Guns N Crazies

August 9, 2009 § Leave a comment

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I read Bob Herbert’s latest column, which is about the misogyny of American society, as exemplified in the shootings of women in an aerobics class by the pathologically lonely George Sodini, with mixed feelings. Herbert writes that we are inured to the violence against women; that if a mass murderer had gone into a public place and separated out blacks or Jews for killing it would spark more outrage.

I’m not sure this is particularly helpful. The most pressing problem is gun control, and I think young white women work as well as any other victim group to spur outrage, which is to say, not enough. The only thing that would be more effective is if wave after wave of psychopaths targeted politicians and their families (which, by the way, I am NOT recommending).

“Some people are happy, some are miserable. It is difficult to live almost continuously feeling an undercurrent of fear, worry, discontentment and helplessness. I can talk and joke around and sound happy but under it all is something different that seems unchangable and a permanent part of my being…

“I like to write and talk. Ironic because I haven’t met anybody recently (past 30 years) who I want to be close friends with OR who want to be close friends with me. I was always open to suggestions to what I am doing wrong, no brother or father (mine are useless) or close friend to nudge me and give it bluntly yet tactfully wtf I am doing wrong…

“I no longer have any expectations of myself. I have no options because I cannot work toward and achieve even the smallest goals. That is, ABOVE ALL, what bothers me the most. Not to be able to work towards what I want in my life.”

The feelings Sodini describes are very familiar, though the only time I felt that completely isolated was in junior high, and I didn’t have the weight of 30 years of failure behind me. But even now, after plenty of friends, lovers, marriage—what to Sodini’s mind would be a divine feast of sex and intimacy—I’m capable of feeling lonely and miserable, angry that I can’t seem to change, etc. When I imagine feeling this way continuously, being utterly unsuccessful at intimacy of any kind, I have to wonder: would I resort to shooting people? Probably not, but on the other hand, I would have broken a lot sooner than Sodini did.

Meanwhile, In The Observer, Barbara Ellen writes, “The dark paradox is that if Sodini felt his social status was demeaned by his lack of success with women, he probably wasn’t even shooting at the correct gender. It’s men who tend to torture other men about status, just as women tend to torture other women about body image. Therefore, it’s men, not women, who were responsible for Sodini’s misery.”

I don’t think either “men” or “women” were responsible for Sodini. He was responsible for himself. You can look at his family and background for clues to his mental illness if you want to. But have we gotten so far away from perennial human truths that it isn’t obvious that his ‘misogyny’ was the flip side of deep longing for a woman’s love? Not just sex or conquest or status. He wanted love from women (and was scared to go after it) and he wanted help from other men (and was scared to ask for it). That he was too frightened to seek help from professionals is hardly surprising: therapy is intimacy too.

He killed women to be noticed, to say I was here and I suffered.  And he was noticed, and his blog was copied, posted and read, because his loneliness and anger strike a chord. THAT’S what causes all this flurry of denial. Either that or some people have no idea what loneliness tastes like.

I understand that people are afraid that paying attention to these killings encourages them. This is undoubtedly true. If none were ever reported, fewer would happen. But reacting with contempt and labels like ‘misogynist’ doesn’t make the next crazy guy any less likely to act out. After all, that sort of contempt is exactly what they’re used to.

As for outrage leading to gun control—sorry. Not enough dead yet. People would rather keep their guns and shoot anyone trying to give them “socialist” healthcare.

***
I murder hate by flood or field,
Tho’ glory’s name may screen us;
In wars at home I’ll spend my blood—
Life-giving wars of Venus.
The deities that I adore
Are social Peace and Plenty;
I’m better pleas’d to make one more,
Than be the death of twenty.

I would not die like Socrates,
For all the fuss of Plato;
Nor would I with Leonidas,
Nor yet would I with Cato:
The zealots of the Church and State
Shall ne’er my mortal foes be;
But let me have bold Zimri’s fate,
Within the arms of Cozbi!

~Robert Burns

Never attempt to murder a man who is committing suicide.

~Woodrow Wilson

Black And White

August 1, 2009 § 4 Comments

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My attitude toward the arrest of Henry Louis Gates is simple: the cop was wrong, and Gates overplayed it. The situation was more complex than Crowley being a racist. My take is that Crowley is guilty of racial profiling (like most of us) and that he has a very thin skin when it comes to being accused of it. When The Daily Show’s “senior black correspondent,” Larry Wilmore, did a bit on how thrilled Gates was to be in spotlight for being arrested-while-black, I laughed. Gates is a prima donna. (Yes, I know: this is not illegal.)

