No matter how incompetently the current president handles crises, from the toll taken on the nation’s health and economy by the coronavirus to the nationwide protests in response to the police murder of George Floyd, his supporters, followers, and enablers continue giving him a free pass. No evidence makes an impression on them.
The coronavirus is a plot by Democrats to make the current president look bad! No, he makes himself look bad, in the same way that those pants don’t make you look fat – your fat makes you look fat. And the George Floyd protesters need to be dominated in the streets, because that’s what a strong leader does! Never mind that it is the behavior of a tinpot dictator, not the leader of a nation of laws guaranteeing the freedoms of speech and peaceable assembly.
A Flat Earth map drawn in 1893 by Professor Orlando Ferguson of Hot Springs, South Dakota. Looks rather like a roulette wheel. From the collection of the Library of Congress.
There’s the word “peaceable” that reactionaries have hung their hats on for centuries as an excuse to violently quell protests. If only some of the protesters can be goaded into violence by agents provocateurs planted among them by law enforcement agencies or private reactionary groups, then the police employees in riot armor can have license to start swinging their clubs and firing tear gas canisters and rubber bullets into the crowds. In the ensuing confusion, it’s difficult for reporters or other independent investigators to locate and prove the identity of the provocateurs.
Boy making a rainbow with spray from a garden hose in Charleston, South Australia in January 2019. Photo by Photwik.
Too many people believe, in the end, only what they want to believe, and do not care to trouble themselves any further with truthful details. It’s simpler that way, comforting really. Observational evidence will not convince them to change their minds. To use an example from the natural world, through the years many gardeners and even some professional horticulturists have believed that watering plants in sunshine will scorch the plants’ leaves on account of a supposed magnifying lens effect from water droplets.
Not only has this myth been scientifically disproved, but the evidence there is no validity in it is plain for anyone to see who has watered annual flowering plants tightly packed in a hanging basket or pot. No escaping getting water on the foliage there, and those plants appear to get along alright, and better than they would if the worried gardener had withheld the spray of water waiting for a cloudy day. Yet many continue to believe, because they would rather believe the story their mind and culture invents for them than what the plants themselves are showing. We’re alright! Thanks for the water on a hot, sunny day! Here’s a rainbow for your trouble!
The surgical masks many people are wearing in public now are less effective at preventing coronavirus infection than they probably realize. The cloth masks and bandanas are even less effective. What’s the point of wearing them then, if they do almost nothing and social distancing and hand washing are far more effective measures? It comes down to signaling in a number of ways.
Guidance* from the CDC. Odd that the person in the illustration has no eyes. The mucous membranes of the eyes can be an avenue for the coronavirus into the body. As in the illustration, the masks most people wear do not cover their eyes.
In East Asian societies, where conforming for the sake of the greater good is the usual practice, wearing a mask during a public health crisis signals to others that you care enough not to pass along to them your potentially toxic exhalations. In Western societies, wearing a mask more often signals the opposite, which is that you do not want to catch anything from someone else’s infectious effluvia. However you look at your reason for wearing a mask, the ultimate effectiveness of the typical mask is minimal, though preventing yourself from infecting others puts it to better use because it stops most droplets you produce by sneezing and coughing from getting into the space of others.
Wearing a mask when almost everyone else is wearing one signals you are in on the latest information from the public health service. You know and understand everyone has to do their part in preventing the spread of the coronavirus. Never mind that wearing a surgical or cloth mask is not an important defense against a virus that is one micron in size, tiny enough that thousands of them can flow through the gaps in the material as well as around the laughably poor seal at the edges of the typical mask. It’s not rational to expect much from these masks, but people wear them either out of ignorance or because they want to signal they are considerate of others in the public space.
