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May 04, 2005

Life and death: the fallout

It's been more than a month since I posted what turned out to be the single most popular article on this blog, my take on my family's relationship with serial murderer Stephen Peter Morin. The fallout of the rather resounding popularity of the article continues.

My pal Michael Bérubé posted a link to the story a couple weeks after I posted it, sending a bunch of traffic my way. One of Michael's readers posted a link to Metafilter. The very gracious Patrick Nielsen Hayden posted another link, as did Digby. I'm still getting LiveJournaled by dozens of people.

It was quite a gratifying response to my writing, though given the subject I do still feel like it was cheating. The response wasn't quite like being SlashDotted, but I did have ask my ISP to just charge me extra and not shut me down when I saw that I'd used 85 percent of my monthly bandwidth by April 14, as I prepared to go away from email for two weeks.

The London Guardian reprinted the piece, which prompted the producers of the BBC World Service program Outlook to interview me by phone at the Mesa Refuge. Rather delightfully, the Outlook interview focused less on the family story - I went into less detail than I did in the blog post, which is just fine with me and (I'm certain) my family - and more on the ethics of capital punishment. We Americans are an enigma to people in civilized countries - even in our wholly-owned subsidiary the UK - what with our shooting and invading and executing and stuff.

I've even gotten queries from a couple Hollywood Producers about turning "my life story" into a film. Don't worry, family members. I've turned them down. For one thing, the few months I knew Morin hardly constitute a "life story," and for another if I made a movie of it we'd have to cast Cloris Leachman and Wilfred Brimley as Mom and Dad*, and I'd never hear the end of that.

But the most unsettling fallout from that post is the fact that the piece has been hit by about ten thousand people who got to it from search strings like these:

margy mayfield
stephen morin
stephen peter morin
margie mayfield abduction
stephen morin margy mayfield
1981 stephan morin 10 most wanted

This is largely the result of James Dobson, the creepy theofascist preacher-for-hire who founded Focus on the Family, making a big deal about the story of Stephen kidnapping Mayfield, and her efforts to save herself by "Saving" Morin.

Fundamentalist Watergate felon Chuck Colson mentioned the abduction recently as well, but most of the hits seem to have come from Dobson listerners.

Dobson's sheeplike followers - and how much does it say about Christianity that being a "sheep" is something to which you are expected to aspire? - flooded the comments to my post, some of them claiming that my family was depraved (arguably true) and that we'd be better off if we emulated people like Dobson and found Jesus.

(To be fair, I should mention that other Christians spoke up in defense of sanity, pointing out that dobson is a depraved man.)

I tried to give the former folks a fair bit of space to express themselves, but they got far too personally rude, chilling automatons repeating inane scripts they'd heard from some preacher or other. And children read this blog, and I don't want them exposed to that kind of abusive filth. So - thinking of the children, as is my wont - I closed comments.

And now the aforementioned Digby quotes from a recent book by James Dobson, "The Strong Willed Child, a passage in which Dobson applies his child-rearing philosophies to a 12-pound dachshund:

"When I told Sigmund to leave his warm seat and go to bed, he flattened his ears and slowly turned his head toward me. He deliberately braced himself by placing one paw on the edge of the furry lid, then hunched his shoulders, raised his lips to reveal the molars on both sides, and uttered his most threatening growl. That was Siggie's way of saying. "Get lost!"

"I had seen this defiant mood before, and knew there was only one way to deal with it. The ONLY way to make Siggie obey is to threaten him with destruction. Nothing else works. I turned and went to my closet and got a small belt to help me "reason" with Mr. Freud."

What developed next is impossible to describe. That tiny dog and I had the most vicious fight ever staged between man and beast. I fought him up one wall and down the other, with both of us scratching and clawing and growling and swinging the belt. I am embarrassed by the memory of the entire scene. Inch by inch I moved him toward the family room and his bed. As a final desperate maneuver, Siggie backed into the corner for one last snarling stand. I eventually got him to bed, only because I outweighed him 200 to 12!"

Our hero Dobson's advice for raising children is no different: he advocates pain compliance on toddlers, beating, and other types of physical violence intended to break a child's spirit.

Stephen Peter Morin was a deeply disturbed, sick individual, and we're better off without him. But he never tried to pass off his violence as morally right. He knew his proclivity to violence meant that he was sick. Dobson denies his sickness, and would replicate it in millions of innocent people rather than admit it and seek help.

Morin, the worst, most evil person I've ever met, was a better human being before his "conversion" than James Dobson is today.

* respectively

[editor's note: murky, in comments, browbeat me into redacting that final sentence.]

