Old pal Kay comes into the bar for the usual vegetarian stew and a glass of refreshing philosophy with a head on it. It’s slow in the bar, so of course we chew on the news — which this week happens to feature the usual headlines about predators.
A mother is acquitted of murdering her daughter. Passions run high about the acquittal. Everybody loathes a child-murderer. The State of Texas put to death a dad, Cameron Todd Willingham, for allegedly incinerating his daughters in a fire at home one morning. A psychologist told the court that a skull on the defendant’s macabre rock & roll posters indicated vicious cult associations. Neighbors waxed vitriolic about his death’s head tattoo. That is, the usual symbol that soldiers and some working class guys use to kiss off the Grim Reaper struck some decent Texans as sound reason for a judicial killing.
And ironical too. Because a national arson investigation found the local Texas arson report a tissue of unscientific suppositions and prejudices.
Texas Governor Perry has preserved the peace of mind of those voting to execute the perhaps grieving father by smothering a review of the scientific report. Well, he’s dead now anyway. Why stir up trouble?
So here we are discussing these fierce passions. You recall California’s maddening Three Strikes law, which has locked up mostly nonviolent criminals at a cost that’s helped devastate education and social services. Well, Three Strikes passed in a fit of hysteria aroused by the atrocious murders of young people, a coed and 12 year old Polly Klaas.
And then there’s the truly amazing coterie of Catholic priests who have been found guilty of preying on young lambs. Turns out these weren’t freakish aberrations but a subculture within the Church. Rome’s investigation blames the predation on the excesses of the 1960s–really.
At the bar yours truly says, “So you wonder what kids stand for that makes them such targets for aggression?” This followed by speculation about youth symbolizing more vitality, more freedom, more future, blah blah blah. Think here of Nabokov’s Lolita. As in cannibalism, the predators are trying to fill themselves up with qualities missing in their own lives.
Says Kay: “But look at the natural world. Predators always prefer to prey on the young because they’re defenseless and less able to flee. They’re easy.”
If you think of it this way, we are opportunistic killers rather than demonic. The adult animals want to minimize risk in the chase. If they have enough caloric or psychic food around, they may skip predation altogether.
We’re creatures of systems. Evolutionary and cultural systems.
This is why it makes sense for the neighbors to get enraged about child-murder – but also why that fury is so dangerous. The young and weak need protection, so society mounts a massive threat display to scare off opportunistic big bad wolves.
But here’s a sly implication as the bartender refills your mug: what about the class war roiling the American political scene? We’re treated to daily shows of foot-stomping determination to enforce “austerity” on a childishly spendthrift nation. The austericrats want to police government spending not by cutting the corporate military budget – in fact they’re increasing it – but by cutting health and other care for the weak, the poor. Oh, and the young. Last I heard, more than a third of kids in the U.S. grow up in poverty. When was the last time you heard a pitchman for “family values” urge more spending on poor kids?
Well, look at it this way: the rich have always disapproved of wasting money and care on the poor. After all, as our primate cousins show us, that would be like the alpha animals raising up competitors who might hassle them. But there’s another way to look at it.
In an economic “crisis,” at a time when corporations monopolize public voices, who’ll hear the squawks if gentrified predators take another bite out of the young and poor?
Sensible predators aren’t demons or sadists: they’re opportunists after easy pickings.
That could mean the bared fangs will back off if somebody growls at them.
Come on, practice that growl while the bartender pours.