Natural-born or trained killers

Sometimes I’m a little slow. Okay, sometimes I’m a lot slow. I also sometimes unravel points by a circuitous route. For example:

Since I’ve arrived in Pittsburgh, with all the Confederate flags, the gratuitously displayed guns in areas where Black and white working class and poor are in evident conflict, the banners that mysteriously celebrate so few Black veterans but plenty of white ones, the thin blue line flags,[1] the cop who let his dog bark viciously and uncontrollably at a Black man who was merely walking across a parking lot,[2] and all the reports of racism and white supremacism[3] I’ve also noticed aggressive driving,[4] particularly by drivers of monster pickup trucks, that I quickly dubbed “testosterone trucks,” hence the inspiration for the sign (soon to be a sticker—I’ve finally ordered it—figure 1) in my car’s back window that says, “Keep Your Testosterone Off My Tail.”

Fig. 1. Image created October 10, 2020 by the author (using an image licensed from iStock) and used to order a sticker for his car’s back window.

I didn’t really begin to connect the two until I saw reports of white supremacists driving pickup trucks rallying for Donald Trump and pepper-spraying and shooting paintballs at Black Lives Matter protesters in Portland.[5] Indeed, it turns out that pickup trucks feature prominently among right-wing militia groups.[6]

Then I saw, but failed to archive, an article connecting masculinity with Black men who support Trump (yeah, there are a few). When I returned to try to find that article, I found instead a column by Jason Whitlock about ‘dragon energy,’ which he explains is code for ‘masculine energy,’ which Kanye West apparently attributed to Trump, and which Whitlock, who also supports Trump, believes is 1) coded in male genes, and 2) attractive to both women and men. Whitlock also appreciates Trump’s opposition to Silicon Valley secularism, but neglects entirely that male-dominated industry’s ‘dragon energy.’[7] Go ahead, off to the bathroom to vomit; I’ll wait until you return from your prayers to the porcelain god. I’m feeling pretty sick, myself.

So, okay then. Attempting to move along—this is hard—I’m also remembering a history of the early middle ages and feudalism, in which men who needed an outlet for this, um, ‘dragon energy’ could fight for nobles, who needed armies to fight their wars.[8] At the time I read this, I actually likened the description to that of Star Trek’s Klingons, a warrior race, in which warriors imagine no greater honor than to “die well” on the field of battle. We should note also that this is well, a rather different view of, um, masculinity than that offered by Barbara Ehrenreich:

In fact, throughout history, individual men have gone to near-suicidal lengths to avoid participating in wars—a fact that proponents of a warlike instinct tend to slight. Men have fled their homelands, served lengthy prison terms, hacked off limbs, shot off feet or index fingers, feigned illness or insanity, or if they could afford to, paid surrogates to fight in their stead. “Some draw their teeth, some blind themselves, and others maim themselves, on their way to us,” the governor of Egypt complained of his peasant recruits in the early nineteenth century. So unreliable was the rank and file of the eighteenth-century Prussian army that military manuals forbade camping near a woods or forest: The troops would simply melt away into the trees.

Proponents of a warlike instinct must also reckon with the fact that even when men have been assembled, willingly or unwillingly, for the purpose of war, fighting is not something that seems to come “naturally” to them. In fact, surprisingly, even in the thick of battle, few men can bring themselves to shoot directly at individual enemies. The difference between an ordinary man or boy and a reliable killer, as any drill sergeant could attest, is profound. A transformation is required: The man or boy leaves his former self behind and becomes something entirely different, perhaps even taking a new name. . . .[9]

It would appear that this ‘dragon energy’ is not a universal trait found among all men. Which might help to explain my—and I hope your—reaction to the whole idea.

But apparently, this ‘dragon energy’ indeed exists among some men, whether naturally or, as Ehrenreich suggests, through military training.[10] Certainly it explains the testosterone trucks driving through protesters, pepper spraying them and firing paintballs.[11] Which is to suggest that the right-wing militia movement might offer an outlet for it. So, too, might the police and the military. And some members of the former are also members of the latter.[12] And with the “Punisher” skull symbol, ‘dragon energy’ seeks glory in a hierarchically invidiously monistic ‘righteousness’ of summary ‘justice’ against ‘evil’ but really just thrills in killing.[13]

It should go without saying that these are scary people who likely need serious medication. We, as a society, need for them to have this medication, even—especially—if they emerge from treatment devoid of passion. But instead, we celebrate violence in multiple forms, as ‘patriotic,’[14] on television, with stereotypes of cops and robbers and of cowboys and (American) Indians and in contact sports like football and hockey. But just as they served nobles in the feudal era,[15] they now serve today’s rich, defending ‘property’[16] and fighting their wars.

I don’t have a solution. To be honest, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this. But I feel sick to my stomach as I realize that something here must be done about these people even as it seems impossible to do.