Posted by Chris Clarke at May 4, 2005 11:02 AM TrackBack URL for this entry:
http://www.faultline.org/cgi-bin/mt-tb.cgi/1064

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Comments

"Morin, the worst, most evil person I've ever met, was a better human being before his "conversion" than James Dobson is today."

Hoo, are you ever asking for it. Do you not observe distinctions between thought, word and deed? If so, what conversion ratio are you using for the ethical formula by which you weigh Dobson's mass communications against Morin's serial murders? Or else where is it that you're getting your data on compliance? i.e. If Dobson told everyone to jump off a cliff on their 30th birthdays compliance would be less than 100% and the same goes for child abuse for the same reason: Even among zealots you'll find some who pay heed to basic instincts.

Posted by: murky at May 4, 2005 02:44 PM
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Cloris Leachman and Ralph Waite.

Posted by: craig at May 4, 2005 03:07 PM
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Yeah, Murky, I'm definitely asking for it.

If so, what conversion ratio are you using for the ethical formula by which you weigh Dobson's mass communications against Morin's serial murders?

A very fuzzy one. Which is all anyone has in cases like this.

Or else where is it that you're getting your data on compliance? i.e. If Dobson told everyone to jump off a cliff on their 30th birthdays compliance would be less than 100% and the same goes for child abuse for the same reason: Even among zealots you'll find some who pay heed to basic instincts.

Very well argued, and certainly to the point.

And yet I find that compliance is, to some extent, beside the point. I trust that the vast majority of fundamentalist Christians are innately decent people. The issue, though, is Dobson's intent, and his responsibility for his intent regardless of whether people heed him. Morin would still have been a sick man even if all his intended victims successfully defended themselves.

Dobson puts out writing designed to encourage people to commit acts of violence against kids, and we're not talking spanking here. We're not talking John Rosemond zero-tolerance here (and to tell the truth, I find myself in agreement with Rosemond on a number of issues, non-parent that I am.) We're talking sick, sick stuff, and it doesn't mater whether - as I fervently hope - the majority of his readers are too sensible to take him at his word.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at May 4, 2005 03:37 PM
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Having owned several dachshunds, I say "go Siggie." Fortunate that they're bred to fight badgers in tight places. How appropriate. Nasty man. Can the ASPCA be called?

Posted by: leslee at May 4, 2005 03:59 PM
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Sociologist Lonnie Athens did a long term study of violent criminals, and found four common elements in their childhood: horrification (witnessing violence to someone close to them); brutalization (being beaten, usually to comply with a parent's demand), violent coaching ("don't be a sissy, hit back") and successful violent personal revolt (the most violent were usually people who had the experience of getting old enough and strong enough to beat up their abuser).

Posted by: Lisa Williams at May 4, 2005 06:35 PM
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Lisa, Stephen told of being abused by his mother, having his hand held in the flame of a stove's burner, etc.

It would kind of fit for this to have happened and for him to have become what he was partially as a result, but then again it's just as possible that it was complete BS that he made up for whatever purpose.

No way to ever know for sure.

Posted by: craig at May 4, 2005 07:50 PM
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"And yet I find that compliance is, to some extent, beside the point."

Attempted murder is a lesser crime than murder, and likewise I bet the law makes hiring a hit man a lesser crime when the hit man misses his target. You've got plausible deniability with the relatively loose language we're using, but I think calling the perpetrator of heinous acts more "evil" than a mere advocate and abettor of them at least offends linguistic norms if not ethical ones.

Posted by: murky at May 4, 2005 07:54 PM
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You know, murky, you try to write a political diatribe and then people like you go dragging in rational thought and logic and nuance. It's frustrating.

Can I just say I think Dobson sucks and leave it at that?

Posted by: Chris Clarke at May 4, 2005 08:24 PM
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Deal, and do have that brow looked at cuz now I'm feeling guilty.

Posted by: murky at May 4, 2005 08:44 PM
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Now that the theocons and neocons are running the country, I watch with bleak fascination as they display the exact behavior they accused us liberals of advocating for all the years they were out of power.

I had that sense while reading the earlier thread, reading all the Fundies saying how Morin was saved because he accepted Jesus as his savior, and that Morin was actually superior to all the rest of us who, wile not being serial killers, haven't been born again.

I was reminded of the stereotypes about liberals, popular in the 70s, that we blame everybody but the criminal for the crime. Conservatives said we liberals blamed crime on society, on economic inequity, and racism — anything and anyone but the criminal.