Another kind of signaling that comes with wearing these masks is being done by companies that are still open for business and dealing with the public more or less face to face, such as in retail establishments. Some companies have started requiring their employees to wear masks, and some even require customers to wear them if they want to do business inside the store. The owners and managers no doubt mean well, and there is no reason to expect they would be any wiser to the relative ineffectiveness of the masks than the general public, but there is still a taint of virtue signaling in their new policies. They say they are merely following Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines, and so they are. Meanwhile it doesn’t hurt their bottom line to trumpet to consumers the safety measures they have undertaken on their behalf, even though one of those measures – wearing masks – is almost entirely cosmetic.
From the 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense, directed by Jonathan Demme, Talking Heads guitarist and singer David Byrne and bassist Tina Weymouth perform “Heaven”, with backup vocals by Lynn Mabry offstage.
The worst part of requiring employees to wear masks at all times when dealing with the public is that it may increase the workers’ chances of becoming sick with the coronavirus. It is one thing for a shopper to don a mask for half hour or hour stints, and quite another for a worker to wear a mask for an entire eight hour shift. A mask is often uncomfortable and requires frequent adjustment, leading the wearer to touch their face more frequently than they might if they wore no mask at all. Unless a worker exchanges their mask daily for a fresh one, the result can be unhygienic to the point of defeating any purpose to its use. The cloth masks and bandanas can be especially bad unless they’re washed or exchanged daily. Go ahead and wear a mask if it reassures you and others you encounter in these troubled times, just don’t harbor any delusions about its effectiveness, leading you to neglect the crucial measures you can take to stay healthy, like washing your hands frequently and keeping your distance from those others you’re trying to signal.
* Update: This news story illustrates how the CDC has bent to the political winds blowing from the White House, to the detriment of the health of all Americans as well as the CDC’s outstanding reputation.
Like everything else in our culture, food has gender associations. Steak is masculine, and salad is feminine. That’s a gross generalization, of course, but one that is valid enough for advertisers and marketers to recognize and exploit. The television commercials for Arby’s restaurants are an obvious example, wherein a narrator announces in his sonorous baritone that Arby’s has “the meats.” It’s not easy to imagine a female narrator making the same pronouncement.
Marketing campaigns and the tactics advertisers deploy in them are a window into a culture’s true underlying motivations, into its id, because advertisers understand the greater value for them and their clients of appealing to emotion over reason. They don’t create cultural stereotypes; they only exploit them. What follows is a short list, by no means comprehensive, of the preferred foods of men and women as advertisers see them.
For men – steak, hamburgers, pizza, beer, hot peppers, sausages, peanuts, fried chicken, barbecue, chili, chips, liquor, bacon, salami, shepherd’s pie, the keto diet (when employed as a scientific-sounding excuse for eating more meat).
Michelle Obama serving food on March 5, 2009 at Miriam’s Kitchen, a local non-profit organization that provides healthy, nutritious meals to the homeless in Washington, D.C.. White House photo by Joyce Boghosian.
For women – salads, cupcakes, chocolate, wine, baked chicken, vegetarian lasagna, quiche, souffle, casseroles, soups, cottage cheese.
What a lot of nonsense! It would be easy to blame advertisers for gender prejudices toward food if it weren’t for the reality that they only exploit and reinforce the prejudices already held by their target audiences. Having enough quality food to eat should be the first priority for people of any gender. Of the two stereotyped cuisines, however, the one supposedly preferred by men is overall unhealthier for the eaters and for the planet. Maybe leave the testosterone aside and make room on the plate for mushroom risotto, fruit salad, and an effort to help make the world a better place.
The Democratic Party establishment is in a panic after Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’s convincing victory in the Nevada presidential primary on February 22. An easy way to gauge the reaction of the Democratic Party old guard is to watch their mouthpieces spout off on MSNBC, the network that pretends to be at the forefront of liberal politics but in reality protects the interests of corporate Democrats like Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden. MSNBC is, with some reservations due to being more grounded in the real world, the opinion molder for many Democrats in a similar fashion to how Fox News affects Republicans.
