Tolerating Evil

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How much tolerance do you have for evil? Most of us like to think we have very little and, on one level, that may be true. As long as we are fairly certain that what we are considering is truly evil and as long as we feel we can actually do something about it, our tolerance is pretty low. Damn right I would step up to stop Hitler! But what about Goering? Some nameless Captain in the SS? How about the skinhead next door? Would you slap down the well-dressed and well-spoken head of a neo-Nazi or alt-right group?

Probably – if you didn’t think you would get stabbed.

Still, actually figuring out what is evil is the hard part. It’s easy in retrospect. Obviously whoever lost the fight (i.e., the Nazis, the slaveholders) was evil. Or, where there is no clear winner or loser, we can all agree that evil was done – though sometimes we can’t quite figure out by whom.

But that’s retrospectively, right? In the late 1930s, there were plenty of people—including the former king of England—that thought Hitler wasn’t a bad sort, if a little hysterical. At first, Idi Amin had his supporters and, given that he lived out his life in comfortable exile, continued to have them after he was deposed. Alt-right guys probably think they are doing the proper thing—if only the 99% of people who don’t support their agenda could see it.

They say that all that is needed for evil to succeed is for good men to do nothing. But that, of course, presumes you have the capital T truth about what is good. Missionaries that wound up destroying indigenous cultures and supporting the slave trade justified themselves by saying they were bringing salvation to the heathens. Communists who instituted the Cultural Revolution in China surely did it to bring about the glorious freedom of pure socialism.

But let’s bring it down to some simple things. If you see a man hitting his spouse or a mother wailing away on their child, would you personally intervene? Would you call the cops? Would you say: It’s a private manner?

I once witnessed a mugging. One of the muggers (they were all pretty young but there were five of them) showed me a knife. I decided not to do anything except watch it unfold. I had time to decide that, if no one got hurt, I would let things unfold. It was only money, right? Afterwards I realized that waiting until after the victim was stabbed would have been too late (no one got stabbed by the way). I was furious at myself but would I do any different today? I hope so but I’m not sure. I’m getting old but I’m not quite ready to die.

I see a lot of hate on Facebook – almost as much of it from the left (whose agenda I largely agree with) as from the right (whom I find hard to bear). Occasionally, I say something about it but I find it a useless expenditure of time and emotional energy. I’ve come to understand that a small percentage of people you meet are assholes (most don’t come close to qualifying and if you think they do, you should take a long hard look in the mirror) and that an even smaller percentage are irredeemable and dangerous assholes. I can only hope someone steps up to stop them before they actually hurt people. But it probably won’t be me.

Not much fun to admit but, I suppose, admitting weakness is the first step to overcoming it.

And that’s ten minutes.

Domestic Violence

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There was another domestic murder near Ottawa yesterday. A man, who clearly intended violence since he brought a gun, confronted his ex-wife in her father’s home. His former in-laws and his two children were present. The father-in-law intervened in the argument and he was the first to die. The ex-wife was shot next and then he turned the gun on himself. He died of his wounds while the woman has life-threatening injuries. According to reports, the grandmother and two children ran away and were ‘unharmed.’ Other than having their lives destroyed, of course.

We point to a lot of reasons that such things happen. Violence against women is endemic. Men are raised in a society that says, implicitly at least, they ‘own’ their families. We don’t have enough women’s shelters or enough penalties to punish violent men or programs to cure them. All true.

Some even blame feminism – that is to say; uppity women. You’ve probably heard variations of that expression in other contexts.

There is another factor that has only recently been talked about. It can be summarized in the expression: spare the rod and spoil the child. Some people believe that striking children is a necessary part of good parenting. It teaches them a lesson. And it does: it teaches them that violence is an answer to their problems.

My father, on occasion, struck me. It was very much a special occasion – not more than a handful of times in my entire childhood. Mostly I got a clear explanation of how I had failed to meet his high expectations of me – far more painful.  Still, to resort to violence so seldom was pretty good, considering his father had, on occasion, used a horsewhip on his children. I recall one time when my brother and I had committed a particularly egregious crime (and in this case it was an actual crime – theft). I can still hear my father’s words to my mother more than fifty years later. “Get them out of my sight; if I start on them I don’t know that I can stop.”

And that is domestic violence in a nutshell. Once begun, where does it stop? Violence always escalates – whether during a single incident or over the course of a series of them.

And it often begins in childhood. Children who are routinely physically punished – and here I am not talking about horse whips but what most people would refer to as a spanking once or twice a month – are more likely to become schoolyard bullies, more likely to strike their own children or domestic partners, more likely to commit domestic murder, more likely to go to prison for violent crimes, more likely to fail at life.

See. They learned their lessons well.

Sadly, society has done little to stop systematic violence against children. Think of it, we haven’t prevented acts against little kids that would otherwise be considered assault. The criminal code actually condones the use of reasonable physical force against children between the ages of two (two!!!) and twelve. The definition of reasonable is left to the parent (or teacher). My father’s words come back to me – “I don’t know that I can stop.”