I didn’t feel the need to add my two cents to this story until I read Bob Herbert’s column in The Times today, headlined Anger has its Place. Columnists don’t make up their own headlines—if they did, this one would be considerably more forceful. Herbert is very angry and disgusted with the response to the story. He writes, “Most whites do not want to hear about racial problems, and President Obama would rather walk through fire than spend his time dealing with them.”

I was taken aback by that. Allowing for hyperbole, I think he’s right. Still, my feeling about this as been one of cautious agreement with the President: there’s so much to be done, this is a crazy country with a lot of racists in it, including large numbers of people who seem to have no idea that they’re racists, and simply doing his job well might be the best thing he can do for black America. And of course a part of me thinks: he’s not only the President of black America. If he loses support and becomes ineffectual because of morally correct, passionate statements about race, what’s in it for me?

Yet I respect Bob Herbert and it makes me sad that his feelings for Obama have soured. It worries me. It reminds me of my own anger about Obama’s caution in other areas—anger that I have heard from lots of Obama supporters in recent weeks. What I don’t want to happen is for people to let their disappointment with the President get in the way of keeping up the pressure on the White House and Congress.

I knew going in that Obama was emotionally conservative, a conciliator, that his color and charisma blinded people to his very evident politics. It blinded them in different ways, depending on whether they were Democrats or Republicans, Conservative or Liberal, sentimental idealists or rabid right-wing loonies. That was inevitable. Race is a hot button and charisma circumvents reason. I hated Reagan more than Nixon because he was charismatic: to me it was anti-charisma, disgust-making. And I remember very clearly seeing Bill Clinton on TV for the first time, in a debate with other primary candidates, and knowing he would win because he was so charming and slick (and smart). I was both charmed by him and scornful of others, equally enthralled, for thinking they were responding to his honest passion. If he’d been a conservative Republican, I would have hated him for it. As it was I didn’t fight my attraction, but felt a little dirty.

When Obama was elected and I was excited in that swoony way so many of us were, a radical friend of mine expressed contempt for my “fantasy” that Obama would be any different from other politicians. I didn’t think he would be, actually. But I thought a Democrat in the White House, elected on a platform of change, and a black man elected President were both such good things that a little tipsiness sparked by his personal magnetism was okay. If Clarence Thomas had been elected President—to give a shudder-making example—I would have been horrified but also kind of fascinated and thrilled.

So I find myself ambivalent. Not about the election—I’m still glad we have Obama instead of Clinton (forget McCain). But am I still an Obama supporter or simply someone who will vote for him next time?

***

Not long ago, I was walking down Bleecker Street after dark, and passed through a group of black teenagers coming out of a subway station. One hit me (deliberately) on the shoulder as he went by—not very hard, but hard enough to be called a blow, not a touch. I turned and yelled, “Fuck you, asshole!” Then another kid, a girl, hit me as she went by. I wanted to keep shouting and swearing but decided that since there were 15 or 16 of them, I should let it go.

Lately, it has occurred to me that there are parallels to the Gates-Crowley incident. Here were black kids acting in a culturally stereotypical way, as the white cop did with Gates, and I reacted with a level of anger that could have gotten me hurt. Yet the reason I expressed my anger at all is that I’m not afraid of groups of black teenagers per se. I see teenagers and I think children. I remember myself as a teenager: full of swagger and attitude, nonviolent. I know that they come in multiples because teenagers love being part of a group.

I don’t think Skip Gates was afraid of the cop either. He was angry and aggrieved and felt safe in venting his anger. And for the most part he was safe. Because of who he was, and because of what the Cambridge police force is, his arrest didn’t stick.

Lots of people have expressed surprise that someone as intelligent and worldly as Skip Gates could be so “stupid” as to yell at a cop. They could say the same about me yelling insults at a group of teenagers who had already made it clear they felt like picking on someone. But it seems to me being smart means knowing when you can express your righteous anger and get away with it, and how far you can go.  I didn’t run after the kids and punch one, and Gates didn’t say, “I’m going to fucking kill you for this, man.” We’re not that stupid.

***

“When angry, count to four. When very angry, swear.”

~Mark Twain

“You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad.”

~Aldous Huxley

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