This year the Democratic Party establishment had the fix in for former vice president Joe Biden the same way they had the fix in for former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in 2016. She lost the election, but hey, she won the popular vote! So what? So a surplus of a few million people, mostly in California and New York, voted for Hillary Clinton. It didn’t matter because their votes didn’t count as much as the votes of a few tens of thousands of people in Rust Belt states such as Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. So the Democratic Party establishment had decided to do it all over again, this time with Joe Biden as their old guard hack.
A banner displayed by striking Chicago teachers in September 2012 questioning the real interests of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and his Democratic Party colleagues. Photo by Flickr user Groupuscule.
The old guard claims their anointed one is the most electable in the general election, a higher priority than ever now that everyone has had nearly four years experience of the alternative, the current president. Everyone, progressive and corporate Democrat alike, agrees four more years of that will destroy the republic as well as the Democratic Party. The old guard deploys fear of four more years of the current president to maintain themselves in power at whatever cost in lies and money. Claiming that only their front person has electability in the general election didn’t work in 2016, and it won’t work in 2020.
The reason is lack of broad appeal to potential voters who are inclined to sit on the sidelines instead of getting behind a corporate Democrat like Joe Biden. The Democratic Party establishment persists in under counting and under cutting the progressive, Socialist portion of the party because it scares off their backers on Wall Street and in corporate boardrooms. The country, and the Democratic Party in particular, are more liberal than the establishment and the corporate media will admit.
Woody Guthrie wrote and performed “So Long, It’s Been Good to Know Yuh (Dusty Old Dust)” in 1935. The policies and appeal of the president at the time, Franklin Roosevelt, would not look out of place today in the campaign of Bernie Sanders, yet conservative corporate interests in politics and in the media persist in portraying Senator Sanders and his supporters as fringe radicals.
The resulting propaganda from outlets like MSNBC convinces some voters that a presidential candidate such as Bernie Sanders would represent only a fringe of the Democratic Party, while Joe Biden or Michael Bloomberg or Pete Buttigieg would represent the mainstream of the Party, and therefore would be the only electable choice for the more conservative general populace. That’s not true. Look at the results in Nevada.
1 – Obsessiveness about Santa Claus results in the exclusion of practical considerations.
2 – Individual identity blurs with Santa Claus and the group surrounding him. In the follower’s mind, personal identity becomes fused with Santa Claus as involvement continues and deepens.
3 – Criticism or questioning of Santa Claus regarded as persecution.
4 – Stilted and programmed speech, mannerisms, and behavior in imitation of Santa Claus.
5 – Dependent on Santa Claus to solve problems, and to provide simple answers for complex questions without meaningful reflective thought. Unable to think independently or analyze situations without involving Santa Claus.
6 – Devotion to Santa Claus’s agenda, overriding personal goals and individual interests.
7 – Loss of perspective and sense of humor about Santa Claus and anything pertaining to him.
8 – Estrangement from family and friends who are not similarly enthusiastic about Santa Claus.
9 – Anything Santa Claus does is justified, no matter how ugly or hurtful.
10 – Former followers of Santa Claus considered evil and susceptible to bad influences. They cannot be trusted and must be shunned.
From the point of view of reasonable people, the last item could apply to current followers in a cult. Setting that aside for the sake of a seasonably charitable sentiment, Happy Chrismukkah to one and all, even the hard cases.
A classic Marx Brothers bit from their 1935 film A Night at the Opera, with Chico and Groucho Marx.
12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid.13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind,14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
— Luke 14:12-14, from the New International Version of the Bible.
It’s puzzling to watch poor and working class people watch rich people on television, such as on shows about house hunters looking at multi-million dollar properties. Many of these rich people are frivolous twits who obsess about things like granite countertops and bathroom saunas. Why don’t many of the poor folks watching these excesses feel anger and revulsion at money being thrown away on luxuries, things they themselves could never afford as they struggle to make ends meet from paycheck to paycheck? Instead they watch these programs with a kind of detached envy, commenting critically on the relative niceness of various unnecessary features.