Fortunately, the law is going to change – if the new government is to be believed – and that exception will be removed. Parents who beat their children will have no defence under the law. And maybe, twenty years from now, a few children will be spared losing their parents and grandparents to violence. We can only hope.

And that’s ten minutes.

Guns (Again)

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There is not a lot of point in trying to argue with Americans – some Americans – about guns. These are people who are not open to listening to any argument about why guns should be restricted. That should give you a clear window into their mindset. Not open to ANY ARGUMENT.

Some cling to the second amendment (like they actually understood what it says) as a point of principle. That’s a scary thing. These are people who are not only willing to tolerate mass shootings but the day to day murder, accidental death and, mostly, suicides that widespread gun ownership seems to provide – on a principle. When you think of what atrocities that others have been willing to do on points of principle, I guess this is a fairly small thing. 20 to 30 thousand deaths a year is no big thing compared to genocides elsewhere. But it does add up.

Some people actually fervently believe the silly slogan of the NRA – that good guys with guns can stop bad guys with guns. Mostly no. Yes, you can cite a few examples (mostly off-duty cops or soldiers) but I can double down on your citations. Take the good guy with a gun who tried to stop a car-jacking in Texas. He wound up shooting the victim of the car-jacking in the head. He then scooped up his shell casings and ran away. A certain animal cunning, at least, if not otherwise an intelligent response.

Because most of these good guys with guns actually don’t have a clue how to act in a live fire situation. Neither of course do I but there are plenty who do and most of them say what you should do is run, hide or fight back – IN THAT ORDER. Whipping out your gun almost always makes it worse. So there you have it – good guys with guns are mostly clueless and almost always screw-ups. If they weren’t, I might be worried about pointing it out.

Then there are those who just deeply cynical – they know there are votes to be gained by fear and by appealing to base desires for righteous revenge. If people die, so what? It’s not likely to be them or their family – they can afford trained security. Some of these people are under the sway of the NRA – others are actually in their pay. I’m looking at you, congressman.

Speaking of screw-ups (and losers) do people who actually have time to walk around malls and sports arenas and school yards with open-carry assault rifles actually have real lives? Don’t they have jobs or something useful to do, homes to go to, children to love? No, I didn’t think so.

And tell me how do you tell an open carry enthusiast from a dangerous psychopath? In America it is apparently based on the color of his skin. Even though most mass shooters are white males.

And speaking of psychopaths – did you know that one out of every two hundred people are psychopaths. That means there are at least 750,000 heavily armed psychopaths with guns in America. What could possible go wrong? But I’m arguing with the wind.

And that’s ten minutes.

Religious Violence

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Is religion inherently violent? Certainly there are those who will say it is. Or rather they will say Islam is. You can find those claims if you like – usually made by people who have an outside’s view of that religion. There are others who will tell you that all religions are inherently violent. That faith itself is the basis of violent behavior.

I’m not one of those people. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no big fan of religion. It is a colossal waste of human time and energy. It is sometimes used to oppress people; it is often used to defraud them. The good that religious people do is neither different nor greater than the good done by the irreligious. And make no mistake; people have done great violence in the name of religion. All people, all religions, everywhere.

It’s hard to do violence in the name of atheism but a few people have even managed it. Not Hitler  – he was a self-proclaimed Catholic – but others.

See, that’s the thing. People do violence. And, sometimes they use religion as an excuse. Some may even use it as a motivation. Nobody gets off the hook for that.

Yet, if religion was a cause of violence, we’d be in a lot of trouble. There are literally billions of devoted people in the world. If religion drove them to violence, we’d all soon be dead. Yet, in fact, the world is getting less violent. Don’t take my word for it – there is good solid research to show it is true. The world is also getting more secular but the trend away from violence predates that change.

Why people like the barbarians of Daesh are driven to commit atrocities is unclear. Some of it is based on ideology rooted in what is clearly a misinterpretation of Islam just as Anders Breivik in Norway murdered scores of people because he misunderstood Christianity, just as Buddhists in Sri Lanka and Myanmar clearly misunderstand the teachings of Buddha. I could go on – as I said people have committed acts of violence and terrorism for a long time for a lot of reasons.

You might as well ask if politics is inherently violent. Think of all the acts of violence committed in the name of one ideology or the other – right or left, authoritarian or anarchist, they all do it.

People are violent and usually don’t need any reason at all to be that way – except to justify themselves. Violence is a tool to get what you want – money power, sex. We are all wired to respond to violence – a few by fighting, many by fleeing, some by freezing. Frozen people do not resist.

And of course there are causes for violence – which include poverty, powerlessness, fear of the other, fractured economies, criminal tendencies and human venality.

There are those who think that violence must be met with more violence. The evidence for that succeeding is pretty slim. When you look at why the world is becoming less violent, clearly it is not because of more violence. It is because we are also remarkably good at cooperating, at building societies, negotiating ways of living, of talking and working together for a better world.

