Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bad time with the Secular Humanist Meetup

I had a poor showing at the Secular Humanist Meetup dinner this month. At the beginning, everything was going fine. But then one of the leaders of the meetup, an elderly man, decided to speak to us all.

Now, it struck me as paternalistic bullshit from the get-go. The daddy figure getting up to address us all, at whatever length he desired, about whatever topic he desired. The only reason I didn't leave the room, if not the meeting, is because I hadn't settled up my check. In retrospect, that's what I should have done. Ah, the clarity of vision of hindsight!

Then he talked a bit about a friend of his, the punchline being that this friend was insane, murdered his wife and then killed himself. Also in retrospect, that was just nuts to be talking about in that forum, anyway. It showed a complete lack of respect for the boundaries of the people at the meeting. No one there came to hear about this dude's crazy murder/suicide. I was a total stranger, as were several of the other people at the meeting, and burdening us with his horrific story was extraordinarily rude. I understand that a grieving person needs to get it out - I've had friends kill themselves, myself, though never along with a murder which is clearly a higher level of horror - but a meeting full of raw acquaintences, total strangers and a few friends is not the forum for that grief.

But what got me riled up in the moment was how he talked about mental illness - and I think we'll all agree a murderer/suicide had some pretty serious mental problems - "wasn't the man he knew" and he "made choices". I said, with considerable anger in my voice, that, no, that is not true. I said that I suffer from mental illness - which, of course, first drew jokes, because, hey, I guess it was a funny topic and is part of the problem of talking about mental illness, haha, it's funny, fuck you - and people with mental illness have a disease, about which they are no more responsible for than people who have cancer or birth defects. I said that I was deeply offended that the insinuation that people with serious mental problems "made choices".

Rather than apologize for his ignorance, this old man said that "he understood mental illness". Which, clearly, he did not. After all, he was a trial lawyer and his association with mentally ill people somehow gave him insight into their feelings. Which, like I said, was obviously untrue because he was repeating one of the biggest canards used to diminish the seriousness of mental illness: that we somehow have a choice. I found his assertion that he was a trial lawyer and thus understood mental illness to be akin to a racist saying he has some black friends.

(Oh, for the record, also he was a touch of a racist. Talking about those "Latins" are, about how they had gay family members and didn't talk about it because they were "Latin". Like Anglo families don't have that kind of idiotic dysfunction? We live in FLORIDA for crying out loud, one of the most generally homophobic states in the Union! You don't have to go down to Latin American countries to find homophobia!)

Well, the old dude wasn't buying what I was saying, he was dismissive and verbally bullying, which never, ever works on me. So we were going at it.

Then one of the other people, one of the long timers at the meetup, said that he had been in an institution for about a week and, hey, I was out of line.

No, no, I wasn't. The old guy shouldn't have been talking about this subject in the first place. He surprised and burdened strangers and people who barely knew him with disturbing and uncomfortable things. And in so doing, he repeated one of the most vicious canards used to justify bad treatment of the mentally ill - the idea we have a choice, a position that he repeated, I will note. He was rude from the onset, he took the position of a verbal bully, and was wholly unapologetic about it. Friends, however, support friends, I get that - but I wasn't this man's friend. If he had kept his grief among his friends, well, we would have never had the opportunity to argue, right? But, no, he decided that it was appropriate to surprise total strangers with his tale of horror, grief and madness, and in so doing he insulted me, personally, with one of the most terrible lies repeated about mental illness. So, yeah, taking that altogether, I figure I was totally in line.

However, at that point, I said, "Fuck you" and left. Which, again, I found appropriate because when the old guard start forming up the wagons around themselves, well, the conversation was over.

When I was settling the check, another new guy came out and tried to talk me down. He said he wanted me to come back. I'd given the old man something to think about, right? I said I wouldn't unless the older man apologized. I was so cute! I have done this sort of thing before and I knew what was going on. They weren't talking about how trenchant my observations were in the meeting; they were either trying to put it behind them or confirming to themselves that I was the unjustified aggressor. Again, this is common. Either way, the idea that I had somehow enlightened anyone was cute in its optimism, but I'd bet money it was not reflective of the general attitude in the room - which was probably relief I was gone.

So, I guess I'm done with that group of secular humanists. I don't see myself going back unless I get an apology and . . . I don't see that coming. I mean, if the group understood that what the guy was saying was out of line, they would have probably told him, "Hey, uh, maybe this isn't the place for you to talk about your murderer/suicide friend. Maybe that's wildly inappropriate to do in front of people you largely don't know, and you should seek support from your friends, family and perhaps a grief therapist." But when I left, he was being supported, so I doubt they even understand the inappropriateness of his remarks. Perhaps I am being uncharitable, though.

