• What Do You Do With the Past?

    May 18, 2023 // 5 Comments »

    That’s me in back row of the photo of the old junior high school football team, with the dorky glasses. In an age of apologies and reparations it begs an answer: what do you do about the past?

    It starts easy. The adult close to me is Mr. Hammer, the wood shop teacher. Yes, Mr. Hammer. His giggly name somehow still remains amusing to me, some 50 years later. He was a good teacher and coach, fair, even tempered, thought all the stuff we were doing mattered but not too much. I just learned from Google he was a Korean War vet (he never mentioned it) and passed away a few years ago after 24 years of teaching. I have no idea who the other coach is.

    My obsession isn’t with the names anyway, it is with what happened to these people and our past. We have not kept in touch, and the last time I spoke with any of them would have been in 1978 when most of us graduated from high school. How many “did well” with life? How many are dead, or in jail, or homeless, or alcoholic? Any of them do something good for the world, maybe as a doctor or teacher? Do any of them ever wonder what happened to me?

    Two boys in the front row were star players. They literally had star decals on their helmets so everyone knew, this being in an age before participation trophies. Google says one of them still lives in town but offers no clues as to what happened to him along the way, nothing on the other one. There’s another boy in the photo near the back I learned from Facebook is gay. I didn’t know him well in junior high school, but I wonder now how many of the other boys were gay. No one “came out” back then. We as a team would today be considered completely homophobic based on the language we used. Anyone who made a bad play or fumbled the ball or was even late to the huddle was a f*ggot. If you’re anywhere nearby our age group you also said that word. Everybody did.

    But despite the language I am not sure we were homophobic, as we had as little idea what being gay was all about as we had then about heterosexual stuff, absent self-entertainment which likely worked the same way for everyone. This is probably the biggest change the internet brought to society. Kids stop being naive at age two now. I’m as certain the gay kid was hurt by what we all said as I am certain that he said those same words along with us. In 7th grade anything that made you stand out made you someone’s target.

    After junior high, trying out for football at my high school meant being bullied by the varsity. If you were lucky they only stole your lunch and made you embarrass yourself singing to the group. Sometimes they took away our water on hot days (water during practice was rationed in this era, to toughen us up.) For others, it was caustic muscle creams smeared in your jock before practice. It went on after the coaches would mysteriously disappear during certain breaks. Adult teachers with clear responsibility to stop it, but who did nothing but encourage it, calling it initiation. I have no idea, some 50 years later, why I voluntarily participated in all this. I believe I was temporarily insane.

    Very few guys quit the team, most just endured, some sought empty relief bullying others. I was in that last group, mercilessly teasing a poor kid weaker than me. I was cruel in a way I wish I hated then the way I hate it now. He was an easy target who I thought years ago was a way for me to feel better. I couldn’t beat up the varsity football team who humiliated me, so that kid was their surrogate. Nothing I have done before or after makes me more ashamed.

    He’s in that picture, the kid who became the target of my bullying. It’s easier to write this if he has a name, so Ron, though of course that is not his real name which I do remember and cannot forget. We got along OK in junior high, friendly if not friends. But the high school football we went on to was struggle, not fun. The upperclassmen players bullied the younger kids like me endlessly, brutally at times.

    I have not been again on that playing field in more than four decades yet I can point now to the exact spot on Google Maps where it all happened. The worst initiation the older kids had was making us fight each other. This usually took the form of whacking each other with tackling dummies, heavy canvas bags. If the big kids did not think we were fighting enthusiastically enough they would step in and continue the assault themselves. It was worse when the bags were wet.

    One pointlessly humid Ohio day I was told to stand up and choose my opponent. Usually you picked a buddy with the unspoken understanding the two of you would take it easy on each other. I chose instead to fight Ron. Ron had stopped growing sooner than most of us, Ron had a good heart but wasn’t much of a fighter, Ron thought I was enough of his friend to take it easy. But I did not. Something broke inside me like a summer thunderstorm. When Ron went down I kept hitting him, right in the face with the bag, with the blood from his nose splattering to the point where even the upper class animals running the initiation stopped me. I was never made to fight again. Ron quit the team.