Because most people don’t like to be hurt. Most people do not like hurting others. Most people believe in the golden rule: do unto others… And you don’t need religion to know that. But it’s surprising how many religions preach it.

And that’s a little more than ten minutes.

Domestic Violence

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Three women were shot near Ottawa on Tuesday – killed by a man who had recently been released from prison for assault and choking charges. Two of the women were ex-girlfriends while the relationship with the third is not yet clear. After his rampage he was heading to Ottawa, apparently to seek vengeance on lawyers or to attack the Court. The downtown was briefly locked down and we were warned to stay in our office. Fortunately he was captured without incident and is now facing three first degree murder charges.

He will undoubtedly spend the rest of his life in prison (he is already 57) though that is little consolation to the family and friends of the women he murdered.

Now there is a lot of soul searching going on as to what could have been done to prevent this tragedy. Did the courts or prison system fail? Did the community fail? Though as one women who campaigns against domestic violence put it: Once a man starts hunting woman who can stop a bullet?

Few things disgust me more than people who hit their partners – the people they claim to love. Statistics show that women are twice as likely to be victims as men. Moreover, it is men who escalate the violence and who are responsible for the vast majority of injuries and deaths in domestic situations. Regardless, anyone who resorts to violence in the family has a problem and should seek some sort of help. If they won’t then society should intervene.

The first step is to make sure than abused partners have someplace safe to go and the second is that abusers are given real options to change. Education of young people that violence against others, and especially against those you are in a relationship with, is wrong would help too. But equally important is to begin to treat domestic violence as serious – or more serious – than any other crime. The truth is the person most likely to kill you – whether in Canada or the United States – is not a stranger but a domestic partner.

Everyone makes a mistake in their lives and perhaps one conviction should be treated the same way it would be if it were an act of violence against an acquaintance or a stranger – but domestic abusers seldom stop at a single assault or a single conviction. One charge may be a mistake on their part – or even on the court’s part – but two or three or four? That is a clear pattern – especially when more than one partner is involved.

If someone is convicted of sexual assault, they are generally put on a sex offender’s registry. Their movements are tracked and often measures are taken to reduce the chance of them offending again. Maybe we need to do the same thing with those who are shown to be abusers. Two convictions or three and they go on a domestic abuse registry. Measures could be taken to warn potential partners of their history. They could be kept away from guns. They could be monitored to see if they take treatment.

Even as I say it, it seems draconian and excessive. And yet something needs to be done for those who refuse to reform themselves.

But that’s ten minutes.

Date Rape

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These days it is impossible to open a newspaper or turn on the radio or TV without hearing another report of sexual misconduct, abuse, harassment and rape. Rape culture has spread throughout our institutions and assault has become epidemic. Digging deeper what you almost always find is that there are those — mostly young privileged men — who lead, those who follow and those who turn away.

This is sadly not new though with the increase in narcissism and growing belief in entitlement among the rich and by athletes perhaps it is greater than it was in my youth. Though I’m not entirely sure.

When I was in my first year of university there was a young man, I’ll call him K, who was trying to fit in. He was the youngest student in our freshman class — he turned 16 during his first year. K wanted to be one of the guys. He spent hours at the gym trying (and succeeding) to bulk up. He tried out for sports teams but was never quite good enough. He hung at the edge of crowds laughing at the sexist and racist jokes. He was smart but he preferred the company of loud and aggressive men.

It wasn’t enough of course. He was too young, too ‘inexperienced’. K soon figured out a way to fix that. Rules were lax those days and pretty much anyone could drink if you stayed on campus. IDs were barely checked and you could always find someone to turn a blind eye. K would go to beer gardens and watch the women. He would in particular watch for those who had a few drinks. He would buy them another or two or three. And eventually he would get them back to his room.

Sex occurred though it is doubtful if any of the women were capable of giving consent. Even if they did, they didn’t consent to what happened next. It was not enough for K to have sex, he had to prove it. He would leave the women naked and uncovered on his bed and, when he went out of the room for a shower, he would leave his door open. The young woman was gawked at; they were saved from further harm because in those days we actually had maids in the men’s dorms. They would rouse the student and get her back to her own dorm. K would bask in the glory of another conquest.

Most guys didn’t approve (though some did) but no one did anything about it. Until K picked the wrong girl — the younger sister of the football star quarterback. After that night K’s life was a living hell — hazing, beatings, public humiliations (being tied naked to a chair and placed in the elevator of one of the women’s dorms was one incident). He was eventually driven out of residence.

Before you say: good — he deserved it, think of this: K wasn’t beaten because he abused a woman; he was beaten because he offended a privileged male — intruded on his life, his family. Vigilante justice — whether meted out by men or by women — is not the answer. It wasn’t then and it isn’t now. The abusers must be punished by the legal system (and we need to make real changes to ensure that happens) but what we need more than anything is for the followers to stop following and for the rest of us to stop looking away.

End rape culture now — it’s in your hands to do so.

And that’s ten minutes.