by Reid Fitzsimons
Several years back there was a mediocre/better than most crime drama called Cold Case, i.e. the crack detectives solved murders committed in the past but shelved away at the time. One episode involved the murder of a young woman/mother who had been the victim of domestic abuse. In one flashback scene the scummy abusive husband, who didn’t prove to be the killer, was sitting at the kitchen table angrily contemplating the bowl of cereal his wife placed in front of him. She was busy trying to get herself off to work and their child off to school when he erupted, “I don’t want my breakfast to come from no g*ddamn box!!” As she meekly tried to apologize and quickly fix him a more substantial meal, he reached his limit of tolerance and began smacking her around. This guy had it all: poor hygiene, no job, wearing one of those sleeveless T-shirts sometimes referred to as a “wife beater,” etc, seamlessly fitting our stereotype of domestic abuser.
As Americans rarely are we more content than when holding on to our narratives. It makes us comfortable in our confusing and meaningless world of excessive wealth and materialism, and substantiates our sense of righteousness. Our stereotypes are frequently confirmed via popular entertainment, the news media, and the like, and the circle is unbroken. Indeed law and policy are often based on popular stereotypes of the moment, and large sums of money and resources expended in our quest for feelings to trump thoughtfulness. Of course there is a downside to embracing stereotypes, as evidenced by Ku Klux Klanners and their cousins the Black Lives Matter activists. This is not to say that stereotypes are innately incorrect- many likely have some basis in reality. Recollecting the movie White Men Can’t Jump and observing that 23% of NBA players are white, the stereotype suggested by the title has a statistical rationale.
In regards to domestic violence, undoubtedly our character from Cold Case and his long-suffering wife do reflect a significant niche in the world of domestic violence, but probably a relatively small one despite being the required narrative in feminist dogma: the male is always the aggressor and the female always the hapless victim. More commonly there is a mutualism, a co-enabling in which both partners are by and large equal participants. The winner, so to speak, is generally the one with greater physical endurance or greater rage. One need only watch the high culture of the Jerry Springer Show to get the idea. I’ve seen studies that suggest a 50/50 gender split in the instigation of domestic disorder. Anecdotally, a well-seasoned psychologist once told me in his experience the aggressor was more often the female and the males tended more to the role of peacemaker, though not always with success. I would suggest there are people who are abusive in act but not in spirit. The angry drunk might be found in this subset- remorseful and even appalled at his behavior once sober with promises of never again, but the allure of the bottle or can is too great and the cycle repeats itself.
The truly abusive personality ironically does not perceive itself as the abuser. Rather, he or she sees themselves to be the true victim, who was forced to act because of the behavior of the other person. The insults or injuries they suffer are too great to go unanswered. Perhaps they act because they know what the other person is thinking, or there is a facial expression deemed suspicious. Perhaps they ran into a mutual acquaintance who wasn’t as friendly as they should have been and the only conclusion is the other person must have said something bad about them. Rage is justified because, “I can tell you think you’re better than me.” Any perceived disrespect is sufficient excuse for verbal or physical violence, and in fact there is almost a sense of euphoria in the realization it’s not their fault, someone else compelled their action. There is never remorse because they didn’t do anything wrong, and apologizes are beyond consideration unless for manipulative purposes.
Needless to say, truly abusive people, largely synonymous with bullies, are weak in character and deficient in self-esteem. Nevertheless they can wield great, at times omnipotent, power over others. The enraged out-of-control person screaming or hitting may be a complete coward, but that doesn’t help the poor kid witnessing the latest round of violence. Very often the target of the abuse will sacrifice their own safety and peace in the pursuit of what appears to be a greater good, especially when children are involved, though I suppose there are less noble reasons as well, such as maintaining a particular material lifestyle. If an abusive person happens to be the boss at work, they can severely diminish the quality of life for any number of people.
As already alluded to, the unifying characteristics of truly abusive people are cowardliness, low self-worth, and a perpetual feeling of victimization corresponding with a sense of righteousness and justification in their violence- it is never their fault. When maximally developed, the abuser is able to convince the target/victim to buy into their delusion, making them believe they are the source and cause of the violence. If unchallenged, the abuser may eventually realize they are empowered by their behavior and use it for gain, financial, personal, or otherwise. It is a wonderful feeling of liberation for them, to be removed from any consequences of their actions and fault others for their self-loathing.
We are witnessing, to quote our former President Barak Obama, who deemed his every thought and action to be unprecedented in his own mind, an unprecedented shift in society. Certainly from the beginning of humanity there have been bullies and abusers, people whose self-esteem rose in proportion to the humiliation of others. And certainly many of them at some point understood their particular approach to relationships offered them power if correctly implemented. However, for the most part these people were limited and checked by rationale thought and actions of others, those who refused to yield power over to the abusers, not to mention the more basic needs of survival. In recent years, sadly, we’ve had a merging of unimaginable wealth and material ease with an absence of moral constraints and a sense of obligation not to one’s neighbors but only to one’s desires. For all the feel-good talk of social justice, living wage, progressivism, etc, underneath it all are people whose affirmation in life depends on the degradation of others, who take solace that their shortcomings and failures must be extrinsic to their own erroneous decisions, and whose behaviors, not matter how egregious, are justified.
The scary part of is not that we are awash in post-modern bullies simply because it’s easy to feel offended, to claim and cling to a sense of victim-hood and express outrage- totally predictable given our obscene wealth. The frightening aspect is that those who should know better, who should provide the check to this unbridled selfishness, are either acquiescent and compliant or impotent. The reasons for this are perhaps ambiguous, but certainly include a cowardly desire to get along, to avoid being a target of the hatred, and a failing Christian church, a historical influence for good (yes, there was plenty of hypocrisy along the way) that has become a farce. It’s difficult to feel optimistic for the future when considering that the privileged and elitist youth of today will be tomorrow’s political and social leaders, for whom chanting mindless slogans suffice for intellectual discourse and self-involved greed is cloaked in false words of compassion. On the other hand I recently noticed a 70-inch flat screen TV for under $1,300, so maybe the future is bright after all.