    And don’t confuse the lack of political party with not taking a stand. I take a stand on a great many issues. I just don’t define those issues by political party or one transcendent ideal.

  8. SilverRain,

    It’s a term I learned in American Heritage many years ago. I guess it’s sort of misleading if you don’t have the right context.

    Think of how, say, the British system, works differently. When you allow all votes to proportionally win as many seats as voted in the election, the end result is NOT a winner takes all system. Your party can *always* get *some* votes.

    This might seem like a good idea, but in fact it’s a horrible idea.

    The end result is that to setup a functioning government the winning party, who is usually strongly opposed to the next closest party, must make an alliance with the third largest party. This is true no matter who wins, so the end result is that the third largest party ends up controling the government more or less and is in a strongly stable position. No matter who wins, they are still in control.

    It also means that their political system isn’t a strong selective system (as in “natural selection”). So they end up not getting rid of things that don’t work at the same rate a winner takes all democracy does.

    The US is setup such that you have to win to win. So if I’m a Libertarian I am basically forced to not form my own party and instead join with whoever of the parties is closer to me. (Perhaps Republicans.) Thus I’m forced into compromise.

    The end result of this system is inevitably that we’ll keep settling back to two parties.

    Think of the elections that had three parties. In every case, the party that was closest to the third party lost. Anderson caused Carter to lose. Perot caused Bush to lose. Lincoln only won because of an extra party (or two, actually, I think.)

    To me, being a “Republican” isn’t an “ite.” (Though I admit to many people it is.) It’s a matter of being practical. I agree more often with the Republicans than I do the Democracts. But that won’t stop me for voting for Obama against McCain, nor would it stop me for voting for Obama against Perry.

    (Yes, I’ll vote for Romney if he wins the nomination. But despite him being front runner, I just can’t bring myself to believe the huge prejudice against Mormons isn’t going to undo him yet. I hope I’m wrong about this and will *gladly* print a public retraction if Romney wins the nomination.)

  9. The warnings in this essay are good ones, but the conclusion is a rather extreme form of moderation. Registering with a party, maybe donating a bit of money or time for a candidate you like, is not enough to make someone a second cousin of Michael Moore and Rush Limbaugh. Think of the tens of thousands of elected office holders across America and the tens of thousands more who ran against them, and then the millions who supported them in some overt way. Largely they’re the same people who make businesses, schools, churches, and other community institutions function, and having a role or a say in how the government is run is one more way they build up society. Many are fine people, and some are scoundrels. To refuse any participation in politics, even voting for party nominees, because of the dangers of intolerant division is as poor a choice as refusing to get a job or go to school to avoid the pride that can come from industry and learning.

    It has been noted far and wide this week that Brandon Flowers participated in an “I’m a Mormon” video. Here’s video from last year of Flowers and couple of bandmates playing at a Harry Reid rally: link. The willingness to publicly say “I’m a husband, I’m a father, and I’m a Mormon” is related to being able to say out loud “I’m a Nevadan, I like the Democrats, and I’m voting for Harry Reid.”

  10. Thank you, John, for your input. But I’m not arguing against anything that you say. I am warning about a very real danger and tendency, and advocating that we should guard against it. That’s a far cry from saying anyone who affiliates with a party is evil or we should avoid being involved in politics.

    Thanks, Bruce. That clarifies your meaning. Again, I’m not saying that affiliating with a party is evil, I’m saying that when we do it, we run the risks elucidated in the OP. And I believe the weight is sliding to the side of dogmatism, etc. for more and more people.

  11. “Adam—I’m not sure how much clearer it could get, when it says flat out that the Nephites were the true worshipers of and believers in Christ, and the Lamanites were those who rejected the gospel.”

    It doesn’t say that. It identifies several tribal groups who were true worshippers, and several tribal groups who weren’t. It could be that the tribes were solely constituted on the basis of their adherence to the gospel, but in that case I don’t see why it would be necessary to have more than one tribe on each side.

  12. Bruce N.,
    the British system is actually also winner-take-all, also called first-past-the-post. Most continental parliaments have proportional representation, but the Brits don’t.

