Re-reading Faulkner in Trumplandia: “[H]is ferocious conviction in the rightness of his own actions”

Season 2 of Mindhunter focuses on the Atlanta child murders; in one scene investigators interrogate a local KKK member.

As a lifelong white Southern male, I found the characterization of that man—what many would call a Georgia cracker—to be unsettling. He is arrogant, self-assured, and able, as he declares, to wrangle his way out of any trouble.

What is off, I think, is that in real life this type of poor Southern white man is an odd but distinct combination of embarrassed arrogance. They are stubbornly self-assured—and completely un-self-aware. But they are also painfully laconic, and if you look carefully, they often become flushed, the blood rising in their necks and faces as they swell with both anger and embarrassment.

In the audio of the wiretap that leads to this KKK member being interrogated, there are hints that Mindhunter is softening the characterizations (that dialogue, and the verb usage, is far too formal) so the scene that bothers me seems to be a reasonable cinematic decision—although it fits into a current narrative about white men now who seem to be afraid of losing status that they never deserved in the first place.

Within a couple days of watching that scene, I happened to finally view Burning, a celebrated Korean film based on Haruki Murakami’s “Barn Burning,” which is the Japanese author’s take on William Faulkner’s story of the same name.

After seeing the film, I decided to re-read both Faulkner’s and Murakami’s stories.

My experiences with Faulkner began flatly in high school, “The Bear,” and then more seriously in a Southern literature course where I found myself deeply embarrassed and suddenly aware of how much I did not know as a junior English education major. Immediately after I graduated college at the end of the first semester of my fifth year, I set out to read everything by Faulkner as I spent several month substitute teaching and doing a long-term sub—all while applying for what I hoped would be my first teaching job that coming fall.

Faulkner then provided for me, still deeply uncritical, an influential combination of modernism filtered through a deeply familiar Southern voice; there was much there that was technically and verbally dazzling (or so it seemed to me as a twenty-something want-to-be writer and teacher).

In 2019 Trumplandia, however, as I rapidly approach 60, I found a much different Faulkner in my re-reading of “Barn Burning”—one now informed by, for example, James Baldwin’s confrontation of Faulkner and the uncomfortable reality that even my well-educated friends now lament that times are really hard for white men in this #MeToo era.

If you are not from the South and you want to understand my opening concerns about the absence of the embarrassed arrogance in the KKK member being interrogated, or if you can’t quite grasp yet who Trump voters are, I suggest you wade into Faulkner’s “Barn Burning” to witness Abner Snopes. A few pages in, readers have the central character of Snopes detailed:

There was something about his wolf-like independence and even courage when the advantage was at least neutral which impressed strangers, as if they got from his latent ravening ferocity not so much a sense of dependability as a feeling that his ferocious conviction in the rightness of his own actions would be of advantage to all whose interest lay with his.

And later in the story, once the family has been once again relocated because of the father’s serial criminality, Abner Snopes chastises is young son Sarty (the eyes of the story) for nearly betraying his father in court:

“You’re getting to be a man. You got to learn. You got to learn to stick to your own blood or you ain’t going to have any blood to stick to you. Do you think either of them, any man there this morning, would? Don’t you know all they wanted was a chance to get at me because they knew I had them beat?”

You will witness Snopes go before the Justice of the Peace twice, quite guilty both time and quite determined that he should not be punished because his actions, to him, are entirely justified—both the burning of a barn and tracking horse manure across the rug when he arrives at Major de Spain’s farm. Snopes is all rugged individual (“wolf-like independence”) and white nationalism/tribalism (“‘your own blood'”) bundled into Southern embarrassed arrogance.

Few things anger many poor white males in the South more than questioning or challenging their honor code, a code wrapped in white nationalism; Snopes rations out his justice and expects everyone else to step aside, recognize its authority.

Re-reading the story also revealed to me how Faulkner incorporates a distinct element of materialism to the theme of individual versus communal justice. Snopes destroys the property of those wealthier than him to assert his dominance in the same way Snopes uses racial slurs about and at black characters in the story.

Snopes is just as domineering with his family, the women and children subject to his verbal and physical wrath, his expected but unpredictable lashing out. Snopes desperately clings to the mythical fiefdom he has manufactured thoughtlessly in his mind.

