Authority, Civility… and Civilization

Yesterday Ricardo Portillo died in a Salt Lake hospital.  He died from terminal brain injuries caused by a single punch to his temple.  Why?  Because he was a volunteer soccer referee and he had yellow-carded a seventeen year old for excessively rough play.  While he was writing up the yellow card, the seventeen year old walked up and punched him in the side of the head.  Portillo never saw it coming.  I’d like to think that this sort of violence and anger is unusual.  It’s not.

 Everywhere I look, I see a growing anger at authority, whether it’s the referees in sports contests, the police, the government, parents, or children.  And this anger is just like what happened to   Ricardo Portillo, in the sense that it’s all out of proportion to what seemingly generated it.  In Portillo’s case, the player wasn’t even ejected from the game; that takes a red card or two yellow cards. The soccer game wasn’t even in a tournament, just a routine local match.  Week after week, there are stories about angry sports contestants, and even more often, stories about out-of-hand parents and fans.  Referees in most sports take incredible abuse.  Why?  Why should they be targets?  They’re doing their best, and, in almost all cases, especially on the professional level, they’re impartial. 

 Every day, there’s another incident of “road rage,” where someone goes berserk, because of another driver’s behavior.  Sometimes, frankly, it’s understandable, especially when someone tries to cut in front of people who’ve been politely and patiently waiting, in order, but in both cases, that of the initial offender and that of the outraged offender, the individuals are over-reacting and wanting it “their way” regardless of the impact on others – and the results are often tragically out of proportion to the offense.

 We see the same thing in politics and political rhetoric. Day after day, I read and hear the violence in the words of all too many gun owners, everything about how the government will have to take their guns from their cold dead hands, about how the government is out to take their freedoms and their guns.  It’s absolutely senseless. The legislation about which they’re getting so enraged deals with banning one class of guns out of hundreds and limiting magazine size – and as many gun owners have pointedly told me, the magazine size makes little difference.  Obviously, this rage is fueled by fear, but exactly what is there to fear?  The politicians are so cowed by this rage that they aren’t about to do anything, and there has never been anything close to a national consensus, liberals notwithstanding, in the entire history of the United States, for outlawing all individual ownership of firearms.

 This rhetorical viciousness is everywhere, and it often goes beyond rhetoric. The anti-abortion extremists have gone so far as to physically threaten and even murder doctors who perform abortions.  Like it or not, there are two sides to the abortion debate, especially when the life of the mother is endangered, or she is a victim or rape or incest, if not both.  Yet vitriolic absolutist rage isn’t going to solve anything. It’s just going to engender more rage.

 The anger over health care is another example.  The issue is two-sided.  Failure to have health care destroys people and families… and some people simply can’t afford it.  Likewise, many small businesses face crippling financial burdens.  [I’ll admit I don’t have much sympathy for multi-billion dollar businesses like WalMart who hire tens of thousands of part-timers to avoid paying health care… and then cry poor.]  But the vitriol in the rhetoric is astounding.

 According to Theodore Roosevelt we need to struggle for “true liberties which can only come through order.”  He also stated that “The first principle of civilization is the preservation or order.”  There’s also the quote attributed to Jefferson – “Without order, there is no liberty,” but for all the truth behind it, I can’t find any evidence that he actually said it.

 On the face of matters, it would seem evident that without order, societies don’t work, and establishing order requires a certain amount of civil authority, but more and more, Americans, as well as others around the globe, seem to take umbrage when that authority applies to us – or those we support.  It’s all right to use drones against foreign terrorists, but not against American citizens.  Miranda rights are absolutely necessary for American-born citizens [read WASPs], but not for immigrants or foreign-born citizens.  It’s fine when the referee punishes a player on the other team, but not on “our” team, and especially not my son or daughter, and I can yell and scream and threaten the ref.  Or, I can text safely while driving, so that there shouldn’t be any laws restricting my ability to use electronic devices while driving, and I’ll get really angry if I get a ticket for it.  Or, if I’m a celebrity caught driving drunk, I can threaten the officer who arrests me.

 Regardless of who said it or who didn’t, liberty and order are inseparable in any workable society.  Without liberty, the most ordered society will fail, and we’ve seen that happen time and time in our lifetime.  Likewise, without order, there is no society… and no way to protect liberties – except for the strongest and most ruthless.

So why are so many people so enraged at attempts to maintain order? 

5 thoughts on “Authority, Civility… and Civilization”

  1. Steve says:

    I would bet that the majority of the people involved in these events of uncontrolled rage have never had to succumb to authority. They likely had absent parents and never served in the military. We all know there is no definitive authority given to school teachers.

    If they were not taught self discipline at a young age then it would likely require a military setting to teach self discipline. They won’t learn it in prison.

