"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Old Men Fighting–World Peace Will Never Have A Chance As Long As They Do

Bertie Hammond had been brought up well.  Solid, upper-middle class family, Ivy League pedigree, substantial wife and good children, liberal for most of his life but tending conservative, he was the last person one would expect to get into a bar fight.

Well into late middle age – no one  of his generation admitted to old age despite the crowded candles on the cake – Bertie never thought he would ever even come close to a fight.  He had been too socialized, too committed to compromise, to negotiation, and to peaceful settlement to even consider any way other than discussion to settle disagreements. 

For him and others of his progressive, Northeast upbringing and education, the OK Corral was an evolutionary throwback.  Settling a dispute  - whether personal, social, or national - at the end  of a .45 was unthinkable.  It was this rugged individualism, this Wild West enthusiasm for simple honor, courage, and frontier justice behind American exceptionalism, populist nationalism that had always gotten us into trouble.

Image result for images gunfight ok corral

So there he found himself in the face of someone calling him names he hadn’t heard since Vance School.  The insults were irrational, crude, and hideously far from the norm.  The offense was minor – irritation to some patrons, ignored by the rest, and cause for indifference at best – but somehow in the twisted logic of the man at the bar facing Bertie, were irreconcilable challenges to privacy, right behavior, and propriety.

Bertie faced his swollen, red-faced, and nearly apoplectic accuser.  The man was relentless.  Bertie, he said, was unconscionable in his behavior, far beneath acceptable standards and good taste, a moral bottom-feeding reprobate, and a jerk. 

Bertie, at first surprised and nonplussed – no one behaved this way in Upper Northwest (disputes were adjudicated here) – he quickly reacted in kind.  Every practiced, repeated, temperate counsel was gone in an instant.  Bertie rushed the the man, leaned into him,  and quietly – other patrons were looking on – told this cocksucker, this buggering motherfucker to step outside.

The man demurred.  “Just try it” he said. “You don’t know who you’re dealing with”, but kept his seat. 

His wife smirked, tossed her head at Bertie, and put her arm around her husband’s shoulders.  She was both encouraging and demurring. She thought about litigation, Medicare claims, and dishonor; but had been brought up with the same generational machismo as her husband.  Of course he couldn’t back down, said her Delilah/Jane side; but of course he should said her legalistic, hesitant side.

Image result for images playground fight 50s

The affair ended.  Bertie’s accuser paid his bill, got up, and left; Bertie went back to his oysters; the patrons who looked on in surprise, returned to the Redskins game; but the gossip and chatter at Salty Dog continued for weeks.  Not only had two guys gotten into it, but two old guys.  What could be more silly, shameful, and ridiculous.

Image result for old guys fighting

Yet, to anyone paying attention there was nothing untoward or unsurprising about the fight.  Yes, it was a bit unusual for older men to fight – even in America’s outrageous youth culture there some modicum of respect for the elderly and an assumption of proper behavior remains; and old people are not supposed to behave like teenagers – but what to make of it when they did?

Bertie felt silly, but vindicated.  His accuser did not go out to the alley with him.  The man's threats were nothing but braggadocio, hot air, and misjudgment.  But how was it that Bertie so quickly abandoned all his training, counsel, and education? What had happened to the brotherhood of Father Brophy, the kind counsel of Sister Mary Joseph, and the patient advice of his father?

Were men really no more than animals? Would they really strike for the jugular first and risk their lives for the sake of defending authority, dominance, territory, and mates?

Of course men were wolves.  How else could one explain Bertie’s abandonment of seventy years of temperance, good judgment, and commitment to compromise and negotiation for one playground, dog-run, wrestling match?

Image result for images wolves fighting

Everything in his liberal, progressive briefcase signaled the opposite. Men are capable of self-reflection, abstinence, and temperance. There was no reason why in the more appreciative, tolerant, and inclusive year of the 21st century, men should go off the testosterone rails.  Feminism had tamed them.

Apparently not.  Every world leader is egging for a fight.  The ‘international disagreement’ between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump is nothing more than a playground tussle.  Boys will be boys no matter where they fight.  Aggression, disrespect, and street cred honor rules up and down the political phylogenetic scale.

The hackles-up, lets-settle-this-outside attitude of Bertie and his fellow patron at Salty Dog was no different from that of Trump and Kim; Putin and Trump; Assad and Erdogan; or the Ayatollah and Netanyahu.

Male aggression is infectious.  Indira Gandhi, Margaret Thatcher, and Golda Meir had more balls than any geopolitical opponent. Hackles-up-swords-out has no gender.

Image result for images golda meir

The divide between liberal and conservative in the United States is not simply political – differences of opinion on health care, immigration, or tax reform – but fundamentally philosophical.
Progressives are convinced that the world can be made a better place if only everyone works hard towards that goal.  Conservatives are convinced that because of human nature – rude, aggressive, self-interested, and defensive – there is no such thing as progress but only accommodation.  The conflict of countervailing forces – competition – will sort out what is to be; and no amount of willful planning will have any impact whatsoever.

History it seems is on the side of conservatism. The 20th century was as bloody if not more so than the 8th, the 15th, or the 18th.  Violence – fights between Bertie and his oyster-eating bar mate, Napoleon and the Czar, Israel and the Arabs, the White Rose vs the Red Rose – is permanent and as much of a distinctive feature of human society as love,art, or community.

Image result for images the war of the roses if

If Bertie, Harvard educated, father of two successful professionals, husband to an executive, and promoter of progressive of Jeffersonian values – could threaten and intimidate an inconsequential patron at the bar of Salty Dog, how could anyone dismiss the fact that evolution got stuck millions of years ago.

Bertie, when he came to his senses and finished his oysters, understood that he was in good company.  He, tyrants, dictators, stage-one abusers of power, and American heroes were no different. It only took an altercation at Salty Dog for him to realize it.

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