And Vindictiveness For All

Evening The Score In The Evening Of Society

The creeping lunacy creeps on, creepishly. It gives life a constancy comforting in an uncertain world. For this we should be grateful.

In the GreeleyTribune* of northern Colorado I see that Mitch Muller, a boy of thirteen, has been expelled from school for a year. Yep. Gone.

You might surmise that he committed some grave crime, that he assaulted a teacher perhaps or was discovered to be selling bulk-lot cocaine. No. He played with a small laser pointer-the sort that projects a red dot onto maps during lectures. It was, said the depressing drones who run the school, a "gun facsimile."

This is fascinating, like a rare and aggressive tumor. Let us think about it.

To begin, there is no substance to the charge. A laser pointer does not look like a gun, no more so than a ball-point pen or a lipstick tube. It isn't a weapon, doesn't look like a weapon, and is not intimidating, being less dangerous than, say, a fist.

Further, note that we are not confronted by a somewhat overzealous application of a reasonable rule. If young Muller had disrupted class and gotten tossed for a week, that would have excessive but not absurd. (Excessive because unnecessary: When you have a male principal who has not been administratively neutered, he says, "Bobby, stop that. Now." That's all he says.)

The child was suspended for a year, not for misbehavior but for possession of a legal and harmless object that was determined ex post facto to be gunlike. You see. Crimes carry harsh penalties, but you cannot tell what things are crimes until after you have committed them. That is, the authorities can find you guilty at will, whenever they wish to punish you.

This isn't discipline. It's sadism-sexless, boring, mean-spirited bureaucratic sadism. The school's officials are seeking to hurt the child because they enjoy doing it.

This Stalinism of the inadequate isn't a fluke. Across the country, time and again, little boys (always boys) are suspended for pointing chicken fingers and saying "bang," for drawing soldiers or the Trade Centers in flames. The schools are in the hands of sodden prisses, intellectual offal, who don't like male children. Mediocrity loves revenge, revenge on others for one's own mediocrity.

"Passive aggression," if memory serves, means an attempt to hurt others while pretending that one's aim is pious. Passive aggression, and its cousin misdirected aggression, dominate American culture. Again and again, bullying is packaged as high principle.

Consider the persecution of smokers-which is what it is. Yes, reasonable restrictions on smoking are, well, reasonable. To have a smoking section in a restaurant is an exercise in consideration, given that having a stream of smoke in one's eyes is unpleasant.

By contrast, putting signs in a subway saying that "second-hand smoke" shortens the lives of children, which it doesn't, with a picture of a piteous, helpless, wide-eyed child, is sheer hostility. So are laws banning smoking within fifteen feet of governmental buildings. The intention is not to provide for the common comfort, but to make smokers as miserable as possible.

The giveaway of a mean-spirited law is that it doesn't do what it pretends to do, yet makes people unhappy. Consider the agitations of the rabble opposed to guns. These vessels of rightness transparently are not concerned to prevent crime with firearms. You hear nothing from them favoring mandatory heavy sentences for using a gun in a crime. Nor do they criticize the drug dealer in the ghetto who kills his enemies. Their efforts are aimed at law-abiding men who own guns.

It is personal hostility disguised as concern with crime.

Similar spuriousness underlies the degrading searches at airports. The government's policy isn't rational. If we armed pilots, watched Moslems, and conducted searches, I might believe that security was the motive. But we don't. Taking nail clippers is ridiculous, like suspending a kid for having a laser pointer. The searches seem designed to humiliate. I have been searched by, among others, Israelis and Japanese. Neither had people undressing in public, and neither was staffed by hostile minorities getting even.

There is in all of this, in so very much of American life today, a vindictive meanness enwrapped in moral pose-in hate-crime laws, in careers deliberately destroyed over imaginary sexual harassment, people destroyed over any trace of racial incorrectness, fathers prevented from seeing their children by vengeful exes and worse courts. Why?

I'll guess that the cause is a confluence of two social currents. First, the United States is an angry, divided, unhappy country, twisted by unresolved conflicts that it refuses to face. Racial tension is ugly, powerful, and a forbidden topic. Women are grindingly angry at men. Men, angry at the divorce laws, avoid marriage. Universal divorce causes deep strains that we don't talk about. Children raised as half-abandoned mall rats turn into angry young adults.

The recently acquired American habit of distributing emoluments by race and sex rather than merit rubs people raw. The decay of the schools into centers of indoctrination angers many. The inability to escape the filth that flows from Hollyork grates. Perhaps more so does the inability in a mass, centrally run, not particularly free society to influence one's surroundings, raise one's children in one's values, or escape ever-deepening regulation.

Repressed anger seeks outlets.

The United States is further, I think, a frightened country, or at least an insecure one. People are afraid of terrorists and crime but more importantly vaguely afraid of a life that isn't satisfactory, yet seems uncontrollable by them. There is a widespread sense that the country is sliding fast toward something undesirable yet hidden in the murk Insecurity breeds both meanness and a desire for control.

The feminization of society plays its part. On average, men prefer freedom to security; women, security to freedom. Women, having climbed into a male world in which they don't seem comfortable, seek laws, laws, laws to control every cause of angst. Men, hemmed in, feel trapped. Much of the tightening control seeks security-helmet laws for kids on bicycles, fear of smoke, seat-belt laws, ever-falling definitions of drunk driving, warning labels stating the universally known, the neurotic fear of laser pointers, the hostility of a female-run school system to competition and rough games beloved of boys.

The astonishing thing in the latter is that women, thought to be nurturing of children, will destroy, will permit the destruction, of boy children by an angry sisterhood in the schools. The instinct of motherhood is perhaps overstated.

The answer? I suggest Cebu, Mexico, or Thailand.

*Greeley Tribune, Jan 8