The idea that a person is known by the company he or she keeps is almost proverbial. In some instances this might be true, but not always true.
I was in college during the Congressional witch hunts and especially the communist witch hunt led by Senator Joseph McCarthy, chairman of the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations of the Senate Government Operations Committee. There was also the House Un-American Activities Committee that was searching for communists at all levels of government as well. Of the 653 people called by the Committee during a 15-month period, 83 refused to answer questions about espionage and subversion on constitutional grounds and their names were made public.
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx was one text in a philosophy class I was enrolled in at the time. We had to order our own copy and it was sent to our address in a brown, unmarked envelope. Why? Because the professor was fearful both he and his students could be charged with being communists, merely because we were reading the Manifesto.
At another time, many years later, I wrote something in support of a position taken by a controversial group. I received one email warning me about the group. Didn’t I know they believed thus and so and were bad? I replied that, yes, I know they believe this and that and I do not believe all that they believe, but on this one issue I happen to agree with them.
Another story. A man’s career was put in jeopardy because he had made the comment, ”Free choice is a wonderful thing.” To say “free choice” can only mean one thing: the speaker favors abortion, right. Well, not necessarily. An article was published accusing the person of favoring abortion. The article listed several others, claiming they favored abortion. The writer published foot notes with the article to prove his accuracy. I knew some of the people mentioned in the article, and knew they did not favor abortion. So, I made an independent study of the claims. The man in question had made the comment that free choice was a wonderful thing, but he had written the statement in an article about personal salvation. We are free to choose salvation, so “free choice is a wonderful thing!”
The experiences I have shared are examples of guilt by association. It is uncritical thinking and not rational. It is an attitude that polarizes our society. Taken literally, it would mean there would never be a consensus on any issue and society would be in continual crisis. Listen carefully, and this appeal to guilt by association has been and will be prominent in many a political advertisement. Look for this especially when donors and endorsements are used to paint a candidate’s character. So, “It ain’t necessarily so” that we are known by the company we keep.