Faulkner’s story ends with the boy’s sense of “‘truth, justice'” finally coming to a deadly climax with his father’s barn burning, but even as the boy feels compelled to betray his father, his blood, Sarty cannot rise above the engrained but distorted myth of his father:

Father. My father, he thought. “He was brave!” he cried suddenly, aloud but not loud, no more than a whisper: “He was! He was in the war! He was in Colonel Sartoris’ cav’ry!” not knowing that his father had gone to that war a private in the fine old European sense, wearing no uniform, admitting authority of and giving fidelity to no man or army or flag, going to war as Malbrouck himself did: for booty—it meant nothing and less than nothing to him if it were enemy booty or his own.

As Faulkner is apt to do often, the story reveals itself as one of the self-defeating South, where pride in tradition fails any reasonable effort to ground that pride in an ethical unpacking of the past.

Today the laconic embarrassed arrogance has shifted to rants on social media defending the Confederate Flag and arguing that the South fought the Civil War for state’s rights or wildly claiming many blacks fought in Confederate uniforms in that sacred war.

Especially in 2019, both Murakami’s story and the film adaptation help put Faulkner’s story and today’s angry white men in a sharp relief.

Murakami tends to traffic in disassociated men, what can be misinterpreted as sympathetic narratives about the male condition. His “Barn Burning” is steeped in the naive narrator (the film directly mentions The Great Gatsby, but those familiar with Murakami’s work can feel a sort of Nick narrator in this story, fascinated with the mysterious and wealthy boyfriend who appears with the younger woman at the center of the story).

Barn burning is the surprising confession by that mysterious new boyfriend, who decides to confide in the narrator and give the story both an air of mystery and a much more ambiguous (although still detached) moral center than Faulkner’s stark display of Southern honor:

“I’m not judging anything. They’re waiting to be burned. I’m simply obliging. You get it? I’m just taking on what’s there. Just like the rain….Well, all right, does this make me immoral? In my own way, I’d like to believe I’ve got my own morals. And that’s an extremely important force in human existence. A person can’t exist without morals.”

This self-identified barn burner, then, is a more expressive Abner Snopes, and Murakami’s version is far more ambiguous about the barn burnings and how the reader is supposed to judge, or not, the three main characters—the married narrator, the twenty-year-old woman involved with both men (and who falls asleep easily), and the new boyfriend who flatly states he burns barns.

Another twist added by Murakami is when the narrator confronts the barn burner about not being able to find the most recently burned barn: “‘All I can say is, you must have missed it. Does happen you know. Things so close up, they don’t even register.'”

A brief exchange but, I think, a valuable commentary on anyone’s lack of self-awareness—the inability see the things so close up but that still drive who we are, what we do, and how we navigate the world as if our morals are the right ones.

Murakami leaves the reader with more unanswered, however, capturing some of the indirect and ambiguous also lingering at the end of Faulkner’s story.

[Spoiler alert for the film Burning.]

And this brings me to the film adaptation that moves beyond Faulkner’s modernist and Murakami’s post-modernist tendencies.

In the film, the barn burning mystery (transposed to burning greenhouses) becomes a frame for the new boyfriend being a serial murderer and the central character being pushed himself into asserting violently his own moral code.

The movie adaptation steers the viewer into a psychological mystery. As we watch along with the central character, Lee Jong-su, a disturbing picture develop. Ben declares to his new girlfriend, after Shin Hae-mi has disappeared, that burning greenhouses is merely a metaphor (that the viewers and Jong-su recognize as a metaphor for his being a serial murderer of young women).

To work through Faulkner to Murakami to Burning is more than a journey through literary/film theory and genre/medium. This an exercise is coming to recognize the very real and violent consequences of the anger that rises in men of a certain type (maybe, as the film suggests, all men) who cling to their individualistic moral codes to the exclusion of everyone else.

These are not just the men of a short story or movie; these are the agents of mass shootings and the daily terrors of domestic violence and sexual aggression and assault.

As a white man from the South, I struggle with the sharp awareness that the tension in Sarty between some larger communal ethics and the myth of this father remains a reality for young men in 2019. I also fear that the new narrative that the world is becoming too hard for men is very fertile ground for the sort of unbridled arrogance and violence that pervades the U.S.

