For me, there’s something “at a party with 99% strangers” about this first blog post. I have that awkward blurty thing going that I always fight right when I meet people, when I have no idea what to say unless, God be praised, baseball is in season. But I will start by thanking spacejace for inviting me to post here: I’ve enjoyed the thoughts of the other folks in the community, and hopefully I’ll justify my invite to the party.
I guess I should do a quick rundown of my stats: I live in San Francisco, and am the mom of a toddler whom I adore, and am hitched to her dad, whom I also adore (lucky me). I’ve got a spectacularly impractical B.A. and an almost equally spectacularly impractical M.A. (yes, English) from a couple nifty universities, the resources of which I was apt to underutilize; on the up side, the Master’s got me interested in human rights issues, which is sort of the direction I’m headed in these days, and certainly one of the things in which I’m most interested. At this point, I’ve spent about half of my adult life either learning or teaching in higher education; the other half is split about evenly between working retail, being a mom, and being a total dumbass. I’ve found both halves of my life pretty useful, and the “being a total dumbass” part invaluable.
Like I mentioned, these days, I live with my husband in San Francisco. For the last year or so, I’ve gotten to be a full-time mom to my soon to be three-year-old daughter, who thinks she’s a dinosaur these days, which her mom thinks is freaking awesome. I’m interested in all kinds of things: mainly, I’m interested in figuring out what the hell is wrong with the world, because even more so, I’m interested in figuring out how to fix what’s wrong. I am 100% certain I will never, ever even come close to getting my hands around those things, but hey: shoot high! Politically, I’m…weird. Spiritually, I’m a Friend, of the quite liberal sort (which can be used as insight into the political weird, especially if you salt it with the fact that I am somewhat knowledgeable about and no fan of authoritarianism).
So…what will I be yapping about? Just…ideas, I guess. National and international events will likely be starting points, but I’m hoping (with your help), to do some interesting analysis and contextualization. I may just also poke at what I think is an interesting idea, and see what comes of it – there are often interesting, unexpected, and illuminating connections to be made that you don’t know about until you get to them. I am an enthusiastic learner, which is to say that I place value on listening openly to all perspectives, and if I hear something that makes more sense that what I’m thinking, I’m happy to have been offered the chance to see things more clearly – I’d not remain more ignorant than I have to, and am pleased to have clarification of the state of affairs.
Today's idea is this one:
If you don’t know, this is about whom he is talking.
This is one of those ideas that I can't believe nobody (including me) came up with before now: it’s brilliant, and I freaking adore it. I have seen the people who show up with messages of love to counter the Westboro Baptist Church’s hate (in fact, I was one when they swung by SF a couple months ago), but what this person does breaks the frame of what is going on in a way that my telling the WBC folks that I loved them despite their misguided assholery just didn’t (though I adore these people).
To me, there are a couple of interesting things to ponder about this, alongside the more readily apparent awesome of worthy groups getting more funds (and you’d have to think they’d do well under those circumstances – I’d clean out my wallet, and I can’t be the only one). The first is wondering how, should the practice become widespread and effective, the WBC theology-type-thing would handle their protests resulting in positive good for the groups to which they so virulently object. It would certainly drive them around the twist emotionally, but would they modify their message delivery system? Currently, I’m leaning no: “nuanced” isn’t a word that anyone is going to use to describe Fred Phelp’s notions of religion (also missing: “grace-filled,” “loving,” and “any marbles at all”), and I suspect that he feels like one rails at the sinners as they laugh and mock (I’d bet good money he’s a big fan of Jeremiah ). Still…it might give them pause.
