Monday, February 28, 2011

Class Envy

A man I know posted a joke on a social networking site:
A Teabagger, Union Member and a CEO are sitting at a table with a dozen cookies. The CEO immediately takes 11 cookies for himself. The CEO then turns to the Teabagger and says, "Watch out for that union guy - he wants part of your cookie."
Amusing and poignant. One of his commentators was not amused, however, and complained that the left felt entitled to everyone else's cookies and dismissed the joke and its underlying point as "complete and total class envy."

The charge of 'class envy' seems to come up these days more often than at any time in my memory, so I want to dispense with it. Absurd! Rapacious, grasping theft is evil; calling it so and trying to something about it doesn't make one envious of the thief. There should be a natural alliance between the union man and the tea-partier, but as the joke illustrates, it is pitifully easy to exploit their differences.

The unfortunate truth is that the tea-partier is the one with 'class envy': he is the player coveting the CEO's wealth, convinced of the CEO's inherent superiority and enamored of the fairy tale that another 11 cookies will magically appear for him to take, if only he would follow the CEO's advice and screw the other guy out of a meager one-half of a cookie.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Adrenaline Response

Last night I had an unfortunate encounter. I was at a bar in Portland, enjoying some well-deserved time with six friends. My wife and I arrived later than the rest of our party. By the time we arrived, the crowd was rowdy and teeming with primitive energy. In spite of some unpleasant jostling with the inebriated throng, the stage show was lively and amusing, and my friends and I were genuinely having a good time.

An undercurrent of violence loomed, however. A drunken fool of a woman, looking to all the world like a surgically-enhanced cougar, who had been spilling her drinks on a couple of my friends and generally making a nuisance of herself, started waving her hand in my face. Perhaps all this jostling with the crowd had made me a little irritable, and I said, "please take your hand out of my face."

Suddenly her husband/boyfriend/lover/hookup appeared, pressing his chest against mine, admonishing me for having spoken to this woman. He was shorter than me, but stocky, formidable, and roaring drunk. Two of his friends also started shoving on me and calling me out. I was pretty much dumbstruck, and repeated my instruction that she keep her hands to herself. To be honest, I had a big smile on my face; I couldn't really believe this was happening.

He, his friends and I exchanged a few words; they were developing an un-sober treatise on a "kicking-my-ass" theme, while my words were mostly a collection of half-stammered questions whose sentiment could be boiled down to "...really?" My smile belied my true state, however: my heart was pounding and my adrenal gland had flooded my system with its potent hormone. Fight or flight? I took a few breaths and backed down. Did I really want to fight three dudes (and probably take a beating) over some hussy's behavior?

The tension seemed to lift for a moment, though I got a few more dirty looks from the woman and the man, and his two friends continued making an effort to provoke me. Whatever. I looked away. Then the woman actually made physical contact, slapping at me and flicking her fingers on my nose. What the hell? I made a gesture with my middle finger; a weak-minded response, I suppose, but I just couldn't completely drop it. I'm not that composed. My wife was upset; she had told me to let it be.

A kaleidoscope of activity: lines were drawn, threats were repeated, the bouncer appeared, our friends surrounded me, and my wife's most ferocious friend, all five-foot-two-inches of her, managed to get between me and the main aggressor. She had been the one who was getting the drink spilled on her, and she had been pushed to her limit by these fools as well.

Now, I hadn't had anything to drink, and to me it seemed obvious who had instigated this melee and why. I leaned in and offered the bouncer a brief summary. He did not seem interested in my account of our antagonists' drunken aggression, but I did learn that the bouncer had already paid at least two other visits to this group. He stood between us unmoved.

Our party was done - everyone wanted to leave. When our intentions were clear, the bouncer offered our group free shots as an apology. Great! A bar employee suggesting more alcohol in order to diffuse what was essentially a booze-fueled confrontation.

So here are my questions: how did I get into this? Where was my mistake? And what is a modern man to do?

I feel like I might have won some real admiration from my wife and our friends had I been able to talk my way out of this confrontation. I also feel like I would have found some self-respect and personal resolution had I simply driven my elbow into the man's throat. Heck, if all three of the men had jumped me and tried to beat me down, then there would have been little shame in turning tail and running like hell. But what happened was... nothing. I simply walked out with my group.

It felt like the weakest, most effete result. Here was my wife's diminutive friend, standing between me and my quarry, more effectively resolving the situation than the club's staff or anyone else. Here was the bar, watching idly while good and true patrons leave the establishment, rather than doing the difficult work of forcing out the people causing the disruption and who were likely to continue their campaign of abusive behavior. Here was the other party, openly and obnoxiously gloating that they had 'won' the altercation. Here were all my primal instincts, rebelling against my walk of shame: fight for your mate, your clan, your territory! Or if defeated, run! I felt awful.

Our primitive/physical selves are remarkably well-equipped to handle such situations: fight, kill, flee. But my intellectual/emotional self is woefully undeveloped. I was completely beholden to my instincts, unable to summon the faculties to talk my way into a more satisfying resolution, and yet hidebound by civilized convention to avoid violence. It was a very personal defeat.