Edge of Chaos is a political podcast starring Joe Ryan and Neurotoxin. Its aim is to have a free-flowing discussion of news and current events that also examines the empirical outcomes of public policy, avoiding biases based on ideology and policy intentions. Listener discretion is both advised and encouraged.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Fred Phelps Is Dying: I Say We ALL Go Dance On His Grave

Let's take a pause from discussing the Cold War Epilogue circus unfolding in Eastern Europe to discuss an interesting and controversial event occurring here in the US. According to his estranged son, Fred Phelps - founder of the odious Westboro Baptist Church known for hate-spewing anti-gay protests and picketing military funerals - is on his deathbed. I've observed in the media an ongoing debate between various groups over how acceptable it is to celebrate such a man's death, and more specifically the moral implications of picketing his funeral in reprisal. While it's only marginally political, I feel strongly about this to offer my cold, calculating, empiricist outlook.

1. I don't care that they're anti-gay.

I respect people's right to view homosexuality as wrong. I disagree with them and think they are misled by superstition and a grossly literal misinterpretation of the Bible. But the whole beauty of this country is that everyone is entitled to their views, and you don't have to like someone if you don't want to.

2. I don't care that they're a hate group.

I fully agree with the 1st Amendment's protection of hate speech. I grew up in the USSR where, unbeknownst to most Americans, hate speech was in fact illegal - and the government perpetually abused this to squelch dissent while doing absolutely nothing to curb rampant discrimination against minorities of all sorts. Things don't have to be remotely that extreme for the costs to outweigh the benefits. Inbred idiots waving swastikas or "god hates fags" signs may be unpleasant to look at, but a government that has the capacity to silence you on the arbitrary distinction that your expression is offensive is INFINITELY more dangerous than such rejects could ever be.

3. It's just not OK to picket funerals for a cause; ANY cause.

A funeral is not for the dead person. It is a ritual of grief and condolence for the living, and desecrating such an event for the sake of a political agenda causes immeasurable psychological suffering and trauma in people who have done absolutely nothing to warrant it. While I concede on legally protected status, I must say I'm thoroughly disappointed that some crazed mourner at a picketed funeral hasn't yet flattened this band of rednecks with a monster truck or mowed them down with a machine gun. I'm not sure I wouldn't end up being that mourner if they showed up at a funeral for someone I loved; and personal vindication has little to do with it.

In light of these considerations, I firmly believe a constructive and effective response is for Fred Phelps' funeral to have the nastiest, most hateful protest America can muster; but a protest specifically aimed at his actions rather than his beliefs. Phelps will already be dead and hence indifferent. But the protest would cause pain and suffering for his despicable extended family and congregation, who will invariably continue his legacy of hurting people after he dies.

While such an action is unlikely to deter them from continuing this campaign, an action of turning the other cheek is not only equally unlikely to do so - it enables them. What a massive public display of disdain and disregard for these animals' well-being IS likely to do is deter others from joining them, or even perhaps persuade a few conflicted members to leave the congregation. In doing so, it is bringing this cancerous organization a significant step closer to extinction, reducing the total pain that has to be inflicted in the equation at their well-deserving expense.

To the naive who would claim this stance makes me no better than Phelps, I say you are objectively wrong. Unlike Phelps and his kin that inflict pain out of ideological superstition, I'm calling for a targeted infliction of pain on a band of bullies that has inflicted it on others with the distinct and rational objective of neutralizing them. A tempered, constructive disregard for the well-being of those who choose to cause others pain in an effort to neutralize their aggression is the basic and age-old stance of self-defense. There is 0 reason to believe that the ideal of a world without aggression is anything more than a rosey fantasy. Accepting humanity as it is and ignoring such childish hypotheticals, neutralizing aggression toward those that partake in it is absolutely the most effective and least aggressive method available.


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