As for the rich, they mostly have contempt for the poor people window watching on their lifestyles. They usually try to mask their contempt, of course, since it’s considered bad form among their peers to make a show of kicking the downtrodden. Mostly they ignore the poor, which is easy to do living in gated communities and surrounding oneself with all the accoutrements of wealth and security they can buy. It doesn’t occur to them to question the envy of their lifestyles by the poor, since it is based on the fabulous nature of material things they themselves exalt above all else. What troubles them is the contempt wafting toward them from some in the middle class.
Nancy Wilson, foreground, Meals on Wheels program manager, works along with other volunteers at the Great Falls Community Food Bank in Great Falls, Montana, preparing gravy on November 23, 2011 to be used the next day for the Thanksgiving meal. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Katrina Heikkinen.
Historically, it has always been elements from the middle class which have led revolutions. The poor are too wrapped up in trying to survive and in slavish envy of those who have more, even when wealth is waved in their faces, but always out of reach. The middle class have the education to understand how the rich are playing them for suckers, and they have the leisure time to organize against them. They have only to inform the poor how the rich have used and manipulated them in order to gain strength from numbers. That’s easier said than done, however, and it’s a task made more difficult by the popularity among the poor of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous type entertainment in movies and television.
President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama greet staff and volunteers prior to a Thanksgiving service project at the Capital Area Food Bank in Washington, D.C., on November 27, 2013. Official White House photo by Pete Souza.
This Thanksgiving and throughout the year, it is unlikely a high percentage of the rich and famous will be helping feed the poor and homeless. Giving and volunteering are largely activities engaged in by the middle class, and even the poor and working class. Strange then that the poor and working class should continue to ally themselves with the rich, to envy them their wealth and privilege and, when they vote, to often as not vote to the rich person’s tune.
It tries one’s patience and understanding to refrain from feeling contempt for a group of people who can witness the casual disregard of a leader who tosses rolls of paper towels at them after a horrific natural disaster, and who nevertheless still support that leader. Such a leader would never volunteer to feed the poor at a food bank or homeless shelter, at least not sincerely. For him, it would be nothing more than a photo opportunity he would be eager to get over with. But a division between the middle class and the working class and poor only benefits the rich, the oligarchy. Better to reach out and to serve, even when the people on the other end can often be ignorant, mean-spirited, and hateful.
Like the mantra “location, location, location” in real estate, there may be an operative phrase in political elections, and it is “turnout, turnout, turnout”. One year away from the 2020 presidential election, centrist, party-line Democrats are most concerned with “electability”, and before the primary season has begun they have anointed Joe Biden as the most “electable” candidate. Their overriding concern for electability is understandable considering the crucial importance of the 2020 presidential election. What they don’t seem to account for is how their idea of an electable candidate may depress turnout, an outcome that tends to favor Republican candidates.
Democratic voters outnumber Republican voters, and therefore high turnout elections tend to favor Democratic candidates. The reason low turnout elections favor Republicans is because the percentage of eligible Republican voters who turn up at the polls does not vary as much as the percentage of eligible Democratic voters who actually vote. One can get deeply into the weeds on the demographics behind this behavior, but it is sufficient to note here that it is a long standing trend and will likely continue on Election Day in 2020.
A line of people turned out to vote in Brooklyn, New York, in the November 2008 election. Photo by Flickr user April Sikorski.
In the 2016 election, the Democratic Party establishment crammed down the throats of Democratic voters a candidate who did not generate widespread enthusiasm. The Democratic Party since the days of Franklin Roosevelt has included a more diverse coalition of voters than the Republican Party, and Democrats as a result are less interested in toeing the Party line for the sake of an election than are Republicans. Some Democrats who were lukewarm on Hillary Clinton either defected to third party candidates or did not vote at all. That she nonetheless won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes was not a statement for her popularity as much as it was a statement about the unpopularity of her Republican opponent.
