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Archive for March, 2014

People in this country are increasingly unable to adequately feed themselves and their families. Whether due to the inhumane system of benefits sanctions or some other reason, hundreds of thousands more people are relying on charitable services in order not to starve to death, in the UK, in 2014.

By any reasonable metric, more people are facing more appalling hardships due to broadening income inequality. But at least one elected representative thinks it’s all nonsense. He’s seen through the agenda being pushed by those other politicians who wear different coloured hats than him. He’s observed proof positive that, in his area of the country at least, the notion that anyone’s going hungry is merely an illusion:

People aren’t in poverty in terms of going without food. You try booking a restaurant in Crawley on a Friday or Saturday night. You can’t do it.

Well, there you have it. See, poor people? If you’ve been referred to a food bank due to some imaginary “crisis” with your so-called “cost of living”, been given a few tins of beans to help stave off malnourishment, then brought them back because you can’t afford to heat them, don’t despair – the restaurant industry in Crawley is booming. Why not just go out for a nice meal? Genius.

…Except on Friday or Saturday nights, I guess, because apparently you can’t do that on those days. Which somehow still proves his point about how everyone’s got enough food? Mind you, this is from the same brilliant mind responsible for this logical nail-bomb immediately before:

Some people are finding it hard but everyone’s finding it hard.

How do I conjunction?

Sentence construction aside, this kind of pathological obliviousness fascinates me. I stare at it and try to fathom the underlying worldview and assumptions which could prop up such an insane missing of the point, my brow furrowing in ever-deepening bafflement at how every notion of logic or sense could be so deftly avoided, until I inevitably make this face:

and need to go and sit down with an ice-pack pressed against my head for a bit.

Calling it a rationalisation or a way to resolve cognitive dissonance doesn’t satisfactorily get to the root of the faulty thought processes here. And it seems important to try getting to their root, because otherwise the whole thing’s too impossibly frustrating to even know how to engage with. But it really feels as if, in order to have quite this little of a clue, you’d have to be actively trying really hard to close your mind to reality.

A significant swathe of conservative thought is ideologically resistant to the idea that people in the same part of the world as you, in comparable circumstances to your own – not in some poverty-stricken, far-flung part of Africa, which might as well be somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse – can be suffering more than they deserve. Maybe if the government directly caused it, it can be believed – but anyone who the market’s decided shouldn’t be in possession of a life-sustaining supply of nourishment must have failed in some inherent, moral way. So when faced with hordes of people for whom this is palpably not the case, the only available response is to rationalise them out of existence.

Nobody’s really going hungry; the restaurants round here are packed.

Or, they’re all feckless scroungers who could be getting by just fine if they got off their lazy arses and worked.

But actual, genuine hardship and suffering and injustice, faced by hundreds of thousands of people, who don’t deserve it? Who’ve just been dealt a shitty hand by the same system which I’m a part of and which has always treated me pretty nicely thank you very much? Oh no, that can’t possibly be how the world works. If that were true, I might have to admit that luck played some sort of role in my own success, or that all those socialist do-gooders who go round saying we should be nice to each other and care for the less fortunate might have a point.

(h/t Political Scrapbook)

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Fred Phelps, former patriarch of the organisation perhaps most globally renowned for sincerely and consistently committing to its core principle of hating literally everybody else on the planet, has died.

His church made a name for themselves by parading as close as they were legally permitted to the highest-profile funerals they were able to attend, waving placards of hate and bigotry at anyone who’d glance their way, revelling in the ire they elicited from anyone with an ounce of sense or compassion.

On the surface, homosexuality seems to be their main bugbear, but the entire human race is an object of such apparent fear and revulsion to these people that just about every sin, real or imagined, committed by anyone not a member of their immediate family, gets swept into the blanket condemnation of “fag” or “fag enabler”. You needn’t have committed any crime more grievous than failing to belong to their insular clan of a few dozen extremist zealots, and you’re rendered an unperson in their eyes, dismissed with the most disgusting monosyllable their stunted minds can conceive. They incite people to shout and yell right back at them, and count every verbal tussle as a victory. They continue to be the gold standard of meatspace trolls.

They are all terrible people, and by all visible measures, Grampa Fred was the most cruel and hateful of the lot. He played a key role in keeping the church’s venomous momentum going, and in exacerbating the suffering of numerous grieving families at their most vulnerable moments. I suspect many will struggle to see much sadness in his passing.

Apparently there won’t be a funeral for anyone to vengeance-picket, but there was a counter-demonstration at the WBC’s latest protest. Here’s the sign they held up:

Yes.

That is unquestionably how you’re meant to do it. That is what we do when someone loses a family member. That is the sentiment we extend to the recently bereaved. We don’t withhold basic compassion, or lace it with sarcasm or passive-aggression or revenge-gloating, simply because it’s happening to the wrong sort of people.

So that’s one reaction that I found worth noticing. The other, also pointed out by the Friendly Atheist, is from Nate Phelps.

While some of Fred’s thirteen children have continued to be involved in the church, Nate was one of those who got the hell out of Dodge as soon as was feasible. He’s committed himself for years to campaigning against everything his family’s church stands for. Hemant highlights this line from Nate’s comments on the death of his father:

I will mourn his passing, not for the man he was, but for the man he could have been.

Nate’s pretty cool. As much as it might bring a sense of relief or even joy to many, it’s worth trying to remember that even the death of someone like Fred Phelps is a sad thing. It’s sad that his life was so dominated by bitterness and hatred, continuing along an inevitably miserable path to its equally bitter and hateful conclusion. It’s sad that his twisted infatuation with spite and malice never gave him a chance for him to claw back anything worthwhile from life, and now he never will.

The key thing, as well, is not to begrudge anyone who doesn’t feel inclined to be quite so magnanimous. I mean, the WBC are awful, and if I was ever going to be able to sympathise with the idea of seeking catharsis by performing the Macarena on someone’s burial plot, Fred Phelps is your prime candidate. For many people still taking the kind of abuse he was notorious for every day of their lives, it may all be too sore. You can understand why some folk feel entitled to their morbid jig.

But I’m a comfortably middle-class straight white guy, a position which sometimes comes with certain expectations. I have nothing invested in this, nothing that needs venting. The Westboro Baptist Church has never caused me any level of distress which I couldn’t nullify by changing the channel away from the Louis Theroux documentary I was watching. So I don’t need to find relief in celebrating Fred Phelps’s death. I have no excuse not to be the most betterest person I can be.

So. Compassion for the Phelps clan, and how they must be suffering to seek such solace in lashing out so violently. Compassion, too, for those bearing way worse emotional scars than me, at the church’s hand, and for whom it’s too much to expect them to dig deep into their hearts and find anything but resentment and frustration.

Love all the humans. Turns out the answer never really changes.

Classroom discussion questions

1. Shit, has it really been over a month since anything happened here?

2. Where the hell have I been?

3. How do I ever expect to get anything done if this is my general rate of productivity?

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