“I hope my father dies soon,” Scott Adams wrote recently on his blog. “And while I’m at it, I might want you to die a painful death too.”
Well, that’s one way to get people’s attention.
Adams is best known as the creator of the popular Dilbert comic strip, but in this case, he’s not joking. His father, at the time he wrote this, was dying a slow death. “His mind is 98 percent gone,” Adams wrote, “and all he has left is hours or possibly months of hideous unpleasantness in a hospital bed.” (His father, by the way, died not long after Adams wrote this blog post.)
This is why Adams wished that he had the option to kill his father—to gently and painlessly end his suffering. This is why he was pleading for the legalization of assisted suicide. This is also why he was boiling with anger at anyone who opposed his view on the subject.
Adams wrote: “If you’re a politician who has ever voted against doctor-assisted suicide, or you would vote against it in the future, I hate your [expletive deleted] guts and I would like you to die a long, horrible death. ... You and the government are accomplices in the torturing of my father.”
Adams acknowledged that his emotions were “a bit raw,” but he still meant every word. He repeated himself later, in an interview with Debra Saunders for the San Francisco Chronicle. Saunders and her husband, pro-life activist Wesley Smith, are active opponents of assisted suicide. Saunders reports, “When Adams returned my call, he told me that he probably doesn’t want me to die. Oh, but you do, I responded. I’ve written against assisted suicide. ‘I would put you in that category,’ he conceded. ‘You are part of the problem.’”
So, let’s put aside the issue of assisted suicide for a moment, and focus on something else that’s troubling: Adams’ rhetoric. It’s not just that he wished horrible deaths for those who disagreed with him, but that he was loudly applauded and cheered by many of his readers.
Most people who have watched a loved one die a slow death can relate to what Adams went through. It’s no wonder that some folks support him. Unfortunately though, in our contentious media environment, what might be a commendable desire to support someone can easily turn into tacit approval of bullying and out-and-out demonization.
Now, given Adams’s very real agony over his father, we should be willing to give him a mulligan for his vitriolic outburst, of course. But this kind of rhetoric and lack of civility is dangerous, precisely because it makes rational debate over weighty issues nearly impossible.
And though our culture claims to be against bullying and incivility, sometimes we’re willing to turn a blind eye—particularly when emotions are involved. Expressing them can feel so good and so noble. If you feel like torturing anyone who won’t let you end your father’s misery, that just proves how much you love your dad, right?
Well, as C. S. Lewis warned us, human love “begins to be a demon the moment he begins to be a god.” In other words, if we tell ourselves that anything is permissible for the sake of love—like Adams’ love for his father—we allow ourselves to justify any evil.
There’s a saying that “hard cases make bad law.” The same is true of raw emotions. A society that advocates both gross incivility and killing in the name of love is a society that’s forgotten what the word means.
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