The two situations aren't the same, of course. But I detect a parallel. Yes, redemption and repentance is possible for even the most heinous of criminals — and Morin was most certainly that. I do hope Morin was indeed redeemend and repented of his acts. But, still, his dominant characteristic was that he was a serial killer, and being born again doesn't change that. If there is a Hell where a just God sends evil people, then Stephen Morin is surely there. And it's just plain sick to suggest that Stephen Morin is in Heaven, while good and decent people who happen to be atheists or agnostics or Jews or Buddhists are in Hell.

Posted by: Mitch Wagner at May 4, 2005 11:05 PM
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You know, whenever I see stories about Dobson, or hear him speak, I am reminded of a scene from the BBC series; I Claudius.

Claudius’ nephew Caligula is Emperor of Rome. On Caligula’s order Claudius has been throw unceremoniously into a raging river for the sin of traveling on a waterway. It seems that Caligula was, at the time, in a furious battle with the Triton, the Greek God of, among other things, water and waterways. Caligula says his uncle’s act as an act of betrayal.

As the scene opens up Claudius is reentering Caligula’s tent. Caligula has a large sword in his hand. Claudius is dripping wet, with mud and muck all over him. The sight of him causes Caligula to burst out laughing and to momentarily forget his fury with his Uncle.

Caligula tells a relieved Claudius that he has decided to “let him live”. A moment of brief lucidity seems to descend upon Caligula and he asks Claudius the following question: “Tell me Uncle….do you think I’m mad?”

Now this is a tricky question. Claudius is on his knees. Still dripping wet. He pauses, looks up at Caligula, who still has his sword, menacingly, in his hand. A perplexed look appears on Claudius’ face. You can see he is searching for an appropriate answer and he appears to sense that his life is at stake if fails in his search. Caligula waits for an answer. Finally you can see something has come to Claudius……he looks up and replies:

“You? Mad? You? No, I don’t think so….I think you set the standard for sanity in the world today.”

I think Bush, Dobson, and their ilk, set the standard for decency and family values in the country today

Posted by: jon st at May 5, 2005 05:26 AM
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Yeah - Cloris Leachman and Ralph Waite. I agree.

Posted by: Carrie at May 5, 2005 07:13 AM
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Wilford Brimley's mustachios offend my tender sensibilities.

Posted by: Allison at May 5, 2005 07:34 AM
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See what I mean? I'd never hear the end of it.

OK, guys, Ralph Waite can play Dad in the 1970s flashbacks. But the subtext here alarms me. I realize we're all in varying degrees of denial about our childhoods, but I was pretty sure we'd all gotten to the point by now where we knew we weren't The Waltons.

And you all realize of course that Mom is now reading this and feeling a little put out that none of you said "Wilfred Brimley and Nicole Kidman."

Posted by: Chris Clarke at May 5, 2005 07:39 AM
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Chris, I would have thought you weren't the kind of person to typecast.

Posted by: craig at May 5, 2005 10:45 AM
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I cast type for a living.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at May 5, 2005 11:27 AM
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BAD JOKE. BAAAAD.

I love how there are these seeds of interesting ideological debates on the threads, and then the Clarke yahoos come and derail them with bad puns.

Posted by: Allison at May 5, 2005 11:48 AM
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to further derail:

Ways in which our childhoods were like the Waltons:
1. growing up hungry and impoverished.
2. oldest child a son, a writer, who disappears after the first few seasons.
3. Carrie/Mary Ellen - you do the math.
4. Grandpa was a bisexual communist.

Ok, I may not be right about the last one but since I don't remember him, what do I know?

Posted by: craig at May 5, 2005 12:59 PM
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Geez, and all this time I'd been thinking the popularity of that essay was solely due to early linking from Via Negativa!

10,000 Dobsonites sounds like a good name for a kick-ass band.

Well, it's been nice chatting, but I have to spank my dachshund now, if you know what I mean.

Posted by: Dave at May 5, 2005 04:35 PM
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Linking Dobson and masturbation? Don't make me add you to that redacted sentence, Dave.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at May 5, 2005 04:40 PM
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so it turns out Dad didn't get the bisexual communist reference.

Posted by: craig at May 6, 2005 12:48 PM
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You mentioned you were disgusted that many people were linked to your page only after your reference to Morin. However, I'm grateful I got there because of the story. I was doing a search for Sheila Whalen and found that she is remembered nowhere on the web except for your site. Crime victims aren't the one memorialized in the press. Later while searching for Morin himself I found the only references about him were in regard to him being miraculously "saved" by an abduptee. Now that's disgusting.

Posted by: JoAnne at August 7, 2005 12:44 PM
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Oh, don't get me wrong, JoAnne. I'm grateful for all the links, whenever they happened. It's just that I found it sort of wryly amusing that this is the piece that would get the most attention.

Posted by: Chris Clarke at August 7, 2005 12:58 PM
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