"...it's not the training to be mean but the training to be kind that is used to keep us leashed best." ~ Black Dog Red

"In case you haven't recognized the trend: it proceeds action, dissent, speech." ~ davidly, on how wars get done

"...What sort of meager, unerotic existence must a man live to find himself moved to such ecstatic heights by the mundane sniping of a congressional budget fight. The fate of human existence does not hang in the balance. The gods are not arrayed on either side. Poseiden, earth-shaker, has regrettably set his sights on the poor fishermen of northern Japan and not on Washington, D.C. where his ire might do some good--I can think of no better spot for a little wetland reclamation project, if you know what I mean. The fight is neither revolution nor apocalypse; it is hardly even a fight. A lot of apparatchiks are moving a lot of phony numbers with more zeros than a century of soccer scores around, weaving a brittle chrysalis around a gross worm that, some time hence, will emerge, untransformed, still a worm." ~ IOZ

May 6, 2011

Hood, or a wounded robin tells how he found his shadow...

There are more than several comments below which deserve responses, but I'm lazy and today was a sick day - so I'm genuinely sorry. I have a pattern, and it usually follows that too much time spent fiddling with words and the monitor screen will earn me a blinding headache.

Just want to take this moment's reprieve from an unscheduled migraine to expand on a thought briefly teased out in the post immediately preceding this one.

When I write in defense of vengeance, I mean it. But, that doesn't translate to punitive or bureaucratic violence. I'm not willing to write off violence, because it has worked for me. Worked over the long term. But, I'm also not particularly inclined to celebrate it.

The way I look at events, sometimes you just have to scare the motherfuckers who are making your life unbearable.


Causing fear is always risky, because different people respond differently to the provocation.

My oldest child does not respond to threats, to yelling or even to stern admonishment. It's counterproductive. He's gentle. Compassionate. If I were the tin eared man I used to be, I'd probably describe him as effete, although it's pretty clear to me now that this word says more about the user than it could ever describe the person to whom it's applied. He's very likely to take any sort of assertive correction to heart. He gets sad, and he stays sad. Being verbally or emotionally frustrated with him is a real good way to prolong the problem. He's not shamed by frustration, anger or criticism. He's hurt by it. If I raise my voice to him, he retreats into himself and waits until I become more human.

By comparison, my youngest child is very proud. He's as loving and kind as his older brother, but his reaction to a challenge, or to a sharp reproof, or to a stern admonishment is to stiffen his spine, plant his feet and fight back. He can be shamed, because shame motivates him. He's offended when people judge him without taking his view into account, and he will go the distance to get a critic to at least give him the hearing he thinks he deserves. If I raise my voice at him, he defies me. And while I can say with absolute surety that his older brother has never - not once - told me that he hates me, my youngest has zero compunction expressing his contempt for my failures as a father.

As different as they are - they are not boys who can be cowed. Fear doesn't work on them. My oldest will walk away until all anger passes. He will not engage. He will wait a motherfucker out, and then his first decision will be to forgive. My youngest will fight you to a standstill, and then tell you exactly why and how you should have shut up and listened. When he's wrong, he never has to be needled into admitting it. He offers it up, without strings.

They are honestly themselves, and it is a testament to my wife's patience and consistency that they've had to have me as a father and yet still managed to avoid inheriting most of my behavioral flaws.

People like my sons, and the men they will become, are not the sort of people who you scare. Because they don't live the lives, or make the choices, which put them in a position to lose or compromise themselves in order to gain advantage over others. My oldest is far too compassionate, my youngest far too self-reliant and proud. My oldest doesn't want the power. My youngest wouldn't demean himself with it.

They are, I believe, like almost everyone else on the planet. As different as they are from each other, as long as they continue to make the choices they're already making, they'll be like you, and you, and most everyone else you meet.

They'll be decent to others.

They're not like me. They're not barely reformed monsters. People like me can be scared, because people like me have made survival choices which put us in positions to tell others what to do and to do something about it when we don't get what we want. About the only good thing I can say about myself is that I don't rape and I never will.  But, given the chance and a reasonable opportunity to get away with it - and I would probably kill a rapist. I have a few in mind...

I have done extraordinary violence to others. I can and often do justify my past by reference to circumstances. I was severely abused as a child. I was often chained to a door. I was molested, raped, stabbed, imprisoned, hung from a clothes line, and put in the hospital and the position to lie about why on enough occasions to defy number. It was bad enough at its worst that I found my then five year old brother hanging from his bed post with a belt around his neck. My brothers and I would settle our differences with metal, wood and worse. I have tattoos which cover scars no child should ever have to bear.

I stood over my sleeping abusers with a baseball bat and a glass of ammonia, ready to throw the ammonia in their eyes in order to blind them and buy myself enough time to finish the job. I once put a classmate in the hospital. He slapped me. I broke his nose, his jaw and his collarbone.

That was the fourth grade. And it was not the first time. Or the last. If I'd not been enrolled in a private school where priests thought prayer and the blessed host could tame the growing monster, I'd have gone into the state's custody a lot earlier than I eventually did.