Faulkner’s story ends in allusion. The barn burning blazes behind Sarty, who understands what the gun fire he hears confirms. Yet, he walks away, and “[h]e did not look back.”

If Faulkner is being hopeful here, I cannot muster that same optimism today.

See Also

Cormac McCarthy’s Mostly White, Male Mythology: Rethinking the Canon

Post-Truth U.S. Doesn’t Have a Prayer

Before I could examine a renewed interest in public school prayer prompted by a court ruling in South Carolina, school prayer was once again grossly misrepresented in the wake of two mass shootings, the cancer on the U.S. that political leaders refuse to diagnose or treat properly.

I taught and coached in a public high school in SC for 18 years, the same high school I had attended in my home town. As a coach, I lived a very direct example of how most people completely misunderstand both the laws and practices connected with prayer in public schools.

Sports, like graduation (the source of the recent SC court ruling), have strong and problematic connections with organized religion, especially in the South. Coaches tend to call players to prayer quite often, notably right before a contest.

Since I recognized that coaching and teaching are both positions representing the state, I refused to coerced my players into prayer. Pre-game prayer was optional and organized by players, to be performed before we gathered as a team to start a contest.

This is a key element in how people misunderstand the laws concerning prayer in public schools. Athletes join sports teams for the sports, not for religious purposes, and students are compelled to attend school (until the age designated for dropping out).

However, these same students often voluntarily join religious clubs within public schools, such as Fellowship of Christian Athletes or Teens for Christ.

So here is the law and the distinction.

Prayer by students has always been and remains completely legal and fully protected by the law in U.S. public schools. Despite the misinformation promoted by political leaders, prayer was never banned in public schools.

The law from the 1960s did something quite different and in the interest of religious and non-religious people; it banned coercing children or teens to pray.

Religious freedom in the U.S. should be both the freedom to be religious or not and the freedom from government endorsement or denial of those beliefs or lack of organized faith.

If prayer is absent in public schools in the U.S., then that is the result of the choices of students—not a compelled outcome of the state through the institution of public schools.

But the argument that mass shootings in the U.S. are the result of prayer being banned in schools is not only flawed because it is factually untrue, but because it remains one of the many ways that political leaders and pro-gun ideologues use post-truth and failed logic to distract from the fact that only a couple real conditions exist to explain how the U.S. is by far the outlier in mass shootings among countries similar in any way to the U.S.

The absence of prayer cannot be the cause of mass shootings since prayer is not banned in public schools.

Mental illness is not the cause of mass shootings because the evidence shows that mental illness is more strongly associated with being a victim of violence, not committing violence. And all of the countries with few or no mass shootings also have citizens struggling with mental health.

Video games are not the cause of mass shootings because the research fails to show a connection between playing and violence, but as with mental health, all of the countries with few or no mass shootings also have access to violent video games.

Baseless scapegoating of prayer, mental health, and video games is a powerful example of how post-truth public discourse and political leadership are themselves deadly.

The real distinctions between the U.S. and countries with few or no mass shootings are access to guns and the amount as well as types of guns.

Several countries have taken actions that have in fact resulted in curbing gun violence, but that action had to begin with the truth, a truth grounded in guns themselves.

Yes, the U.S. also has ample evidence that a type of misogyny and male anger is also connected with mass shootings. These domestic terrorists are often white males who have expressed and even acted on racist beliefs and hatred or dehumanizing of women (domestic violence is a disturbing marker of predicting mass shootings).

But even these factual acknowledgements are incomplete unless we face the cold hard truth that access to guns and the amount and types of guns common the U.S. are essential parts of how the country is known for mass shootings and gun violence.

As the body count continues to increase and political leaders and the public grow numb to the horrors of mass shootings, some have come to see the “thoughts and prayers” response as hollow, even offensive.

In the wake of El Paso and Dayton, efforts to blame inexcusable terror on a lie about prayer in public school are themselves gross and immoral examples of post-truth politics and public discourse.

And thus, the darkest of ironies: The post-truth U.S. doesn’t have a prayer.