    I didn’t stop. I said, with great encouragement from teammates, terrible things to Ron everyday at lunch. I made his life dark. He must have felt his stomach twist in horrible anticipation every day heading into the cafeteria. He tried to make peace with me despite I am sure not having a clue as to why I had become his predator but I refused to back down. The semester ended in exhaustion and I never played a team sport or trusted an authority figure again, my apolitical red pill moment. Ron sat somewhere else for lunch after Christmas break. I’ve had no contact with him since until I found him in that photo last night.

    Google found him, too, I think. It looks like he’s a lawyer, made partner in his firm. He’s married. Seems to like to fish. The firm’s website lists a phone number that even now stares at me.

    What do you do with the past? Do I call him, apologize, offer some sort of reparation, donate money to some anti-bullying group? Would he want that, would he accept that? Does he remember me, or was I just another forgettable part of high school that got discarded when he went on to his good college and his good law school? Does he live with what he can’t get past? Facebook says he has sons.

    He must remember me, the efforts I made to hurt him had to have left some mark. What would he say to an apology? Would he, falsely but graciously accept whatever I said and get off the phone to tell his wife “Honey, you’ll never guess the odd call I had today…” over dinner? Would he listen to me a moment and then uncork decades of anger and resentment, telling me how I hurt him not only that day but forever, that these things don’t go away? Am I one of his ghosts as he is one of mine?

    I talked to a psychiatrist friend, who explained the concept of amends used by Alcoholics Anonymous. Making amends is one of the last steps toward recovery, and is premised as “we may stop causing any more harm but that is not the same as repairing the damage we have already caused. We feel a man is unthinking when he says sobriety is enough.” I may have become a better man than I was on that damn football team, but I have done nothing to repair the damage I did.

    You start amends by asking permission of the person you harmed. You acknowledge this is to help yourself, that you alone bear responsibility. My excuse – I bullied because I was bullied – is too easy for this task. Some things are always wrong and I should have known that, whether my society or my coaches said it was OK. It is as weak as my tormentors claiming the initiations were all part of toughening us up for the football season, and about building comradery as they too had once been humiliated as freshmen.

    Amends demands I not elicit sympathy or make any excuses. I should ask for forgiveness, but not say I am sorry, no remorseful mumbling. If Ron is unable to forgive me, it is my burden. Some debts like that take a long, long time to repay, maybe until forever. You can’t rewrite the past.

    The point of amends is asking my victim to help me. It is not about disguising my guilt as an apology. That is what separates amends from something like reparations, where it is the victim who benefits, often monetarily. There may be a place for that, but that place is not part of this old picture and the question about what do you do with the past that it screams at me.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Other Ideas

    Bullies Like Me

    June 30, 2019 // 2 Comments »

    Harvard revoked a Parkland student’s admission, a survivor kid who supported the Second Amendment. Two former Central Park 5 prosecutors lost their jobs 30 years after the case, because of a Netflix movie released last week called “When They See Us.” By the time you read this, the Left will have forced another voice off Twitter, and bullied another small business for offending their rules on gender and cake.

    I learned about bullying in a small Ohio high school you never heard of, both by being bullied and in some of the most shameful days of my life, as a bully myself. I came to understand bullies are frustrated by their own lack of power (there’s always someone bigger going after them) and, unable to do anything to the real target, find someone weaker to torment. It is never meant to be a fair fight. There’s also a third element, the adult in the room who stays quiet and lets it all happen. A football coach or room monitor in my high school, the elders at Harvard in 2019 America.