The erroneous polls leading up to Election Day in 2016 also were a factor in Ms. Clinton’s loss in the real decider of presidential elections, the Electoral College. Polls predicting not only a Clinton victory, but a possible landslide, were perhaps a factor in depressing Democratic turnout around the country enough that it made a difference in the outcomes in Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, swing states that the Republican candidate won by a total of less than 100,000 votes, tipping the Electoral College in his favor. The demographics of Democratic voters are such that they are more likely than Republican voters to skip voting for a variety of reasons, among them being the appearance from polls that their candidate already has the election in the bag.
Overconfidence will likely not be a stumbling block this time around since everyone who has been paying attention even a little bit to developments in this country since January 20, 2017, should be well aware by now of the high stakes involved in the next presidential election. It is not hyperbole to state there has not been as crucial an election for the continuance of our democracy since the election of 1860. The corporate, centrist minority of the Democratic Party is determined to trot out yet another corporate, centrist Democratic candidate in the 2020 election, whether that be Joe Biden or, in case he falters in the primaries, Pete Buttigieg. The Democratic Party establishment keeps hammering away on “electability”, even more now than in 2016 because the mental case currently despoiling the country from the Oval Office is a known quantity after three years and for the sake of the country must not be allowed to continue in power past January 20, 2021.
“Do It Again” by Steely Dan, from their 1972 album Can’t Buy a Thrill.
The Democratic Party establishment refuses to see a move to the left as an opportunity in the coming election. Why would they, since that is not where the corporate masters want them to go? Voter demographics, however, are leaving behind the Democratic Party establishment as currently constituted, as well as leaving behind the Republican Party more generally. Whether that will have an enough of an effect at the polls on Election Day 2020 to make a difference depends on turnout, and that depends on enthusiasm for a Democratic candidate as much as it does disgust about what the presumptive Republican candidate has done to the country and will continue to do if re-elected. Demographic changes won’t make a bit of difference in moving the nation to the left or in booting out of the Oval Office the cancerous tumor currently infesting it if the people representing those changes don’t show up at the polls and vote. — Ed.
There is only one rule of grammar, and that is “Be Clear”. All the rest of what people think are hard and fast rules of grammar are really only guidelines in the service of the supreme rule, “Be Clear”. Placing a comma or period outside of quotation marks may violate the guideline for American usage (though not necessarily British usage), but if doing so serves logic, and therefore clarity, then there’s nothing wrong with the practice. If you’re writing a diary purely for your own eyes, then by all means write however you please. If you’re writing to be understood by other human beings, however, then it’s simple courtesy to convey your message to them clearly.
“I said it very loud and clear: I went and shouted in his ear.” Humpty Dumpty recites from his poem in Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There. Illustration by John Tenniel.
Stop confusing “complement” with “compliment”, “affect” with “effect”, and “their” with “they’re”. There are many other examples of writers being lazy about the meanings of the words they use. Ignorance is not an excuse, not when a print dictionary can be had for a few dollars, and an online dictionary is usually free. A complimentary breakfast is free; a complementary breakfast is something else entirely, if it exists at all. Readers are affected by the effects of a writer’s word choices. They’re struggling to make sense of a lazy writer’s meanderings, and their poor understanding is all the fault of the lazy writer.
From the 1972 “Password” episode of the television series The Odd Couple, starring Tony Randall as Felix Ungar and Jack Klugman as Oscar Madison, with Betty White, Allen Ludden, and Abbey Greshler. Part of effective communication is keeping your listeners or readers in mind.
Dangle participles at your own peril, and don’t expect all readers to divine your meaning despite the muddled sentences you present to them. Some readers will find some of your dangling participles humorous because of the incongruous images they evoke. Convulsed with laughter, your writing will not be taken seriously by your readers. Your readers will also get a few laughs, along with your writing. Like other grammar guidelines, the one about not dangling participles is best understood as a logic problem, as a challenge to making meaning clear. There’s no magic involved. Look at what you have written. Read it aloud if that helps. Does it make sense? After doing your best to serve your readers by being clear, then if you wish you can add details and stylistic flourishes. Remember B.C. (Be Clear) before A.D. ( Add Details), and everything will be OK. — Ed.
