God. Oh God. Oh God, God, God. It is getting worse. Maybe I’ll take cyanide.
I find this inspiriting headline polluting my inbox like rotting road-kill. It’s from Broward County, Florida:
“Child Still Expelled for Toy Gun — a Year Later Parents want their child back in school. School board says no way.”
See? Florida collectively is out of its tiny little mind. What if this crepuscular pathology spreads to other countries? Or planets?
“School board officials said the rules are quite clear and that the toy gun constituted a weapon.”
Me, I figure the school-board officials constitute a pack of priggish low-Board simians who ought to be swinging in trees instead of trying to run a school. But then, I’m a curmudgeon.
Think about it. Kid — he’s eight — shows up with toy gun after watching 12,000 hours of shoot’em-ups on the lobotomy box, Luke Skywalker blasting funny-looking milkmen like a pretty little mollycoddle turned psychopath. Kid sees war coverage with heroic GIs in Afghanistan killing anybody they can see. He watches recruiting ads for the Marines, who carry guns and want A Few Good Persons. Why would he possibly be interested in a toy gun?
And why would nominal adults, even the barely educated variety characteristically found on school boards, want to wreck the kid’s life? Actually of course it is passive aggression, an attack on the tyke, said attack masquerading, or perhaps marauding is the better word, as high moral endeavor. See, they’re protecting Western Civilization.
The US these days rolls in passive aggression. The country grows daily more mean-spirited, more wrapped in a miasma of diffuse anger, but you still can’t just go up to a child and hit him with a ball bat, or throw acid in his face. No. Instead you find a smugly righteous way to set him back two years in school, thus making him into a guaranteed social misfit. How very…I don’t think “intelligent” is an adequate word. Perhaps “sublime” is better. Or “supernal.”
As tensions grow in America, as divisions flourish, and the nation leads up to something unseen but ugly, prissy vindictiveness and moral sadism become normal. We have become a gotcha culture, watchful for transgressions meaningless but forbidden, so that we can make the malfeasor squirm. How we enjoy the squirming, the writhing on camera, the heavy punishments inflected for nothing.
The other day I was watching television, which I do in the spirit of Margaret Meade investigating her primitives. It’s an electronic Petri dish. Anyway, a story aired of excruciating importance. At any rate it was excruciating. A politician had been discovered to have forwarded an email containing a picture of a woman copulating with a horse. Delight erupted, disguised as horror: A chance to make him squirm! His election could depend on revelation of this vile perversion, this sickening transgression against, and so on. All waited expectantly for him to whine and beg and lick feet. This reaction by the public strikes me as kinkier than the horse and its tart.
Let us dive, or perhaps wade for reason of long drought, into Truth. We are all adults here. Let’s have a show of hands: How many readers have never looked at porn online?… Ah, I see that I am writing a blog for amputees. How many have never looked at anything more robustly exotic than Presbyterians in the missionary position? (Raise your stumps.) How many are genuinely shocked, appalled, disgusted etc. by the thought of the dread equestrian email, of whose contents most fourteen-year-olds have probably heard? Tijuana used to be internationally cfamous for such erotic vaudeville. If it is erotic.
The likelihood that the pol is amorously interested in horses is of course zero. Sheep, maybe. Horses, no.
Back to the eight-year-old. "He made a mistake, but why the severe punishment? I don’t understand that," said Magdiel Burgos, Sam’s dad.
What? The child did not make a mistake. He’s freaking eight. He brought a toy to school. Since eight is too young (at this writing) to be made to snivel on camera in delicious autohumiliating, his parents per force do it for him.
The correct solution to the problem, if there were a problem, would be to tell the kid, “Hey, you aren’t supposed to bring stuff like this. Don’t, OK?” When he is a little older, he might be told that the entire scholarly (which it barely is) establishment constitutes a dry run by Darwin, which he judged a failure and meant to discard, but forgot.
There is something wrong, something fetid and cruel, about anyone who will so treat little boy. It gets stranger:
“The school board said they would admit Samuel into a correctional school for problem children who have been expelled located in Hallandale Beach.”
Oh joy! Reform school! What better way to turn him into a happy and stable boy? (Which he is anyway.) Why not Leavenworth? We could try him as an adult. I recommend solitary, to protect the other inmates. And don’t let him bring his teddy bear. He has to learn that actions have consequences.
I thrash about in search of understanding. It cometh not. Perhaps the explanation lies in physics: The stupidity of a closed system tends to remain the same or to increase. Usually, increase.
This sort of neurotic theater has gone on for years. I remember the boy expelled for pointing (so help me) a chicken finger and saying “Bang!” another for bringing plastic soldiers to school, another for drawing a picture of a soldier with a gun, another for swatting a girl on the butt on the playground. This last resulted in the calling of cops, a handcuffed kid, and compulsory psychiatric treatment instead of an admonitory, “Don’t do that again, Bobby. Do you understand me?” How does a society come to this?
I can make guesses that sound vaguely plausible. The United States is not a happy country. People waste their lives in meaningless jobs, trapped by the credit card, the mortgage, the student loan. They know they are wasting their lives. Racial anger runs high. Women resent men. Divorce screws up kids. There is the two-hour commute to the cubicle and back to the sterile box in the anonymous subdivision, the lack of influence over their lives, life from paycheck to paycheck. And anger at affirmative action, either because they suffer from it or because they need it. Life is just flat stressful.
People get spiteful, mean, like mistreated dogs. They want to make others as miserable as they secretly are themselves. So they torment a little boy. I’m going to change my phylum.
Fred Reed is author of Nekkid in Austin: Drop Your Inner Child Down a Well and A Brass Pole in Bangkok: A Thing I Aspire to Be. His latest book is Curmudgeing Through Paradise: Reports from a Fractal Dung Beetle. Visit his blog.