Consent, Policing, and School Safety

A recent controversy at an Arizona Starbucks spurred anger across social media:

Starbucks on Sunday apologized after an employee at one of its stores in Tempe, Arizona, asked six police officers to leave or move out of a customer’s line of sight, triggering social media backlash.

The officers had visited the store on July 4 and had paid for the drinks, before one company employee approached them about a customer not feeling safe because of the police presence, the Tempe Officers Association said on Twitter.

Conservative pro-police voices called for a boycott of Starbucks, and eventually, the company issued an apology.

The outrage toward customers in Starbucks finding the presence of police officers intimidating is a uniquely American response, but not one common to all Americans.

Several months ago, I was having a late dinner at a nearby Mexican restaurant after I finished teaching an evening course at my university. Just as I was eating chips with salsa and drinking the XX I ordered, in walked four officers with the county K-9 unit.

These men were typically outfitted like militia—several visible weapons and fatigues. They were dressed for war—not to serve and protect.

Image result for greenville county K-9 units

I was deeply uncomfortable when they sat beside me; in fact, I always find armed police officers intimidating because they have guns.

For many years now, U.S. police forces have become more and more militarized, through training and acquiring equipment from the military.

The uncomfortable Starbuck’s customers are, in fact, embodiments of what research shows about heavily armed and antagonistic police forces—especially when compared to London policing, which is grounded in policing by consent from 1829:

  1. To prevent crime and disorder, as an alternative to their repression by military force and severity of legal punishment.
  2. To recognise always that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour and on their ability to secure and maintain public respect.
  3. To recognise always that to secure and maintain the respect and approval of the public means also the securing of the willing co-operation of the public in the task of securing observance of laws.
  4. To recognise always that the extent to which the co-operation of the public can be secured diminishes proportionately the necessity of the use of physical force and compulsion for achieving police objectives.
  5. To seek and preserve public favour, not by pandering to public opinion; but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws, by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of the public without regard to their wealth or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humour; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
  6. To use physical force only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to obtain public co-operation to an extent necessary to secure observance of law or to restore order, and to use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
  7. To maintain at all times a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and that the public are the police, the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.
  8. To recognise always the need for strict adherence to police-executive functions, and to refrain from even seeming to usurp the powers of the judiciary of avenging individuals or the State, and of authoritatively judging guilt and punishing the guilty.
  9. To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.

Research on “deterrence models,” “based on the idea that offenders and would be offenders are responsive primarily to the risk of punishment,” where “agents of criminal justice need to send out signals of strength, force, detection and justice” and “legitimacy” models where “authority has the right to exercise power [because] it commands consent (a sense of obligation to obey) that is grounded in legality and moral alignment” support the problems with the former and the value in the latter.

That research concludes: “Policing by consent is based upon the idea that the police gain voluntary approval and cooperation from the public not through aggressive control of the population, but through fostering a close social connection between the police and public.”

And thus, citizens in London have a distinctly different experience with police:

[M]ore than 90 percent of the capital’s police officers carry out their daily duties without a gun. Most rely on other tools to keep their city safe: canisters of mace, handcuffs, batons and occasionally stun-guns.

This is no accident.

The Metropolitan Police, which covers most of London, was founded in 1829 on the principle of “policing by consent” rather than by force.

Giving everyday police officers guns sends the wrong message to communities, so this thinking goes, and can actually cause more problems than it solves.

…In the year up to March 2016, police in England and Wales only fired seven bullets….

These officers fatally shot just five people during that period, according to British charity Inquest, which helps families after police-related deaths.

The contrast with the U.S. is stunning:

It’s a world away from the United States, where cops killed 1,092 people in 2016, according to figures compiled by The Guardian.

Of course it’s easier for police to remain unarmed if civilians do the same. Out of every 100 people in Britain, fewer than four of them owns a firearm, according to GunPolicy.org, a project run by Australia’s University of Sydney. In the U.S. there is more than one gun per person.

And for people living in Arizona, “on average, it happens every five days: An Arizona police officer aims a weapon and shoots at someone.”