  13. Except, Adam, it says the true believers were called Nephites, not that the Nephites were true believers.

    If you don’t see it, that’s your prerogative. There are many people who don’t see the things others find quite clear.

  14. Except, Adam, it says the true believers were called Nephites, not that the Nephites were true believers.

    Not quite. What it says is http://lds.org/scriptures/bofm/4-ne/1.36-38?lang=eng#35

    [blockquote]36 And it came to pass that in this year there arose a people who were called the aNephites, and they were true believers in Christ; and among them there were those who were called by the Lamanites—Jacobites, and Josephites, and bZoramites;

    37 Therefore the true believers in Christ, and the true worshipers of Christ, (among whom were the athree disciples of Jesus who should tarry) were called Nephites, and Jacobites, and Josephites, and Zoramites.

    38 And it came to pass that they who rejected the gospel were called Lamanites, and Lemuelites, and Ishmaelites; and they did not dwindle in aunbelief, but they did bwilfully rebel against the gospel of Christ; and they did teach their children that they should not believe, even as their fathers, from the beginning, did dwindle.
    [/blockquote]

    Like I said earlier, if the only distinction is between believers and non-believers, there would only need to be two categories, Nephites and Lamanites. Instead we are told about Nephites and Jacobites and Josephites and Zoramites and Lamanites and Lemuelites and Ishmaelites. This is an anomaly that your version can’t account for.

    On the other hand, like you say, the scriptures say ‘the true believers were called X’ and not vice versa, which is an anomaly that the ethnic survival version can’t account for.

    So, on the whole, I rate this scripture as “not clear” about whether the 4th Nephi division was almost random with respect to ethnicity or almost perfectly corresponded to ethnic groups or something in between.

  15. Actually, my understanding does account for that. But I’m not terribly interested in sky-is-blue type arguments, particularly ones that have so little bearing on the topic at hand.

  16. Adam G is correct. The Nephites and Lamanites were made up of several distinct groups. We are told it is for convenience of writing that these groups are generally lumped together into two by the Book of Mormon authors.

    Just as today we have Democrats and Republicans, but inside these tents are many types: Log Cabin Republicans, RINOs, Liberal, Moderate, Conservative, Libertarian, Tea Partiers, Occupy Wall Streeters, etc. Each of these is a separate entity that has chosen to join with a larger group for purposes that give more advantages than disadvantages (self protection, bigger voice in government, etc). Sam Nunn was a conservative Democrat who, on retiring, said that he didn’t leave the Democratic Party, but the Democratic Party left him….

    While I call myself a Libertarian, I still have to realize that not all Libertarians are the same. Some are anarchists, some conservatives, and there is even a “bleeding heart libertarian” blog for those leaning left! I also realize that there are levels of government I can support more than others, while others prefer more or less than I do.

    You will find me on blogs in many political spectrums. Why? Because I learn, and hope to share my views with others so they might also consider things they may never have considered before.

    Of course, it doesn’t always work. On another blog where libertarianism is being discussed, I just had someone cuss me out, and then attempt to mock me. But that’s just how it goes. We cannot change everyone’s minds. At the same time, I have to be willing to keep an open mind, so I don’t miss the chance of learning something better than I already have.

    BTW, I technically would be considered an Independent, also. Not registered anywhere, so I can keep my options totally open.

  17. The label was synonymous at that point, gentlemen.

    And how you interpret that part of scripture is so completely incidental to my point, that I’m not going to argue it.

  18. Politics being defined as social relations among people with the intent to gain power or authority sounds awfully close to priestcraft. I don’t believe in politics and I don’t think we should practice it according to that definition. That doesn’t mean I’m opposed to participation in democracy but Christ didn’t engage in party politics and I don’t intend to. I’m certain there is room for disagreement as there are obviously other things we dont have a record of Christ doing but do them anyway… but the concept seems so geared toward gaining some kind of temporal power/authority in a fallen world rather than seeking to do and accomplish those things that brings power and authority in the Priesthood

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