Political centrists such as Bill Maher, the television talk show host, firmly believe that in order for Democrats to defeat the current president in the 2020 election they must choose a centrist candidate. In a recent debate on his show with documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, Mr. Maher, among his other claims promoting his view, stated that President Barack Obama ran as a centrist in his 2008 campaign and that is why he won. Mr. Moore disputed this, stating that Mr. Obama ran as a progressive populist and had the courage to list his middle name “Hussein” on the ballot. The two bet the cost of a trip to Hawaii on the resolution of their dispute.
A mural replica in Silverton, Oregon, of Norman Rockwell’s Freedom From Want painting, one of a series he did in 1943 illustrating the Four Freedoms articulated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Photo from the Oregon State Archives. While Mr. Rockwell was depicting an ideal promulgated by a liberal Democratic president, his choice of models and their placement in a hierarchy at the family dinner table fits in well with the current conservative mythos of how Americans should look and comport themselves.
It’s not clear who was right about the middle name issue and therefore who won the bet, but in any event it hardly matters since the important point is that Mr. Obama ran his campaign from the left of center and then governed from the center. In national defense matters, such as expanding his predecessor’s drone attacks around the world and vindictively pursuing whistleblowers like Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden, Mr. Obama was to the right of center. His stance toward governing should have been clear early on from his appointments of Wall Street insiders like Timothy Geithner and Lawrence Summers to oversee the economy.
Barack Obama was never a fire-breathing liberal and never claimed to be one, though he did allow a lot of wishful thinking from liberal Democrats who wanted to believe he was more liberal then he was. They projected their wishes and hopes onto him, and being a politician he naturally turned that to his advantage. That wishful thinking can be glimpsed in the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to Mr. Obama in 2009 after he had done hardly anything to merit the award other than not being President George W. Bush. Members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee do not vote in American elections, of course, but like liberal American voters weary of the belligerence and disregard for human rights of the George W. Bush administration, they were eager to project their hopes onto Mr. Obama.
Bill Maher has similarly profited from the projections of many liberals, who seem to think a person who is for the legalization of marijuana and against the policies and tenure of the current president cannot possibly be as reactionary as he really is in many ways. He is reactionary in his statements about Muslims and about gender politics and about how he believes political correctness is more corrosive to our democratic republic than the rapaciousness of capitalist exploitation. Most of all he is reactionary in his repeated assertions that no one to the left of himself among the Democrats can defeat the current president in 2020 because he believes most Americans are firmly in his, Bill Maher’s, camp on most everything that matters.
From Woody Allen’s 1977 film Annie Hall, a diversity of viewpoints and attitudes, some more subdued than others.
Mr. Maher is wrong about the politics of most Americans, as he is wrong about his other more distastefully retrograde beliefs. Michael Moore pointed out in their debate how Mr. Maher’s assessment of where most Americans reside on the political scale was wrong, and that they are more liberal within the Democratic Party than the Party establishment cares to acknowledge. None of Bill Maher’s views would matter if it weren’t for how they are often cited by conservative media and politicians as supporting their agenda and given extra weight by them because they are supposedly expressed by a liberal. It suits their cause to have a “house liberal” of sorts.
The fiction of Mr. Maher’s liberalism is propped up also by uncritical viewers on the left who give his pontifications on Democratic politics more respect than they deserve. Reactionary centrists such as Mr. Maher are uncomfortable with the infighting that always prevails among Democrats, and they see it as giving aid and comfort to the other side while weakening their own. People like Bill Maher may as well decry the spots on a leopard. Dissension is in the nature of liberal Democratic Party politics; it’s what differentiates them from the other side, too many members of which fall obediently into line like good little authoritarians.