That armed police officers enter a coffee shop and cause discomfort is not reason to boycott a lucrative chain but a clear signal about the harm being done to democracy and safety in the US. As Jonathan Mummolo’s research details:

The increasingly visible presence of heavily armed police units in American communities has stoked widespread concern over the militarization of local law enforcement. Advocates claim militarized policing protects officers and deters violent crime, while critics allege these tactics are targeted at racial minorities and erode trust in law enforcement. Using a rare geocoded census of SWAT team deployments from Maryland, I show that militarized police units are more often deployed in communities with large shares of African American residents, even after controlling for local crime rates. Further, using nationwide panel data on local police militarization, I demonstrate that militarized policing fails to enhance officer safety or reduce local crime. Finally, using survey experiments—one of which includes a large oversample of African American respondents—I show that seeing militarized police in news reports may diminish police reputation in the mass public. In the case of militarized policing, the results suggest that the often-cited trade-off between public safety and civil liberties is a false choice.

The public and political misguided belief in militarized police units is eerily similar to the public and political calls for turning public schools into prisons through armed guards (and teachers), surveillance cameras, metal detectors, and active shooter drills.

Just as militarized police forces do not deter crime or protect officers, commonly embraced safety features being implemented in schools do not make schools more secure and can often increase unsafe behavior by students.

To protect a democracy and the public schools that in theory feed that democracy, and to foster a society that is both free and safe, the concept of policing by consent is both more effective and better matched to the ideals often claimed for the U.S.

The root problem in the U.S. continues to be guns and seemingly unbridled tendencies toward authoritarianism.

The Starbucks customers had rational reactions not only to the presence of the police officers but to the reality those officers represent—that in the U.S. militarized police forces do not make us safer but often create violence and even death.

Dare the School Build a New Social Order?: A Reckoning 86 Years Later

The candidacy seemed at the time nothing more than sideshow, perverse reality TV, and then Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination for president, prompting many pundits to note that as a death knoll for the Republican Party.

Yet, Trump was elected president.

During the primaries and throughout his run against Hillary Clinton, Trump proved to be relentlessly dishonest, a liar. However, mainstream media avoided calling a lie “a lie,” including major media outlets directly arguing against such language. President Trump hasn’t budged from overstatement, misleading statements, and outright lies.

Notably, major media publish Trump’s lies as if they are credible, despite fact-checking exposing lie upon lie upon lie.

Early on, many opposing Trump called for media simply to call out the lies. Here is the truly bad news, however.

During my Tuesday role as caregiver for my 2-year-old grandson, I flipped through my cable channels during his nap for a brief reprieve from NickJr. I paused on CNN, even though I loath all of the 24-hour news shows.

What caught my ear was that the newscaster was repeatedly calling Trump our for lies, using the word “lie”—over and over. This, I felt, was a real new normal I had called for, but never expected.

Next, the newscaster replayed a segment from the day before focusing on a fact checker of Trump’s many, many lies. The fact checker noted a truly disturbing fact: Trump’s supporters, he explained, recognize that Trump lies, but doesn’t mind the lies; in fact, Trump’s supporters revel in those lies because, as the fact checker emphasized, this drives liberals crazy.

It is here that I must stress two points: (1) It appears those of us believing that exposing Trump as a liar would somehow derail his presidency were sorely mistaken, and (2) we are now entering a phase of U.S. history in which the long-standing slur of “liberal” is code for taking evidence-based stances, especially if those evidence-based stances swim against the current of American ideology and mythology.

Let me offer a couple example.

In my own public and scholarly work, contexts that prompt responses that discount me as a “liberal” (with false implications that I am a partisan Democrat), I have made repeated and compelling cases against corporal punishment and school-only safety measures.

Neither of these issues is both-sides debates since the research base is overwhelmingly one-sided.

Corporal punishment is not an effective discipline technique, and it creates violent youth and adults. A powerful body research prompted by the school shooting at Columbine and including studies by the Secret Service reject school-only safety measure such as security guards, surveillance cameras, active-shooter drills, and metal detectors, all of which are not deterrents and may even create violence.

Therefore, to embrace evidence-based positions on corporal punishment and school safety is the liberal or progressive (seeking change) stance, while the traditional or conservative (maintaining established practices) positions (ignoring the evidence) cling to corporal punishment and fortifying schools while refusing to address the wider influences of communities and our national mania for guns.