Violence ruined me, but it allowed me to save myself. When you become as scary as you can imagine yourself to be, when you learn the cold, controlled rage that never gets hot or out of control, when you can make your eyelashes menacing and your voice into a weapon - your potential abusers are more likely to stay that way. They stay away. They keep their distance.

It costs you love and friendship, but it also reduces the threats you know surround you. Always around you. Always ready to betray what peace you've managed to scribble between the margins of your soul.

I don't know if everyone who's in a position of power is a monster like me. I doubt it - but perhaps that's not really the point. Like me, like people akin to me - they live armored, protected lives. Power attracts monsters because power protects them from their own manifold weaknesses. Power is above all a shield against the future.

They have defenses without which they don't feel right, don't feel like their own selves. They have to be guarded, because power is never passive. Once you engage in the contest for it, you are all in or you are out.

You don't have to be smart. You don't have to be observant. You don't have to be social. You don't have to be subtle. You just have to be willing to see shit through. A good operator knows how to mimic the better traits of human sociality, but power itself requires the ability to dispense with all that. In fact, to have power and keep it, you only have know how to frighten those people from whom you can and must take. To have power, you just have to use it.

Which is why, I think, so many petty clowns, degraded wits and mafioso types end up with it.

And that's where vengeance re-enters this sad tale of my own petty inhumanity.

People with power need their power. They need the armor. They need the illusion of permanence and stability. They need to enforce it on the world because they are fundamentally deficient as persons. This is how power replicates itself - by wounding people. By taking their basic humanity and thwarting it. By depriving them of the sense of wonder and self-disregard that makes compassion possible. By making them self-conscious, calculating and obsessive. By aborting the capacity to empathize and replacing it with a compulsion to measure, judge and ultimately arbitrate who deserves a fuller life, and who does not. These people - and I have long been one of them - rise to the top because the form of power remains consistent over time. It is an attractor. It produces an injured, wounded animal and them offers him a reprieve in the guise of false autarky.

It is, for all its stability and consistency, an easily disrupted mechanism of control. For it to work, it requires obedience out of fear, and a refusal to feel compassion out of self-preservation.

And that's how vengeance and forgiveness each come to play their different but intertwined parts. Resistance to power is retributive. It redistributes human calories. Resistance makes the exercise of power calculate its own perpetuity. Power is expensive. It's intensive, but it works because its cheaper than sharing. We break it by making those armored, insecure, wounded people more dependent on it at the same time as we withdraw our participation in it, reducing the input of our labor while increasing the cost of continued operation. The only way to stand against the reaction is to live as if it doesn't matter. To share labor and life as if all possible revolutions have already come and gone and time itself no longer keeps a score.

To share alike and strike any blow which opportunity or ingenuity present. It's not easy to break a compassionate child. It's not easy to break a defiant one. Twelve years of rigorous standardization, and four or eight more to produce professionals who internalize it - that's a big investment. It takes a lot to break a child into an obedient or sullenly compliant adult. It takes the weight of civilization. It takes relentless policing. It takes permanent war, and it still doesn't take entirely.

It took the whole of violent, patriarchal Christendom, and pagan fertility still ended up wearing the masks of Mother Mary, the panoply of saints, mystical ecstacy and the dance of a dozen loas. It took repressive Legalism and Confucianism, and taoists would still turn Confucius against himself. Hundreds of billions for the drug war, and two hits of some special kind make it all seem ridiculous. Billions for abstinence and the children use free facebook to find themselves a fuck.

It's really not all that hard to spin a wounded despot, great or small, until he only has eyes and mind for his own fragmenting armor, and for the record of his loss of control. While many if not most people respond to threat by protecting those who need it, the powerful respond to fear by envisioning a world made of enemies.

It's risky. All of life, I think, is risk. But, if we can learn how to care for each other while we gather our strength and frighten those who rule and would rule until they learn to budget their own abolition, I think we might just have half a chance to make lives worth living. And a world worth inheriting.


davidly said...

Your children are enviable. They stand with a view to all directions, rather than in one room where they can see out the window, but not around the corner into the other room. Would that all children were afforded the same opportunity. Bless you and yours and all of ours, Jack.

Justin said...

Yes, but how do you frighten those who rule?

There are two ways, generally, and they are at cross purposes.

You can frighten them by fighting back, by making them fear you. This will not change power, and will usually result in nothing more than a changing of the guard. A disgraced police officer, caught 'abusing' his power and with people clamoring for his head, may be expelled from his job. Similarly, a disgraced politician brought down by an angry constituency.

What power really fears, though, is a lack of fear. Because fear is the only way they control you, the less fear you have, the more out of control you are. By 'you', I mean everyone. If you are the lone man without fear, power doesn't give a shit. Its the faceless you that they see as people not like them, the majority of the world. And the faceless you, when not afraid, terrifies them.

