Friday, October 1, 2010

What's Wrong With People?

Tyler Clementi

After reading a NY Times update last night that referred to Dharun Ravi and Molly Wei as 'children' ("I’m sure these children did not intend for this child to go out and commit suicide.”) and then slogging through reading a vicious little treatise on the blog Vox Populi about Tyler Clementi's suicide being just desserts for gay rights proponents telling people it's okay to be gay, I'm just reeling. Really? These 'children', who apparently are refugees from the world of the Lord of the Flies, didn't think about consequences? They were bright enough to get into Rutgers but so slow they didn't know wrong from right or harm from good? Wow. What does that tell us about our world and the promise of our future? I am so glum thinking about it. And speaking of our world, what does it say that a significant portion of the people commenting on Vox Populi (which certainly does not represent my voice...) evidently think that feeling ashamed of being homosexual is a fine and understandable reason to commit suicide. But let's start with Vox himself, shall we? It is simply astonishing to me that anyone could think: 
"So it was not a juvenile prank that killed the unfortunate Mr. Clementi even though it served as the proximate trigger for his lethal actions. If anyone other than Mr. Clementi should be blamed for his suicide, it is those who repeatedly encouraged him to behave in a way that would fill him with such guilt, remorse, and shame."
~ Vox Day of Vox Populi

Yes, I'm definitely feeling so guilty that I thought it was okay that Tyler was gay. Wow, what was I thinking? My bad. Surprisingly, I even think that it's horrible that he felt so bad about himself and his future that he committed suicide.

I guess I wouldn't be so troubled by the Vox Populi post if it wasn't for so very, very many commenters who appear to agree with him. After all, Vox Day is just one blogger, an ex-pat, theist, racist, elitist, if not supremacist, writer. But the number of people commenting in agreement with him- the number of people who seem to think that Tyler Clementi felt the weight of his immorality (their summary words, certainly not mine, nor my thinking) and that drove him to suicide- is just appalling to me.

Vox Day writes grandly and grandiosely. Oh, and pompously. But I am genuinely taken aback at the simplistic take that shame over his immorality drove Tyler Clementi to suicide. Vox's take, as if it was a sort of aquatic harakiri and atonement for Clementi's grave sins, is laughable. While I'm sure that Vox Day is quite intelligent, if rather reptilian in his repellant assessments, surely shame is not the only factor here. There are plenty of people who do genuinely immoral things, far more immoral than exploring their sexuality in the privacy of their own bedroom, such as murder and rape and animal cruelty. Many of them don't feel at all motivated by the weight of their actions to commit suicide. (Oh wait a minute, they're so bad off they may not even feel shame... they are, gasp... worse than gay people???) As for the supposition that immoral gay sex and its proponents were to blame, perhaps Vox Day believes that nudity is immoral, too? That would explain why 18 year old Jessica Logan committed suicide in 2008 after a nude photo that she had texted to a then boyfriend was sent by that same young man, after they had broken up, to hundreds of high school peers. What happened there? She immorally sent photos of herself and we were inadvertently advocating for rights for teenage girls to send racy text messages? 

Jessica Logan

Day's post doesn't even begin to capture the plethora of reasons that would lead a young person who had been embarrassed and betrayed to commit suicide. Clearly, after reporting the incident to several people in his residence hall, Clementi became more agitated and despondent. I can't even begin to imagine the thoughts that lead him to jump from that bridge. But I'm surmising that they had less to do with shame about his being gay than they did about his fragile view of the world around him, the lack of privacy, the breach of trust and feeling despondent about having to deal with all the people around him and wondering if they had seen it. In short, I'm thinking that he was in not too different a place from Jessica Logan. Their exploration of their sexuality had gone horribly, horribly wrong. Yes, I'm thinking about the fact that sometimes, finding out that you trust people and they're heinous and vile and abusive of that trust, that they cross all kinds of boundaries and make you believe that boundaries are really a sham, might be enough to make teens, who notoriously live in the moment, despair.

It's easy to be dismissive of Vox Day as being a flake, an ultra-conservative religiously driven hate-monger. We're all just bloggers and I'm sure he can be just as scathing about my beliefs as I am about his. But his followers do give me chills. Some of them are like Ann Coulter on speed. And I have to ask myself, is this really the world we live in? A world filled with so much hate, so much intolerance, so much judgement as to be dismissive of a young person taking his life because he was a nascently gay person?

I really don't know what Vox Day's religious beliefs are (I didn't take the time to read that deep into his website as the FAQ page alone was disturbing enough) but I'm very curious about a religion that advocates such venomous views as chalking up a body count to believing that people have rights, of any bent whatsoever. Frankly, it seems less than charitable. Of course, religion is all about interpretation. Ask any Taliban and they'll explain it, I'm sure.

Vox, you aren't popular with me. And I'm really hoping with every fiber of my being that you aren't speaking for the public at large...

Rutgers Students Protesting Tyler Clementi's Death
New York Daily News staff photo

In light of the deaths Tyler Clementi and Phoebe Prince, the NY Times has an interesting discussion about cyberbullying. It's food for thought. I'm just hoping our legislators put it together to tread that line between freedom of expression and destruction of lives. 

© Bright Nepenthe, 2010


  1. I was kind of skimming around in that Room for Debate last night. (I need to go back and read what I did, because my brain was half off.)

    This is my problem with religion. It is by nature focused on the next life, whatever that is perceived to be, rather than this one. So in literalistic interpretations of religions that at once have a Hell and a prohibition against homosexuality, it is in the nature of the religion that its adherents not accept gay people - gay kids - as full human beings. After all, if they do that, they will have allowed those gay kids to go to hell for all time. So, rather than progressing as a species and improving the lives we have now, it's okay, say these religions, to focus on the next life, whatever the cost now.

    It really makes me sick.

  2. That's an interesting view, Ariadne. I guess it's probably an accurate take for many faiths (not so sure about that being the view of Buddhists and Hindus or even Baha'is).

    The problem I have with many of these religions is that they appear to leave too much room for their practitioners to play the role of 'God' and therefore play judge about another person's character and worth. That's a dicey business. I'm kind of surprised to think that I, an atheist, am more tolerant than many following a faith started by a man that espoused tolerance. Sad thing, that. I used to think that virtually all religions espoused compassion. Evidently, many people would disagree.

    BTW, my 22 year old just read this (the post itself) and pronounced it some seriously fucked up shit that anyone would say that about a kid committing suicide and that the roommate was a disgusting mofo. Hmmm.