Let’s consider that last point more fully next.

There is an unpopular and upsetting fact driving why school-only safety measures are futile: K-12 and higher education are essentially conservative.

Despite political and popular scapegoating of all formal education as liberal, the evidence of nearly a century reveals that all forms of school more often than not reflect the communities and society they serve. In no real ways, then, do schools meet the former Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s hollow mantra that education is the great equalizer, some sort of silver bullet for change.

Evidence shows that at different levels of educational attainment, significant gaps persist among racial categories and those gaps are even more pronounced once race and gender are included (see p. 34).

In the 1930s, a golden era for idealism about communism and socialism in the U.S. after the stock market crash, major educational thinkers such as John Dewey (a socialist) and George Counts championed the potential for progressive education (Dewey) to shape U.S. democracy, and then for social reconstruction (Counts) to reshape the nation, as Counts detailed in his Dare the School Build a New Social Order? (1932).

As an early critical voice, Counts spoke to the educational goals that appealed to me as I eventually found critical pedagogy in my doctoral program and doubled down on my early commitment to be the sort of educator who fostered change with and through my students.

Yet, here I sit in 2018, 86 years after Counts’s manifesto. And the U.S. is being led by a pathological liar supported by more and more people who directly say they don’t care about lies or evidence because it makes liberal mad.

This is the pettiness our country has wrought, despite more people today being formally educated than at any time in U.S. history.

My 35 years and counting as an educator, part as a high school teacher and now in higher education, have been a disappointing lesson that answers Counts’s titular question with a resounding “no.”

I shared with my foundations education class the proofs of a chapter I have prepared for a volume now in-press, Contending with Gun Violence in the English Language Classroom. I then briefly reviewed the evidence against in-school safety measures, prompting a student to ask what, then, should we do in schools.

Address our larger gun culture and violent communities, I explained, reminding the class that I have stressed again and again that they need to understand at least one essential lesson from our course: Schools mostly reflect communities and society, but they simply do very little to change anything.

I don’t like this message, but it is evidence-based, and I suppose, a liberal claim.

For many years, I have quickly refuted those who assume I am a partisan Democrat (I am not, never have been). I also have rejected labels of “liberal” and “progressive” for “critical” and “radical.”

But I feel the time is ripe for re-appropriating “liberal” when it is hurled as a slur.

In Trumplandia, to be fact-free is to be conservative, traditional, and to acknowledge evidence is to be liberal, progressive.

This is what the evidence reveals to those of us willing to see. Everything else is a lie.

There’s both sides for those who want it.


Recommended

College campuses are far from radical

Sacrificing Women: “I came to see the damage that was done”

I came to see the damage that was done…

the thing I came for:
the wreck and not the story of the wreck
the thing itself and not the myth
the drowned face always staring
toward the sun
the evidence of damage

“Diving into the Wreck,” Adrienne Rich

Some of the most offensive elements of the Brett Kavanaugh dissembling are that his lived experiences beneath his lies are about a much wider and more insidious reality. The partisan sideshow must not be allowed to distract us from that reality—that we are a country still complicit in sacrificing women.

Toxic masculinity and rape culture are inexcusable subsets of a larger toxic privilege that spawned Kavanaugh and legions just like him. And, yes, frat culture in his past and today are microcosms of the misogynistic worlds in which mostly white men circulate while clutching the vast majority of wealth and power in the US.

But the Kavanaugh debacle is a story about toxic privilege and our willingness to sacrifice girls and women at the alter of any one powerful white man.

Toxic masculinity, rape culture, and toxic privilege depend as well on complicit women who have been drawn into a dark fantasy of being embraced and rewarded by these men—as reflected in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale:

Toxic privilege has also driven a pop culture designed to idealize and sanitize rape culture:

Sixteen Candles isn’t a college sex romp like Revenge of the Nerds or Animal House. It’s a high school love story. It’s been celebrated for 34 years for its sweet, romantic heart. Yet it is entirely willing to feature a lengthy, supposedly hilarious subplot in which a drunk and unconscious girl is passed from one boy to another and then raped.

So Caroline gets drunk at a party and passes out in her boyfriend’s room, where presumably she believes she will be safe….

