After the Newtown Massacre, It's Easy to Fear the Weirdos, but Be Careful Who You Call Weirdo
Los Angeles Times political columnist and cartoonist David Horsey, a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, authored a column and cartoon yesterday arguing that, "... there are way too many oddballs among us with violence on their minds and guns within reach."
I get the second part, about the guns. I'm worried about the first part. It seems to me we can never have enough oddballs.
Horsey's column was a compendium of incidents right after the Newtown slaughter in which various crazy bastards all over America made ghastly threats of violence, some against elementary schools, apparently mimicking the behavior of the Connecticut shooter. Copy-cat behavior triggered by massive media coverage is a serious concern.
But the cartoon stuck in my craw: Against a blank backdrop, a dozen or so emo-looking young white males with hair in their eyes and hands in their hoodie pockets stand around in sullen stoops avoiding eye contact -- just in case anybody wondered what a dangerous oddball looks like.
Funny. I was counting on sullen stooped emo-looking kids to save the world. When I think of the really outgoing, cooperative, entirely socially minded kids of human history -- not to put too fine a point to it, the more tractable and conformist kids -- I always come to the point where they put those qualities to work as adults in society. An example that leaps to mind would be the Ku Klux Klan.
wikipedia.org The kids are all right.
Who do we think they were? They were solid citizens deeply committed to the cooperative well-being of their communities. Convinced that those communities were under mortal threat from aberrant beings, they were willing, eager in fact, to wipe aberrance from the face of the earth by whatever awful means necessary.
Interdisciplinary scholar Nassir Ghaemi drew positive reviews for his 2011 book A First-Rate Madness, in which he argued that history would never have moved off the dime in any direction, good or bad -- we'd still be painting ourselves blue and living in trees -- if it hadn't been for the oddballs among us.
He doesn't say oddballs are universally good by any means. One of the main ones he profiles is Hitler. But he also cites Churchill and JFK. Abnormal people make things happen. Normal people carry out the instructions of the abnormal people.
Ghaemi describes a study of the behaviors and traits of a group of subjects whose personalities met all the criteria for "normal" in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Basically the study came up with a group of proto-Nazis.
It seems to me Horsey's cartoon expresses the entirely understandable welter of mixed-up emotion most of us are feeling right now -- anger, frustration, fear, an urgent desire to make this problem go away. But when I see cartoons that portray types of people, rather than people, I can't help thinking of war propaganda.
Here is the Hun, the Jew, the Jap. The Emo. Here is the one to hate. The one to go get.
Who are the weird stoop-shouldered hands-in-pockets hair-in-eyes emos among us? Are they not trouble? Yeah, maybe. Or maybe they are the inventors and thinkers who will find our way out of this mess.
I could take Horsey's cartoon, paint a bunch of wrinkles on those faces, give them all scraggly white pony-tails and beer guts, and it would look like the annual convention of the Internet Engineering Task Force.
I'm not saying much here. I certainly am not tearing into Horsey or disagreeing with him 100 percent. I'm just saying we should go slowly and very cautiously into this whole business of profiling the enemy. Before we horse up the fraternity boy cavalry to ride in and clean out the emo camps, we might want to think about what we'll be giving up. I am tempted to email Horsey, for example: "Hey, man, don't look now, but I think they're running your entire online operation."