    Trying out for football at my high school meant being bullied by the varsity. If you were lucky they only stole your food and made you embarrass yourself singing to the group. For others, it was sodomy with soap bars or caustic creams smeared in your jock. It went on after the coaches would mysteriously disappear during certain practice breaks. Some guys quit the team, some just endured, some sought empty relief bullying others. I was in that last group, mercilessly teasing a poor kid weaker than me, during lunch periods when the room monitors would mysteriously disappear; nobody really liked him. I was cruel in a way I wish I hated then the way I hate it now. He was an easy target who I thought 44 years ago was a way for me to feel better. I couldn’t beat up the varsity football team who humiliated me, so that kid was their surrogate. Nothing I have done before or after makes me more ashamed.

    I know about bullying. So let’s not pretend what is happening around us, politically driven by the Left, is anything but bullying. Deeply frustrated the living embodiment of anti-progressive values was elected in 2016 over a candidate genetically created as the Successor in the post-Obama utopia, the Left went looking for someone weaker than them to work out its rage on after Trump proved too tough a target (see the Mueller Report, now three months old, so ineffectual most in Congress see no need to even read it.)

    One writer made the frustration clear: “America finds itself in the grip of an endless and inscrutable daily mystery: How is it possible that the president — whose chief occupations seem to be tweeting, lying, lying about what he tweeted, watching television, and committing crimes — is not on the hook for anything? Not for the lying, and not for the criming [sic], and not even for the endless truculence and meanness.”

    So the Left picks on kids now because they can’t get Trump. Harvard, dismissing how its past presidents brought their slaves to live on campus and how it filled its endowments from the exploitation of slave labor, never mind its decades of discriminatory practices against Jews and other “undesirables,” takes away Parkland survivor Kyle Kashuv‘s scholarship because a couple of years ago he used the term “n*ggerjock” in texts to “friends,” who then sent those to Harvard Admissions demanding his head. Use the wrong words, no matter how long ago or in what context — my high school coaches called us f*ggots when they felt we weren’t working hard enough — and it is not your action which is attacked, it is you. Kyle Kashuv is a racist now and forever and literally it appears beyond reeducation. Like the guy who hit that one home run junior year and thinks he is forever a baseball player.

    (As an aside, imagine some people you once texted as friends, screenshotting those messages and then sending them on to the school you were going to attend, hoping to wreck your academic world.)

    Kashuv of course was one of the Florida Parkland kids, those celebrity school shooting survivors, but not one of the nice ones who stood beside George Clooney and demanded an end to the Second Amendment. Kyle supports gun rights. So while his ostensible sin was a teenage wasteland version of racism, his actual transgression was being an easy surrogate for Trump. Meanwhile, Twitter played the role of the leering varsity players standing in a semi-circle cheering on the violence being done to a freshman.

    Same for Harvard’s Ronald Sullivan, a lecturer at their law school, and faculty dean at one of Harvard’s residential houses for over nine years. He was fired for serving on #MeToo poster child Harvey Weinstein’s defense team. The bullies who attacked him claimed his decision to represent a person accused of abusing women (Weinstein has yet to go to trial and thus would be presumed innocent in some alternate universe) disqualified Sullivan from “serving in a role of support and mentorship to students.” Sure thing. Except Sullivan was really fired as a surrogate for Weinstein who is a surrogate for Trump, who still managed to get himself elected after bragging about pussy grabbing. Harvard law school’s adults stood silent in practice while teaching classes in theory about how a robust defense of even the worst defendants is a cornerstone of justice.

    Linda Fairstein and Elizabeth Lederer prosecuted the Central Park 5 in 1989, helping wrongly convict five juveniles of rape. Fairstein kept her job at the NYC District Attorney’s office until 2002, and went on to write 20 best-selling novels. Lederer is still a prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office and had taught law at Columbia for the last seven years. However, a week after a Netflix dramatization which took liberties with the facts (among other things, the movie ignored evidence some of the teens were likely accomplices in the rape and committed other violent crimes ) of the 30-year-old case came out, online mobs and university students successfully demanded Fairstein’s publisher dump her, and Columbia force Lederer to resign. Ken Burns’ more careful documentary about the same case didn’t call forth the same fierceness, but then again it came out in 2012 in the warmth of the Obama years. Today, Fairstein and Lederer are the designated surrogates for Donald Trump. Trump, who in the 1980s shot his mouth off about nearly everything in his hometown of New York City, is being blamed for helping unfairly convict the boys because of statements he once made. People are demanding he, along with Fairstein and Lederer, issue an apology.