  1. [1]David Benfell, “Donald Trump’s ‘brown shirts,’” Not Housebroken, October 16, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/08/30/donald-trumps-brown-shirts/
  2. [2]David Benfell, “Hey cops! Do you know what year it is?” Not Housebroken, August 27, 2019, https://disunitedstates.org/2019/08/27/hey-cops-do-you-know-what-year-it-is/
  3. [3]Colin P. Clarke, “One Year After Tree of Life, We Still Aren’t Talking Enough About Violent White Supremacy,” Rand, October 27, 2019, https://www.rand.org/blog/2019/10/one-year-after-tree-of-life-we-still-arent-talking.html; Letrell Deshan Crittenden, “The Pittsburgh problem: race, media and everyday life in the Steel City,” Columbia Journalism Review, October 25, 2019, https://www.cjr.org/tow_center_reports/racism-black-burnout-in-pittsburgh-journalism.php; Eric Heyl, “Neo-Nazi, White Supremacist, Islamic Hate Groups Active In Pittsburgh,” Pittsburgh Patch, August 16, 2017, https://patch.com/pennsylvania/pittsburgh/neo-nazi-white-supremacist-islamic-hate-groups-active-pittsburgh; Moriah Ella Mason, “Pittsburgh Doesn’t Need More Guns — We Need Less White Supremacy,” Forward, October 29, 2018, https://forward.com/scribe/413104/pittsburgh-doesnt-need-more-guns-we-need-less-white-supremacy/; Charles Thompson, “Pennsylvania housed 36 active hate groups last year, ranking 8th in the country: report,” Harrisburg Patriot-News, February 21, 2019, https://www.pennlive.com/news/2019/02/southern-poverty-law-center-counts-36-active-hate-groups-in-pennsylvania-in-2018.html; Jason Togyer, “Will western Pennsylvania become a string of ghost towns?” Columbia Journalism Review, September 8, 2020, https://www.cjr.org/special_report/year-of-fear-mckeesport-census.php
  4. [4]David Benfell, “Pittsburgh driving for the uninitiated,” Irregular Bullshit, n.d., https://disunitedstates.com/pittsburgh/pittsburgh-driving-for-the-uninitiated/
  5. [5]Ed Pilkington and Joanna Walters, “Portland clashes: Trump accused of encouraging violence after shooting,” Guardian, August 31, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/aug/30/fatal-shooting-in-portland-as-trump-supporters-clash-with-black-lives-matter-protesters; Faiz Siddiqui and Isaac Stanley-Becker, “One person shot dead in Portland following clashes between pro-Trump supporters, counterprotesters,” Washington Post, August 30, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/08/29/blm-activists-counterprotesters-clash-portland-leading-arrests/
  6. [6]Laura Bliss and Marie Patino, “Tracking the Shifting Shape of Far-Right Political Violence,” CityLab, October 16, 2020, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-10-16/is-far-right-political-violence-getting-worse; Mike Giglio, “A Pro-Trump Militant Group Has Recruited Thousands of Police, Soldiers, and Veterans,” Atlantic, November 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/11/right-wing-militias-civil-war/616473/; Joshua Partlow, “Politics at the point of a gun,” Washington Post, July 28, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/07/28/conservative-armed-militias-protests-coronavirus/
  7. [7]Jason Whitlock, “President Trump’s Dragon Energy Entices Ice Cube, Kanye West, 50 Cent And Other Black Men,” Outkick, October 24, 2020, https://www.outkick.com/whitlock-president-trumps-dragon-energy-entices-ice-cube-kanye-west-50-cent-and-other-black-men/
  8. [8]Marc Bloch, Feudal Society, 2nd ed., vol. 1., The Growth of Ties of Dependence, trans. L. A. Manyon (1962; repr., London: Routledge, 2003); Marc Bloch, Feudal Society, vol. 2., Social Classes and Political Organization, trans. L. A. Manyon (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1961).
  9. [9]Barbara Ehrenreich, Blood Rites (New York: Metropolitan, 1997), 10.
  10. [10]Barbara Ehrenreich, Blood Rites (New York: Metropolitan, 1997).
  11. [11]Ed Pilkington and Joanna Walters, “Portland clashes: Trump accused of encouraging violence after shooting,” Guardian, August 31, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/aug/30/fatal-shooting-in-portland-as-trump-supporters-clash-with-black-lives-matter-protesters; Faiz Siddiqui and Isaac Stanley-Becker, “One person shot dead in Portland following clashes between pro-Trump supporters, counterprotesters,” Washington Post, August 30, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/nation/2020/08/29/blm-activists-counterprotesters-clash-portland-leading-arrests/
  12. [12]Lois Beckett, “How the US military has failed to address white supremacy in its ranks,” Guardian, June 24, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/24/us-military-white-supremacy-extremist-plot; Mike Giglio, “A Pro-Trump Militant Group Has Recruited Thousands of Police, Soldiers, and Veterans,” Atlantic, November 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2020/11/right-wing-militias-civil-war/616473/; Leo Shane, III, “Signs of white supremacy, extremism up again in poll of active-duty troops,” Military Times, February 6, 2020, https://www.militarytimes.com/news/pentagon-congress/2020/02/06/signs-of-white-supremacy-extremism-up-again-in-poll-of-active-duty-troops/
  13. [13]David Masciotra, “The Punisher skull: Unofficial logo of the white American death cult,” Salon, April 28, 2019, https://www.salon.com/2019/04/28/the-punisher-skull-unofficial-logo-of-the-white-american-death-cult/
  14. [14]David Benfell, “On patriotism,” Not Housebroken, June 27, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/06/27/on-patriotism/
  15. [15]Marc Bloch, Feudal Society, 2nd ed., vol. 1., The Growth of Ties of Dependence, trans. L. A. Manyon (1962; repr., London: Routledge, 2003); Marc Bloch, Feudal Society, vol. 2., Social Classes and Political Organization, trans. L. A. Manyon (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1961).
  16. [16]David Benfell, “On police,” Not Housebroken, August 10, 2020, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/08/10/on-police/