Anyway, that's the end of my story. Unlike the elderly man at the meetup, I am not going to hold anyone captive with my story and feelings. But I did feel the urge to get them out, and I'm writing this so I can post it to the meetup group so that they can understand my position. And I'm posting it publicly, because I want to be open about the difficulties of having mental illness and the hurdles that people face when trying to discuss it - how we are subject to bullying, or laughter, when we defend our rights to dignity.


  1. Hello Chris. I just wanted to address your account of things based on my perspective. I agree with you on somethings. Firstly, it was not the right venue for James (or as you referred to him as, the old guy) to address his grief. I think it would have been a lot better had James kept it succinct. Secondly, I agree with you on the substance our your objections to his characterization of mental illness in regards to "choices."

    However, I don't think his characterization had any malice or venom to it, it was a matter of ignorance on the topic, or if I was being generous, a poor choice of words. That taken into consideration, the tone of your objection was unduly aggressive. I cannot read minds, but if your interjection had been in a calmer tone, I suspect others would have rallied behind your substantive point, but instead they felt obligated to diffuse the escalated tension.

    You believe James should apologize, but I don't think there was an opportunity to productively discuss what he said wrong, and now the matter has more to do with the aggressiveness of your objection.

    If you decide not to return to the group, I hope you find what you were looking for out of the group, whatever it was, somewhere else.

  2. More blame the victim bullshit. So, I was right that he shouldn't have being saying that in the first place, and I'm right that he was insulting about the subject of mental health, but, hey, after being insulted in a sustained fashion I was WRONG about being upset?

    That's fucked up, man. Sure, he was not "malicious" just ignorant. All ignorant people are. Racism, sexism, homophobia, *discrimination against the mentally ill* are all based in ignorance. But when confronted with that ignorance, not only is it commonplace, but actually good for the victims of that aggression to vocally, aggressively stand up for themselves. The argument you use against me was used against much better people fighting for civil rights, like Martin Luther King - "Well", they'd say, "we agree with him, in principle, but why does he have to be so *uppity*?" Because if we're not uppity, we're dismissed and ignored! So, I also feel my aggression was entirely justified.

    And I was outside a half an hour after I left. PLENTY of time for him to come and apologize. Oh, I also left my email, phone number and post on the Meetup board that linked to my blog. I'm easy to contact.

    So, once again, just like at the meetup, your argument sucks and I will characterize it as little more than defending the atrocious behavior of your friend by suggesting that I was somehow worse - when my behavior was spot on. Standing up to ignorant bullies justifies quite a bit of anger.

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  5. No, he was not a friend of the meetup. He was a friend of *people at the meetup*. To me and many others at that table, he was a *stranger*. If he had the empathy you think I should have had, he would have realized that talking about his murderer/suicide friend was deeply, deeply rude in a room where many of the people there didn't know him or Jim.

    Seriously, dude, that wasn't even close to the line of acceptable behavior on Jim's part. That was deeply rude to surprise the whole group - including strangers! - with that kind of stuff. And then to be so ignorant about mental illness!

    And you were just offering me bullshit, man. Seriously. In the first place, it was a logical error - that your personal experience is typical of the mental health community - and in my opinion it just made you a toady of Jim, who is a verbal bully.

    But, really, him bringing up his murderer/suicide friend, surprising strangers with it, is really out of line. It was deeply rude.

  6. And the glory of having a blog is you can say whatever you want! You didn't have to read what I wrote, much less respond to it! It's what freedom of speech looks like.

  7. I'm the other new guy who came out to speak with Chris.
    He didn't have the chance to hear the conversation in the room afterwards. Most people agreed with him that this meeting was not the forum for that story. If the topic of the former member's fate needed to be introduced, the story could have been one or two sentences. "To those who remember him (don't remember his name), sadly he commited a murder/suicide several weeks ago which is why he's not been to recent meetings. If anyone here knew him and would like more information we can discuss it after the meeting."

    NO long history of the friendship, his job, family, flea markets and especially no JUDGEMENT passed.

    When people with mental illness issues receive direct or indirect insults, several results can come next.
    Hiding, depression, suffering in silence. (common)
    Violent reaction towards themselves or others. (uncommon)
    Stnding strong, dealing with it, which shows tremendous strength. (sadly uncommon). This is what Chris did. Perhaps his tone seemed angry - because he was honestly angry at what he had just heard.

    Chris I am no optimist when it comes to the topic of mental illness. I know something about certain forms of it and the struggles that some people deal with; including dealing with those intentional or accidental mis-statements due to cruelty or ignorance. It has caused me to be quite a pessimist. Optimism that suffering individuals can make progress is important to their own battle to accomplish it. Optimism that the people who are ingorant to the topic can learn from their mistakes (and it may not happen as we can hope) is important if we can help them to better understand the illness that they cannot visually see. Yet through all of what I've witnessed, the strength that I saw Chris display dealing with that situation does make me optimistic that perhaps now that this topic has been discussed and somehow better understood by all of us, that he will come back, optimistic that we've all learned something about ourselves and others, including misunderstandings that we've had, mistakes that we've made and how we can better understand the topic.