  2. Corwin says:

    The problem is that the ‘teaching’ of Discipline is no longer tolerated. Try to discipline your children in public and you are accused of child abuse. Setting sensible boundaries for children will hinder their personal development, etc, etc. Taking away the rights of parents and teachers while increasing those of children and totally destroying the whole concept of ‘consequences’ has helped lead us to where we are. There are other issues too, but these are some of the fundamental ones.

  3. Ryan Jackson says:

    Corwin covers it best. People seem completely opposed to any type of negative action towards a child no matter the reason.

    I’ve personally seen people who aren’t even parents freak out over nothing. Other day at a store my son was throwing a complete tantrum, I calmed him down only for someone barely 20 something to yell at me for “slapping” my child. In this case said “slap” amounted to a one finger flick to my Son’s ear, delivered with no where near enough power to cause redness, let alone actual injury. But it gets his attention even when he’s in a full out tantrum.

    For that matter, we’re not even allowed to encourage our children to take appropriate and reasonable action if said action is considered “violent”. I still remember having to go to the principle’s office for my Step-daughter when she was in 1st grade. I was told on the phone she was fighting. I get there, get the story from both her and the witnessing teacher and said fight was a bully who wouldn’t leave her alone so she put him in an arm bar and held him there until the teacher got to the fight where in she let the other kid go and backed up. The principle got offended when I pointed out she used appropriate and not excessive force to protect herself and then turned the situation over to proper authority once it was present. From the school’s perspective she should have waited passively while the other child injured her until the teacher got there.

  4. KB says:

    I think much of this rage comes from a growing sense of disparity between the Haves and Have Nots and especially from those “Haves” who only have precariously, such as the dwindling Middle Class. This rage is, I believe, attributable to the increasing disparity between the wealthy privileged and the rest. It is the disparity, rather than absolute wealth, that feeds the greed and envy as you (Modesitt) observed and predicted in the Octagonal Raven:

    “All pretend that the system is … fair.”
    “Perceptive elites try to avoid discontent wherever possible”
    “People don’t operate on absolute status but relative status [People by all measures live better today than any time in history]
    “Never has there been such prosperity and freedom of individual action and action … Yet [never has there been] such anger and resentment.”

    There is a recent and interesting TED presentation that gives hard data on economic inequality, and shows how rage and other measures intensify as the gap between rich (elites)and the rest widens: Health declines for the non-elite as does Lifespan and Trust.

    http://www.ted.com/talks/richard_wilkinson.html

    I wish politicians had courage. It is time for courageous politicos to perceive that it is in the best interest of everyone (not just the elites) to encourage a sense of shared responsibility and privileges. Mark Twain spoke truly when he observed that policemen and politicians … are the dust-licking pimps and slaves of the scum [majority].

    I believe rage will lessen as a sense of duty and a sense of access to responsibility increase. We, I bearnestly elieve, should be clear about WHAT our duties should be and WHAT are reasonable expectations of privilege (not what the TV tells us)can be. Why do I say say we need to teach reasonable Duty and reasonable Privilege? – Because, I believe, Americans have been hearing mixed messages. On the one hand, our youth are being told each and everyone is “so special” when most of us (including me) do not break the mold. But then most people’s lives do not match up with what we see people living on television and (this came as a surprise to me) most kids grow up watching and actually believing that the life will be like Nickelodean, where the sun always shine on TV. This disconnect between disappointed ego and reality is the source of rage.

    Psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut defines the phenomenon as narcissistic rage in his book “Evil: Inside Human Violence and Cruelty.” He explains that most rage-prone individuals are ones with high, but unstable, self-esteem. Such an individual reacts defensively to threats to his fragile ego, an ego that has expectations that are often, too often, not met. The Cure to Narcissim? Perhaps a sense of duty to others before he or she grows up and cannot unlearn narcissim.

  5. Jason says:

    I am not sure that saying negativity towards children is not tolerated. I will say it goes a step further and that a lack of positivity towards children has become “unacceptable” for many people, especially in schools.

    Teachers are asked to find words of encouragement for every student nurture them and help grow their self-esteem. In an ideal situation, with small class sizes, maybe this would be possible. But with class sizes of 30 and 40, expecting a teacher to find nice things to say about kids every day becomes difficult if not impossible.

    It is not just schools, though. Every where you turn, we are asked to not only excuse poor behavior and horrible personality traits in kids, but to be understanding and encouraging to them.

    And, if we are not, all of a sudden, we are the bad people.

    Kids know this and work it like never before. It is little wonder why they have learned to be aggressive towards everyone and thing; they have gotten away with it their whole lives and actually managed to earn praise for it and their other bad behaviors.

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