So I’m stopped at a stop light, along with several other vehicles, and in the rear-view mirror I see a guy walking forward down the line of cars behind me. (Well, actually they were mostly pickup trucks, a fact that may be significant.) He exchanged a few words with the guy in the cab of the pickup right behind me. That guy hopped out of his truck, heated words were exchanged, and fists flew. After a couple of blows they toppled over into the bushes on the median strip, still swinging.

All this in the rear-view mirror. In broad daylight, in suburbia. Not the time or place where you expect to see fighting. I have no idea what they were fighting about. Could have been pure road rage between strangers, though it couldn’t have been a fender-bender, as the vehicles were all stationary prior to the incident. Maybe the first guy thought the second guy had stolen his girlfriend and wanted to make a point. Or maybe it was a long-simmering disagreement about drug money. Who knows?

The light turned green, and I drove away. My first impulse was to get out of there, in case either of them had a gun. But other people were getting out of their cars, maybe to get a better view of what was going on in the bushes (understandable — I was curious myself) or maybe to try to separate the combatants.

The latter would have been pointless. The guys were both assholes, by definition. Only assholes get in fistfights in the middle of the street in broad daylight. Well, no, let me generalize a bit more. Only assholes get in fistfights, period. If those two were to beat one another to death, the world would be a nicer place.

I’m reading a book of essays by George Orwell. He was a wonderful, insightful essayist. I usually read while I eat meals. When I got home I made lunch and started reading Orwell on his experiences in the Spanish Civil War. And this morning I was listening to a few hip-hop songs on Pandora — the usual nigga boasting, badmouthing bitches, and mouthing off about who they’re going to kill. Pop music has always been juvenile, of course, but hip-hop plumbs new depths of rank immaturity.

Not to belittle the causes of the Spanish Civil War — there were real issues there, and Orwell was on the right side, fighting against the Fascists. But what strikes me is that I’m seeing three facets of the same thing.

Young men fight and kill one another. That’s one of the things young men do. They’ve been doing it for tens of thousands of years, if not far longer, and they will never cease to do so. The cause may be righteous or it may be stupid and trivial. The cause hardly matters. It’s all very sad.

I could write about the social forces that may have caused those two boys to feel a need to fight — a terrible economy, hopeless dead-end lives, the incessant glorification of violence in the media, quite likely alcohol and drugs — but we all know that stuff far too well already. And the underlying causes don’t matter much more than the ostensible causes. Young men fight. If no reason presents itself, they’ll fight without a reason. Testosterone triumphs over thought.

Bob Dylan, in “Maggie’s Farm”: “And you ask why I don’t live here? Honey, how come you don’t move?”

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6 thoughts on “Boys Behaving Badly

    1. The Orwell essays are wonderful. I picked up the paperback at a used book sale years ago. He’s very articulate and very insightful, and he had some important experiences. His recollections of Marrakesh and his analysis of Kipling are fascinating.

  1. As someone who has been bullied a lot in school, and had to learn to fight back simply to avoid being turned into a bloody pulp, I’m not as quick to judge. Maybe one of them was in self-defense. Assuming that’s true (I can’t possibly know), what was he supposed to do, run away? Cover his head in terror? Just so you don’t mix him up with the aggressor?

    And speaking of that, sorry if I sound aggressive myself. But you’re treating a rather complex issue in a simplistic way.

    1. Is it simplistic to say that grown men fistfighting are assholes? I deny it.

      To respond to your point directly, though — no, neither of them was acting in self-defense. The first guy got out of his car and came forward down the line of vehicles. He was mouthing off at the other guy. The other guy then got out of his truck, though he didn’t have to, and engaged with the first guy.

      Running away is a dandy idea, actually, yes. If someone is coming at me, I will do whatever I need to do to avoid getting into a physical fight. Running away and attempting to defuse the situation, by apologizing if necessary, would be at the top of my list. And I would apologize even if I felt I hadn’t done anything to apologize for. I like my teeth, I like my eyes, I like my ribs — fighting is for assholes.

      If you’re in a school situation, you have options. Go to the principal and ask for protection. Demand it, in fact. If the principal blows you off, leave school and sue the school district. If you can’t avoid the bullies on the street after school, move to a different community. If your parents refuse to protect you by moving, go to the nearest church and ask for help.

      You do have other options besides fighting!

      1. “Running away is a dandy idea, actually, yes.”

        Good luck doing that when the bully is blocking the only way out.

        “attempting to defuse the situation, by apologizing if necessary,”

        They don’t want your apology. They want to see you bleeding and whimpering.

        “Go to the principal and ask for protection.”

        They’d dismiss it as nothing serious. Maybe it’s different where you live.

        “If the principal blows you off, leave school and sue the school district. If you can’t avoid the bullies on the street after school, move to a different community. If your parents refuse to protect you by moving, go to the nearest church and ask for help.”

        You’re expecting a lot of people to spend an inordinate amount of time and effort, which they may not have. And for what? There are bullies everywhere, always. Also, you’re expecting a school kid to have a lot of maturity.

        Look, if you want to avoid any kind of physical violence, that’s your right. Good luck doing it. Just don’t judge other people, is all I’m saying.

      2. Sorry to disappoint you, Felix, but I will continue to judge other people. I will continue to call savages savages. I will continue to call idiots idiots. The fact that we live in a world that is heavily dominated by savages and idiots does, it’s true, limit our options, sometimes in painful ways. But that doesn’t mean that we should refuse to tell the truth.

        If a kid goes to the principal of the school and says he’s being bullied, and the principal fails to take it seriously, the next step is, the kid goes to Mom or Dad, and the parent talks to the principal. The parent gets the bully thrown out of school, and if necessary gets the bully’s parents arrested.

        If a kid’s parents don’t take the bullying seriously, then they’re guilty of first degree child abuse. If the dad thinks he should teach the kid to be tough by refusing to help, the dad is just another fucking asshole. If the dad thinks the way to handle it is to teach the kid how to fight, the dad is just another fucking asshole. No exceptions.

        I’m not a pacifist. There are circumstances in which I would resort to violence. But I wouldn’t get into a fistfight in the street in broad daylight. If I were being bullied, and if none of the authority figures I turned to would help, I would very quietly figure out a way to kill the bully. Much safer and less messy.

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