Tuesday, December 10, 2019


For purposes of thinking, I'm taking the position that violence is defined by emotion and that, as well, emotion is the definer of morality.  That is, if the community in power thinks something is repugnant or immoral, the two are conflated and entangled with personal emotions about it.  So it goes to identity, how children are shaped as they grow.  And it goes to George Lakoff's formulation that there are two types of government: that of the protective and benevolent papa and that of the stern and disciplining patriarch.  This is reflected in governments.  And cops.

In the early days, the Sixties, any indigenous woman who came to Bob Scriver, for help or to sell something, was modest and soft-spoken, always respectful and praising.  Generally, he gave them what they wanted.  By the Nineties, I saw a young woman come to ask for a job.  She was demanding, gave references, knew what she was talking about.  It made Bob crazy.  Even if he had needed her (which he probably did) he would not have hired her and when she would not leave until she had an answer, he just went in the back room and shut the door in her face so she couldn't follow.  He felt attacked.

What happened in those intervening decades?  Headstart.  Fathers who were never there or who left or who were abusive.  Mothers who held jobs because the kids were hungry.  As well, the culture began to change because of government investment, local organization and examples, television reaching everyone, and the magnificent climax of Eloise Cobell's lawsuit for the Indian Trust Money that had been retained by the government and spent in the interest of major capitalists, just as is happening now with money allocated to foreign nations.

There was by now enough culture shift to support a moral demand for dignity and equity.  Why wasn't there violence?  There is.  Especially in northern Canada the use of violence is common.  Up there the whole environment is threatened by pipelines and whole populations have been decades without proper water.  That's enough to tip the scales from demonstrations and protests over to violence.  The big corporations, already in trouble because of the shrinking demand for oil, and the government, itching for tax income, feel that the right is on their side and are ready to escalate to deadly force.

It's not just that the victim is "Other", though that's part of it, it's that the violent person feels that he/she is personally justified in lashing out (maybe by immediate danger) or that he/she is culturally approved and defended.  An officer who shoots Blacks (even as he works with Black officers) is also crippled by his personal experience and lack of realization that the larger culture is against him.  He/she'll find out in court.  No one is likely to address his lethally distorted mind and he/she likely would resist anyone who tried.  It would feel as though they were trying to make him or her stop being his or her self.

In the Forties Bob struck his much younger wife across the face.  (She had been his student and he married her because he got her pregnant.)  This is recorded in the divorce testimony.  He felt entitled to strike, she felt entitled to divorce.  In the Fifties he was about to strike his second wife but she bounced an alarm clock off his head and knocked him out cold.  In the Sixties I was the third wife.  He raised his hand once -- then thought and pulled back.  I don't know what happened with the fourth wife.  I suspect she had lived a life that caused her to be struck many times.  Time passing is like traveling to new countries.

You can understand that I take a personal interest in this stuff.  But for me, it's not immediate. The divorce was in 1970, Bob's death was in 1999.  I'm the only living former wife.  But the consequences for others in uneven relationships have been grave.  Violence is not just in the moment and keys with neglect.

This article compares sports violence but the ideas of Other and stigma are muted.  Nevertheless, we distance and victimize our kids, esp boys, with games that give them concussions while we watch.  That's violence.  When I briefly taught in one of the sports-obsessed small towns, the boys knew it.  They knew what it meant when grown men urged them to fight without limits in back alleys (to avoid cops, though the cops probably knew about it).  A student I taught in the '70's explained in the '90's that he had blackouts lasting a half hour from playing football.  You've heard Trump endorse and call for violence.  Our culture is full of it.  The media does not expose it -- it celebrates violence.  But covertly.

By the time I went back to Portland about 1990 for a visit -- against the advice of my Heart Butte rez students who considered Portland dangerous --  my mother's house was surrounded by violence.  NE and N Portland had become notorious as Black people moved in so that the average income crashed and the drugs and gangs followed.  When I was growing up, the house across the street belonged to Ma and Pa Schaeffer, quiet old people.  The closest to violence was when Pa Schaffer tried to burn the tent caterpillar nests out of his walnut tree and instead set it on fire.  Now I was instructed that if there were  shooting nearby, I should turn the lights out and sit on the floor.  There was.  I did.

But the worst had happened months earlier.  The Schaeffer house had been sold and resold and was now inhabited by hooligans who got in a terrible fight one day.  One man was beating up another with a 2X4 and chased him onto my mother's front steps.  My brother, who had been an MP in the Marines, went out to intervene and took away the 2X4 just before the cops arrived.  All the black and whites in the nabe were two man cars.  They drew their guns.  They assumed my brother was the aggressor.  My mother was at the screen door.  My brother did a drop-and-roll, yelling,  "Call Terry Shrunk."  He was a city official the cops would recognize.  Also, a high school classmate of my brother. 

When the matter settled, both of the violent ones insisted my brother really was the aggressor, but the cops believed my mother and took the two fighters in for questioning.  That household soon moved on.  Violence is everywhere.  It breaks out everywhere emotions are strong because of unmet need.  

We considered ourselves a virtuous, middle-class, educated family and we were.  Now my mother has passed on and we've scattered.  The tide turned and the neighborhood gentrified.  Today Alberta is a street of artists and bodegas.  Our house is renovated, even upgraded.  Portland is considered progressive, cool, weird in a good way.  And yet the Portland violence crops out on the light rail line or someplace else unexpected. An example just days ago.

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