The other, and to me more interesting, thing that I am led to wonder is if we should really want for them to stop showing up places. I mean: yes, if it’s because everyone has gotten themselves a highly qualified round-the-clock shrink and a firm commitment to reentering reality. But it’s worth thinking about with what they will replace these demonstrations. Honestly, I’m not sure what that would be…billboards? Sky writing? Ads during Glenn Beck (sorry – couldn’t help it)? Right now, it seems likelier to me that they would have to retreat into electronic communication. They’ve already got themselves a web page, a Facebook page, and they tweet merrily away, so it’s not like they aren’t already there. But I’m not sure that they will be content with that: if their worldview requires things that the picketing provides (which it likely does – that’s an incredibly structured thing Fred Phelps has going, whether or not the structuring is conscious), I’m not sure that bodiless written screeds and vlogs are going to satisfy their need for the abject immediacy of required Godly confrontation with those they perceive as the hellbound vile. That is not to say that the general public is going to suffer too greatly if their illness is quarantined in cyberspace, but I suspect things in the Phelps circle would get even weirder and uglier: Fred Phelps teaches predestination of the elect, and I’m betting that no church member is considered 100% definitely elect except for Fred Phelps, meaning that any of them could become targets for the frustrated need. Because I am firmly convinced that there are good and terribly damaged people who need help somewhere inside the gleeful judgers of others (apparently, they missed Matt. 7:1-2), not to mention small and deeply psychologically vulnerable children, I hate to see that poison get even more concentrated within the group. You have to figure that within a couple generations of Phelps getting the shock of his afterlife , things will start normalizing around there, but isolating the group and plugging vents doesn’t seem like the best way to minimize damage to the next generation of Phelpses, who get to live with the hatred that we only have to look at on signs. It may be tempting to want for them to keep their bile to themselves, but it seems to me that the greatest harm that the Phelpses really do is to themselves, and all that isolating them does is increase the harm where it is already at its greatest. Add to that that them coming to town gives us a chance to stretch those valuable First Amendment muscles, provides the opportunity for the community to counter-protest (often in heartening numbers), increases awareness of the unacceptability of hate, creates spaces for dialog, and potentially raises funds to address the problems which the WBC exemplifies, and I find I want for the Phelpses to keep hauling their hatefest around the country. Yeah, they drive me nuts, but when I get past that, I’m finding there’s a bigger picture, complete with additional details, to take into account.
And this all gets me to back around to that video. When I see the person in it advocating using a WBC protest as an opportunity for wider good, I see him asking us to make our pictures bigger and more detailed, and to not only extend the boundaries of our contexts, but ground ourselves more firmly in reality. Implicit in his appeal is the idea that our contexts should expand beyond the immediate confrontation between a hate group and those who are appalled by them, to the organizations the WBC protests and the missions (often life-saving) of those organizations. He asks us to think about what larger principles are worth investing in, with the WBC as a compelling counterpoint. And once we’ve made those determinations, reality calls: the possibly dismissible as clearly troubled Phelpses are the far end of a globe-spanning spectrum of hatred still overcrowded by all sorts of less exuberant and clearly sane folk. The situation yet requires remedy, and if we want to see change, we’d probably do well to think of the groups that fight it when we decide how we spend our money (on ourselves, or something bigger?). In my minimal personal experience (seen ‘em once), ground zero of a WBC protest felt limited to the people present and the immediate debate. The idea of raising funds rejects that frame (one that sure works for the Phelpses), replacing it with a much larger one – one that accommodates a much larger picture. I find that seriously f$#%ing cool.
So...some questions – can we make the framework even bigger for this one? Or is there another framework we can think of that is in desperate need of a roomier replacement? Let me all know what you think, and nice to meet you!
P.S. An addendum to the Facebook note of mine that spacejace posted: I was somewhat delighted to learn that if you divide the cost of the 2008 campaign cycle (the most expensive ever at $5.3 billion) by the number of Americans (308,984,000), we’ve got a per-person cost of $17.15 (or $38.40 per taxpayer, of which there are 138 million). Midterm cycles cost about half as much. It makes one wonder why the damn things aren’t already publicly funded….wait, I don’t wonder that at all.
P.P.S. Fave song listened to while writing this: it's a tie between these two:
(“when I was driving once I saw this painted on a bridge: "I don't want the world, I just want your half")