Journalist Glenn Greenwald in a December 2016 appearance on The Jimmy Dore Show. Warning: one naughty word.
Bill Maher is like the brother-in-law at a large family dinner where all the members are squabbling in a free wheeling manner, and he sits there with a slight smirk, believing he’s smarter than he really is and eager to toss out a snarky remark to show he’s superior to what’s going on around him at the table. He and people like him, with an authoritarian streak in their character despite the liberality of some of their views, cannot understand how argument and dissension strengthen, not weaken, Democratic Party politics, and ultimately democracy itself. Falling in line without questioning is for autocrats and their followers. The ancient Athenians were not without their fair share of faults, but today most people recognize their society, noisy and argumentative as the scenes at their family dinner tables might have been, as more worth honoring and emulating than the authoritarian society of the Spartans, who fell in line and did as they were told by their “betters”.
“Aggrieved entitlement” is a term almost exclusively applicable to white, American men because it takes note of the historically high levels of privilege of that demographic relative to the rest of society, and how as the less privileged have demanded equal treatment some white, entitled American men feel an erosion of their privilege. They feel “aggrieved” about the situation particularly because they think their loss of privilege is unjustified. A less charitable way of describing how they feel is to call them self-pitying and selfish.
A 1952 publicity photo of John Wayne (1907-1979), the actor whose image represented for many throughout the middle of the 20th century the ideal of American manhood, and who is even now still revered by some.
There is good reason to feel uncharitable toward a segment of society when its most extreme members act out their anger and frustrations by shooting and killing other human beings, sometimes on a massive scale. A disproportionate number of mass shooters are angry white men. After every mass shooting, there are calls for tighter gun control and for better mental health evaluations and treatments. Those are measures worth acting upon, if government leaders can ever muster the political will and courage to pass significant legislation and allocate sufficient resources to support them.
The largest element underlying gun violence goes unaddressed, however, and that is the sickness of this society. This is a society that values athletes more highly than teachers, and rewards cutthroat capitalists with outsized political power and immunity from customary ethical standards of doing business with the public and cooperating with workers and government. This is a society that puts cartoonish displays of machismo in its popular entertainment and then exalts them as models of the male ideal. This is a society where the term “toxic masculinity” has become necessary to describe behavior we unfortunately have come to witness every day.
The Searchers was a 1956 western film directed by John Ford and starring John Wayne.
Until the society as a whole works to correct the conditions nurturing the ideas some white men have that the possession, worship, and ultimately homicidal use of guns is the best way to make themselves feel better, then mass shootings are likely to keep occurring. These men deserve our empathy, or understanding, so that we can more effectively pinpoint and effect societal remedies. They do not deserve our sympathy, or sorriness, for how they feel about their changing circumstances. Just as the majority of children who come from broken homes do not grow up to become criminals, only a very few white men are so wrapped up in their sense of aggrieved entitlement that they lash out violently. Everyone has problems; most people find peaceful, constructive ways to cope with them.
Robert De Niro as Travis Bickle, the warped character at the center of Martin Scorsese’s 1976 film Taxi Driver. The story is told from Bickle’s perspective, which helps the audience have empathy for him. It’s up to individual audience members to decide if they feel sympathy for him. Warning: foul language.
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction, a physical law first stated by Isaac Newton, and it seems it applies to forces within society as well. As women and non-white ethnic groups have fought for equal rights over the past 100 years or so, there has been an opposite reaction from men and white people, though not all of them in equal measure. As women have gained power in the marketplace and in the home, we have unfortunately seen the coining of terms like “man up”. As non-white ethnic groups have expressed their growing power in increasing numbers at the ballot box, we have begun to hear the phrase “take back our country” from some in the white majority who feel threatened by slippage in their dominant status. If meanness of spirit can be learned, then generosity of spirit can be taught, and society should emphasize the value in it. More Tom Joad, less Rambo.