So the next time you find yourself feeling afraid of racists, tea partiers, anarchists, democrats, and so on, you are making it easier for power to rule. Its pretty fucking hard not to fear, the best some of us can do is work to make it a temporary state of mind.

Jack Crow said...


I think it's possible to discern a difference between organizing to capture a state, or a facet of its operation, and organizing to obstruct that operation.

Violence (or sabotage, or resistance) can be used towards both ends, but that doesn't mean it will resolve into similar results.

Jack Crow said...


Thank you.

Jim H. said...

Frightening piece. Enlightening, too. Seriously, there's a book in there. Or several. I'd buy it, and I'd read it: you write yourself vulnerable and emerge with human insight. Taming the beast, taming the best—possible title?

Power isolates: its holder to attain it and its victim to wield it.

I reflect on my own two boys and girl, their different styles, their humanity. And hope I haven't ruined them.

Justin said...

Jack, I wrote this largely on your account, or how your writing this affected me. FWIW

To the thread:

I am not counselling non-violence as an absolute value, or saying that every violent act is an act of fear. What I am saying is that if you are afraid when fighting back, then you are more likely to be self-defeating. Something you said really stuck with me, I've had some experience with violence, both in the sports of wrestling and boxing, and in less controlled environments, and one thing is that I was never out of control with fear or anger. Its not easy to talk about this without making it seem like you are trying to front as an internet tough guy.

So let me add this, I haven't been in a physically violent situations in about 8 years. I am not a tough guy, I am less likely by the day to be provoked into violence. Anyone who has spent a minimal amount of time training in a martial art within the past 8 years would kick my ass, and even many who have not.

But when I have been in those situations, I never felt very much fear, and there is a calmness that goes with that that allows you to function very well.

So, by all means, smash the power structure. If circumstances eventually means that means violence, then violence it is. But first you have to make yourself unafraid of it, even if it is a threat.

To bring it back around the bend, think of all the people who consider themselves well informed, logical, moral, and still support one or the other political party owing to lesser evil logic. That is a logic of fear, fear that the other side is somehow, some way, worse and that one is to afraid of that outcome to oppose their own.

Jack Crow said...


I had one publisher willing to work with me about ten years ago. He wanted personal stuff. I wanted him to find a good editor for my novel.

We parted ways.

I know this is going to read as trite and cliche, but five or six paragraphs on a blog read by 20 people a day doesn't feel like a betrayal.

Selling my memories of the people I knew along the way does. Who I am isn't really integral to the outcomes of my life. My path has been passive. I was salvaged and saved by people who were never so lucky. I was lawyered out of a long stretch. I beat my heavy charges. Two of my cohorts will end up doing close to 40 between them. Another is doing life. I never went for a walk and failed to return. I didn't have to choose between a shot gun to a stranger's head behind an abandoned Seventies era five and dime, or one to my own. I didn't do a bad batch of PcP and end up committed for the rest of my life. I smoked it, cut it into my blood and ate it and walked away unscathed. I didn't get dosed by a monster and die of heart failure at 24, after four and a half years as a vegetative almost-corpse. I got to have healthy children. A beautiful wife.

I didn't contract HIV, never mind die of AIDS.

I just feel that if I sold the memories which made me me I'd have to follow it up immediately with suicide, because that's about the only course of action that could possibly balance the betrayal of the dead and the deserted who haunt my good luck.

Even just writing these words, I feel like a douche.

But, I am grateful to you for the kind.

Jim H. said...


And, yeah, the fiction matters.

senecal said...

I agree with all the above -- this is amazingly strong stuff. You should not publish it as novel -- it would be called sensationalistic. It is poetry however. And poetry never makes anything happen, to paraphrase someone I've forgotten. But poetry does occasionally capture the ineffable, what raises human life above the muck. Poetry usually comes from wounded souls. Thank you for sharing your self.

You probably don't see the scrambled words we have to enter to submit a comment. Today's is, appropriately, "fluck"

Jack Crow said...


I hope this doesn't seem too gauche, but my blogger side bar refuses to save whenever I try to add WotW.

I hope you haven't taken offense by what looks like an oversight or a snub. Blergher continues to reject the link. It also refuses to update Fafblog, Flagrancy, Howler and Samizdat. I don't know if it's algorithm fail, or my own.


I've read it. Now I have to take some time to think, if you don't mind overmuch.

Anonymous said...

great post jack. you said a hella lot. feel better soon.

zencomix said...

The beast that howls in everyone's heart isn't really kept at bay by anything more than the thinnest of veneers. Thanks for sharing, Jack, and I hope the act of sharing helped to ease some of the pain.

Jack Crow said...

De nada.

K. Ron Silkwood said...

Thanks for this post.

I love the new look of the site.

Jack Crow said...

Thank you, K.

Jim H. said...

Seriously, I haven't even thought about it. Now, BDR, that's a different story (right, Dog?). I'm just as delinquent—both in blogging and in adding the link to here. It will happen after decks here get cleared. I hope to teach myself how to get the blogs to update too!