(For context, see previous posts One, Two, Three to the Gut, and One, Two, Three to the Gut - Track 2, in order.)
Ryan, I am trying to think of any act of violence outside of sport that has bettered the world, or raised us up in some way. War is the first thing to come to mind, as in something like a “good war,” where a bad man is defeated through violence because violence is the only way to defeat him. But even a “good war” is a war, and no side gets out clean. Some bad man throws the first punch and draws us down, even if necessarily, to his level. Dehumanization is what you’d call it I guess. And we don’t celebrate the death, violence, and animal behavior that comes with war when it’s over: We celebrate the survival of our value system, the victory or our way of civilization over the others’.
You ask if I would really go back and hit these people. For Marcus, at the football field, and for the gay-bashers in the movie parking lot, I suppose the answer is actually No, I wouldn’t. I thought about your saying that there is some desire in you “to see bad people hurt,” but you recognize that “it is, at heart, a deeply uncivilized notion.” I have, when it comes down to it, very little desire to see bad people hurt. Even the baddest people, say, your Saddam Husseins and Muammar Gaddafis–some part of me did want them to suffer the violence and death they inflicted on others, then another part of me saw them getting hung or beaten to death and didn’t feel okay about it. I have even less desire to to see bad people hurt by me, especially when violence hasn’t been introduced into the situation. Neither Marcus nor the assholes in the parking lot threatened or introduced violence, so maybe my introduction of it would have symbolized a few steps backward, away from civility. And now that you’ve really got me thinking about it, Marcus seems like some sort of hero for civilization, some sort of teacher. After all, he did in fact think I’d called him nigger, so if any violence was called for it would have been his to mete out. But he said only, “I know you want to hit me.” He didn’t challenge me or provoke me, just told me how I felt, and correctly. With the group gathered around he could have been a science teacher, using me as an example of how a Homo sapien will bare its teeth not only when its corporal safety is challenged, but when its sense of justice is challenged. Had I hit Marcus (who had a big fat gut just like so many statues of a certain other teacher…) it would have been sad, unreasonable and less than civilized.
I can’t tell you if I’d hit Ben or not. I go back and forth. He did hit me after all, and I’d like to think I can (and would) defend myself without relying on authorities or alternative justice if I need to. (Of course, retreat was actually the best defense in terms of my physical safety, as it resulted in no more physical injury.) Had I hit him, I guess it would have done little good, save for allowing me to preserve some playground dignity. I’m sure that I’d have been disappointed in whatever punishment the teacher gave anyway, because, well, I’d say he hit me first (just like Hitler!) and she wouldn’t care. With or without Ben the revelation of subjective justice through my teacher would have inevitably come from someone else, and probably soon. I don’t know about Ben.
And so I guess one could ask (one being the number of people who read things on this blog): Why in the hell would I write that I’d go back and punch them if I wouldn’t? Because when I wrote it it felt true. And even when I posted it it felt true. Your point that “art may just be the best place to put that shit” is taken. Because I edited that post like crazy, and I rewrote it a number of times over a couple of weeks. (I didn’t, say, just punch it out.) All that work wasn’t done because I was looking to get the facts straight. It was done because I wanted it to read cleanly, and because I wanted it to express the thing I was feeling, which was a rage at all the things I’d never expressed, and a frustration with myself for not expressing more today. (The reason I started a blog was to get myself to write more, and express more.) When it did feel right, I posted it. In other words, it had become a piece of art for me, and the process had been almost identical to my songwriting process, and so I labeled the paragraphs like they were parts of a song.
It’s pretty ridiculous. When I was writing that I admired people who’d been in bar fights, I was thinking of people like Norman Mailer, who was known for that kinda thing. That’s what I was thinking, that he was known for that kind of thing. But he wasn’t known at all for that kind of thing. He was known because he was a writer, and the fact that he may have fought in bars makes him, I dunno, more interesting. But people who only get in bar fights aren’t interesting. Hell, I guess I wouldn’t think of you as being interesting (actually, I guess I wouldn’t even know you) if you were just a dude who’d smashed some guitars. But the fact that you’ve smashed guitars is interesting now that you’ve have used guitars to write the kind of songs you write. I guess the whole thing comes down to my admiring expression and the people who express. But you’re right. Though punching is a kind of expression, it’s dumber than art. Violence only leads to more violence, or a temporary end to violence. Violence leads to maintenance of a status quo or a degradation of it. It makes me think of other dudes we’ve talked about outside (the appropriately named) Path Cafe, like James Baldwin and Paulo Freire. Now those were two dudes who had every reason to resort to violence. But they both wrote instead of punching, and they wrote warnings to other groups of people, who also had every reason to use violence against their oppressors, and they said, in essence, don’t throw the punch, for if you do, you adopt the practices of your oppressors and eventually, perhaps, become the oppressors yourselves. Had they thrown punches, I s’pose I’d have never taken their point, or been fired up by the way they think, or talked about them outside Path.
I think I may have not really addressed all the good stuff you mentioned in your response, and instead focused on (or got distracted by) your question of whether or not I’d really go back and hit those guys. All the same, I think you’re right. I wouldn’t punch them, and I shouldn’t. I appreciate your making me think about it.