    In Washington DC, another author was driven out by bullies. Her offense was reporting a black worker (breaking the rules by eating on the Metro) a crime of racism in 2019. “See something, say something” is the mantra unless it involves squealing on a POC, when it becomes fodder for the anti-Trump bullies. The Metro worker, who claimed she was “humiliated” by all the attention she got for breaking the rules, didn’t face any disciplinary action.

    The same bully mentality is in force against small businesses who chose not to bake cakes for LGBT couples; the same bullies who celebrate the First Amendment’s lack of applicability to social media making decisions on who to allow in the store demand the power of the courts when it favors them. Even when the courts  ultimately actually defend the bakers, the Leftist bullies relish the power to bankrupt offenders with legal fees, or try to crush them with mob-driven boycotts. The literal Heckler’s Veto has found a home with the bullies as they successful shouted down Charles Murray, Ann Coulter, Richard Spencer, and others.

    Among many black writers (one labels himself a “wypipologist“), Caucasians from Canada to the Caucasus mountains are mocked for all that they do, now surrogates for Trump. “Woke” female comedians use the same calculus when they make jokes about small hands, micro-penis’ and boyfriends who can’t satisfy them. If anyone tries to defend themselves (“um, you know we’re not all like that”) the bullies swarm with accusations of mansplaining, privilege or the catch all, whataboutism.

    The attempted political assassination of Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh was the most extreme example of bullying by the Left. There certainly has never been a more obvious Trump surrogate (though Paul Manafort is a close second): Kavanaugh the misogynist, Kavanaugh the gang rapist, Kavanaugh the serial liar, Kavanaugh the Old Straight White Man (apres Trump, a slur in itself.) The Left’s goal wasn’t to show the nominee was unqualified as a jurist, but that he was unqualified as a human being, to humiliate him with innuendo and gossip in front of his family and the nation hoping he’d quit the team. Due process and a modicum of fairness? It wasn’t supposed to be a fair fight.

    The Heckler’s Veto on social media is a national past-time, where, frustrated by Trump’s instinctive skill for the medium, bullies use their malleable Terms of Service to deplatform people whose ideas they hate as hate speech. We have lost the ability to even understand the term hypocrisy anymore. Political commentary meanwhile has devolved into name calling. Samantha Bee called Ivanka a “feckless c*nt” and Stephen Colbert referred to Trump as “Putin’s c*ckholster” in ways my old coaches, or any schoolyard bully shouting f*ggot, would have understood.

    The conventional wisdom for those bullied is you’re supposed to fight back. But any good bully creates a situation where the victim can’t. Whether backing him into a toilet stall with three big football jocks as he’s abused or leaving no avenues of appeal while gloating how the First Amendment and the coach who somehow sees nothing won’t protect him, the bully assures his victim’s humiliation. Everyone else just stands back, not wanting to get involved, humiliated themselves by their lack of courage or concern.

    But it is actually all for society’s own good, you see. In 2019, the bullies gild themselves as striking blows against racism or sexism, as if solving those societal problems needed just one more gun-loving Florida kid kicked to the curb. My tormentors claimed it was all part of toughening us up for the football season, and about building comradery as they too had once been humiliated as freshmen. It was actually all for our own good.

    It is not good. Take those feelings of emptied self-worth and humiliation felt as a victim, and multiply them across a society. Remember how you felt standing by doing nothing while it happened, and spread that through an electorate. Think over how watching those coaches look the other way made you feel, or when the media picked up the chorus that the kid, the prosecutors, whomever, deserved it for being a “racist.” Oh, we are something terrible.

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

    Posted in Other Ideas