17 March 2016

Punching Down

by Eve Fisher

Back on March 3, 2016, Fred Clark posted  "Some People Punch Down When They're Scared" on his blog site, Slacktivist, citing an article on the rise of American authoritarianism.  Mr. Clark's quick summation:
"1. Some people punch down when they are frightened.
"2. The kind of people who punch down when they are frightened are also more likely to be frightened more often.
"In short, they are afraid... The problem with authoritarianism is not that 'fear leads to anger,' but that — for authoritarians — fear leads to misdirected anger. When such people fear being crushed from above, they respond by punching down — lashing out at others who have nothing to do with the causes of their fear."  
Dog is yanked into the air by owner
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/
article-1321461/
Help-catch-dog-baiting-thug.html
My personal experience is that it's not just authoritarians, but people, as a whole, who almost always punch down when scared. That's why we have the proverbial "kicking the dog", or "hitting the kid", or "punching the wife", not to mention "deporting the immigrants", or "lynching the black guy", or "rounding up the Jews". Because it's so much easier to punch down, and/or blame everyone around you, and below you, for your troubles, than to actually work up the guts to deal with the people who are screwing you senseless. Because they might do more than screw you senseless.  They might do worse.  Infinitely worse.  Whereas those who are below you will whimper and whine and slink away and cry... but probably won't hit back, because they're like you, and when the time comes, they'll punch DOWN.

File:A large monkey dressed in rags is about to beat a smaller mo Wellcome V0023060.jpg
http://wellcomeimages.org/indexplus/obf_images/67/fd/b76d22ccd12fab39914fed05e264.jpg

Now to me, that last paragraph is the essence of "original sin". The fact that we will hurt someone weaker than ourselves rather than risk challenging the fat bastard above us. That we allow fear - which is a natural, normal emotion / reaction to the apparently endless screwed up things that go on on this planet - to turn into cowardice, rather than courage, and we stay silent, rigid, waiting for it all to go away.  (I know:  I spent a lot of time as a child and even as a teenager silent, rigid, waiting for it all to go away.  And I can tell you that it doesn't.)

And, when we can't stand it any more, too many of us punch down:

Domestic abuse?  Check.

Bullying?  Check.

Rape?  Check.  (For those of you who don't know, rape is never about actually being desirous of making love to someone; it's about fear and power and rage.)

Assault?  Probably more than we think.  Back in May of 2012, in my fourth post for SleuthSayers, I wrote about something that happened to me:  a guy got in a fight with his wife, stormed out, and nearly rammed me, head-on, with his car. When he was arrested (yes, I turned it in), he said he was pissed off at his wife and just wanted to scare me.  He was punching down.

http://www.ksfy.com/home/headlines/
Police-investigating-attempted-
casino-robbery-in-Sioux-Falls-301524151.html
Theft?  Maybe.  At least sometimes.  Because while Robin Hood stole from the rich, most petty criminals steal from the poor:  the corner casino (which is barely one step up from a dive bar, with a cowering night-manager who needs that job to help pay the bills), or the local magic mart (see the cowering night-manager again), or the local whatever. There may indeed be jewel thieves on the level of the Pink Panther out there, but most thefts reported on the TV (like this casino robbery) are poor people holding up other poor people, and that's punching down.

Murder?  Fairly often.  I'd bet that most murderers kill someone less powerful than they are.  Even when they are truly angry at their boss, it's usually someone else who gets killed:  their spouse, their children, co-workers, a delivery guy, etc.  Serial killers always go for the weak and vulnerable.  And mass shooters shoot whoever's there:  schoolmates, students, the occasional teacher, people sitting in theaters, in restaurants, and anyone else in the line of fire.
(Really interesting FBI Chart here:  Homicides by Relationship.  All I can say is that there's a whole lot of arguing going on.  And a lot for which no reason is known.)
(Old Richard Pryor joke:  he did he a gig at the pen, and had lunch with the guys. Asked one guy what he was in for:  "I killed nine people."  "Why did you do that?"  "Because they was home.")
BTW, this, I believe, is the reason why murder mysteries are universally popular: as Dorothy Sayers once said, "they put before the public a world the way it ought to be, and kept alive a dream of justice."  (p. 90, A Presumption of Death by Jill Paton Walsh and Dorothy L. Sayers.)

Anyway, back to reality.  "When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things."  Not hardly.  The almost immediate childish response to "Did you do this?" is to blame the dog, the cat, the invisible friend, and, of course, any siblings.  (Punching down.)  It takes a long, long time to learn how to take the consequences of your actions, and some people never do.  There are those who do everything they can to avoid all consequences until their dying day:  blame, lie, deny, hide, run, forget, ignore, and generally wail about the unfairness of the universe, life, and everyone around them.  And that's not just in the pen or in politics, in both of which blame gets passed around like bombs.  The thing is, it changes nothing:  they're still afraid, they're still running away from the truth, and (chances are) they have more enemies (real and imagined) than ever, including themselves.  And they're still punching down, even when all they're hitting is themselves.

But you can also punch up.

Punching up doesn't mean you have to go out and become Batman, or Nelson Mandela, or Dorothy Day.  It doesn't mean you have to take on every fight for the downtrodden (but God bless you if you do).  But there are other ways to punch up:  Eleanor Roosevelt, Lady Gaga, Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Rudyard Kipling, George Orwell, Beethoven, Pat Conroy, and many others, throughout history, have taken amazing levels of abuse, of all kinds and transformed it and themselves into something enriching, for themselves and others.

Anna Eleanor Roosevelt.png    Portrait by Joseph Karl Stieler, 1820    

Here's a little secret:  Fear is normal.  The only people who are never afraid are Vulcans.  Fear is an emotion, and the non-Vulcans among us will experience it regularly until we die, and perhaps beyond that.  It's what we do with fear - and it is our choice - that counts.  What we do with fear becomes the action of cowardice or courage.  Our choice.  That's one of the things we try to teach in Alternatives to Violence Project - because once you know that you can choose how to react, you're free.  That still doesn't mean people will always do the right thing:  that's another choice.  But at least they have it. And maybe, they can start punching up.






PS - Some people have been kind enough to ask about our South Dakota corruption scandals, EB-5 and Gear Up.  Believe me, when I get some news, I'll update everyone.





6 comments:

janice law said...

A good piece with great illustrations.
And, yes, count me as awaiting more news on you home state's scandals.

Eve Fisher said...

Thanks, Janice.

Herschel Cozine said...

Eve, a thought provoking piece, a whole new perspective (at least for me).

R.T. Lawton said...

Eve, you nailed it. Another good article.

Leigh Lundin said...

Exceptionally thoughtful article, Eve.

This could account for black-on-black crime statistics. And speaking of black punching up, one of the amazing things I learned about Madiba (Mandela), is that he won over his jailors on Robben Island.

Eve Fisher said...

Mandela and Gandhi are two classic examples of punching up.