    Maybe those that attend the next time, hopefully including Chris, we'll start again with a calm new meeting - on the topic of secular humanism.

  8. Glenn, I appreciate all you're trying to do, I really do, but it's hard for me to see the secular humanists here as anything but a lost cause, myself.

    I mean, Anthony Camilo's thesis is that I was just plain old wrong, completely and totally wrong, because I lacked the empathy I demanded of others. Well, I wasn't demanding empathy, I was demanding respect and truthfulness, but whatever. But in accusing me of that, he left out the little detail that you pointed out - that after I'd gone, there was a general belief that James had acted poorly, that I had, in fact, been provoked to at least some degree. But that was entirely out of his narrative!

    That's deception, a lie of omission. Anthony was willing to lie to me to invent a story where I could be guilty. I understand he's standing up for his friend, but that's also clearly over the line. If you have to lie to defend your friend's behavior, maybe being a good friend is to point out that they're wrong.

    So, to me, now I need apologies from two people - James for his provocation and ignorant bigotry about mental health AND Anthony for lying to me about how the group had agreed James' behavior was provocative, a point highly relevant to any discussion about my behavior. This discussion, between Dardo's weird assertion that because James was merely ignorant I had no right to be upset (weird because all bigotry is based in ignorance, yet is still incredibly hurtful) and Anthony's deception, my problem with the group has merely multiplied.

    Part of taking the kind of stands I do is . . . seeing it to the end. Even when it means I lose something, too. I will chew off my own arm before I submit to bullies or let people lie to my face about important things.

  9. Or, more exactly, my problems with certain important, long-time members of the group has multiplied.

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  12. Yeah, but who cares what you say? You're a liar.

  13. But, to address the point, again, you're also just plain wrong. Ignorance is no excuse. James is ignorant. He didn't want to, and never will, admit it - in part because people like you are enabling him.

    Also, yes, his story was about mental illness. I mean, duh. James brought up that his friend was not sane, and then he started spewing crazy talk, nonsense like how it wasn't really his friend who did those deeds, he repeated the canard about insane people having choice, things like that. That's just daft to say the story wasn't about insanity.

    And other nonsense like how you appreciate it when people have called you out on your bullshit. C'mon, man, can you even recognize every time it's happened, at the time? I can't, I don't know anyone who can. Much of the time, it takes YEARS for me to realize that, hey, I was full of shit that one time, ouch, I'm sorry. Maybe, just maybe, this is one of those times. It is something we must ALL consider, right?

  14. I mean, when someone punches you, you get upset. Does it matter if the person who did it thought they did it for your own good? No. All you know is you got punched, but you also know that it's wrong to punch people - even for their own good.

    James' story was like that. It was a sustained insult. It was racist and he repeated canards about mental illness that are ugly and untrue. It was hurtful on a personal level, and contextualized as ongoing bigotry and bias against the mentally ill. Standing up to him was an act of justice.

    I know you don't believe that, but, then, again, you're willing to lie to fabricate points. So I'm prolly just pissin' in the wind, here.

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  16. If you were gonna be sarcastic, why couldn't you have, I dunno, done it better.

    But sarcasm is often the refuge of the person who can no longer address the issue. I believe that you simply cannot address the issue of you neglecting to tell me that the group had generally agreed James was out of line - thus at least partially justifying my behavior and ruining your narrative that I'm a boogeyman - without essentially admitting you are a liar. So, rather than face this fairly obvious truth (you DID neglect to mention that, y'know, the group agreed that James was out of line, which is clearly relevant), you use just awful sarcasm to leave on a high horse.

    (Also, as an aside, I know I'm not a sociopath, jeez, you don't even know what that means, do you? If I was a sociopath, we wouldn't be having this conversation because I'd view you all as tools at the best. And I admitted that I am mentally ill, duh. And I never claimed to be a paragon of anything or a representative of anything other than myself. But I can tell bigotry when I see it, and James is a bigot, and ignorance is still not an excuse and you're still a liar.)

    Well, giddyup.

  17. Not to mention the less than trivial point, if this is a result of my mental illness, you're really a creep, making fun of a dude's mental illness. WOW. That just hit me. If you think that I'm acting this way because I'm sick, you're making fun of a sick person. That's pretty depraved.

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  19. You win. You were right about everything. Deleted all my replies since they were lies anyway.

  20. Dude, I know I won. You're a sack of shit that attacked mentally ill people. You were easy to beat. But I ain't lettin' you off that easy.

  21. Here you go, Tony, a post all of your own!