The next time we see Caroline, she’s unconscious again, and the Geek is having his friends photograph him next to her unresponsive body. “Ted, you’re a legend,” they gush.

The next morning, a newly sober Caroline and Geek conclude that they had sex the night before. The Geek asks Caroline if she enjoyed herself. “You know, I have this weird feeling I did,” Caroline says.

As this analysis unpacks, Kavanaugh lived through the same era as this film, and many popular films much worse. Alcohol and toxic masculinity in high school and especially college continue to function the same ways, ways that sacrifice women.

In the very real and ugly world, women are victims of crass political and ideological commitments to guns and lies about who exactly women should fear; it isn’t foreigners or strangers, but guns and men they know:

While this study does not focus solely on domestic violence homicide or guns, it provides a stark reminder that domestic violence and guns make a deadly combination. According to reports submitted to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), firearms are rarely used to kill criminals or stop crimes. Instead, they are all too often used to inflict harm on the very people they were intended to protect.

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports, in 2016 there were only 327 justifiable homicides committed by private citizens. Of these, only 45 involved women killing men. Of those, only 29 involved firearms, with 22 of the 29 involving handguns. While firearms are at times used by private citizens to kill criminals, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the most common scenarios of lethal gun use in America in 2016, the most recent final data available, are suicide (22,938), homicide (14,415), or fatal unintentional injury (495). (When Men Murder Women)

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And the very worst of these realities are prominent across the Bible Belt:

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Emily Peck has reported a telling moment in the Kavanaugh saga: “‘Sen. McConnell, do you always turn your back on women like this?’ Khanna asked as the senator faced other questions from activists while he rode the escalator.”

Yes, the answer is yes, but also, McConnell is but one example of a much larger reality, an entire country turning its back, allowing women to be sacrificed.

A New School Year But the Same Concerns about Safety

Over the summer, a post on social media complained about President Trump not receiving credit for the sudden pause in school shootings. Of course, as one response noted, school violence tends to be absent when schools are no longer in session.

This virtual exchange exposes the dangers of both partisan sniping and uninformed public debates.

As K-12 schools and colleges begin new academic years, we are all once again concerned about the safety of students, faculty, and staff.

However, actual policies and practices that would better insure that safety face many hurdles. One problem with implementing effective strategies for safer schools is a lack of credible data.

Anya Kamenetz reports for NPR: “Our reporting highlights just how difficult it can be to track school-related shootings and how researchers, educators and policymakers are hindered by a lack of data on gun violence.”

This confusion over how often school shootings occur is made even more complicated since high-profile mass shootings at schools tend to create a false and distorted picture of schools. Despite what political, media, and public debates suggest, numerous studies reveal that students are safer in schools than in their communities.

And here is where we must face a powerful but often ignored fact about how to make our schools safer: School safety initiatives must begin by making our communities and wider society safer, including addressing access to and the sheer amount of guns in the U.S.

School safety measures have proven time and again not to be effective. More troubling, some safety measures have been shown to create less safe environments in our schools.

Metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and resource officers are all widely supported by politicians and the public, yet they do not create safer schools. And as a study released by the National Association of School Psychologists reveals,

There is no clear research evidence that the use of metal detectors, security cameras, or guards in schools is effective in preventing school violence (Addington, 2009; Borum, Cornell, Modzeleski, & Jimerson, 2010; Casella, 2006; Garcia, 2003). In fact, research has shown that their presence negatively impacts students’ perceptions of safety and even increases fear among some students (Bachman, Randolph, & Brown, 2011; Schreck & Miller, 2003). In addition, studies suggest that restrictive school security measures have the potential to harm school learning environments (Beger, 2003; Phaneuf, 2009).

After intense media coverage of shootings at schools in the 2017-2018 school year, many have been compelled to call for more people being armed, even arguing for increased armed officer presence in schools and arming teachers.

Yet, the evidence is overwhelming, as Melinda Wenner Moyer reports, “guns are associated with an increased risk for violence and homicide”—but not with greater safety.

If we can set aside partisan agendas and popular support for policies that lack credibility, we must confront that security cameras were present at Sandy Hook and Virginia Tech, that arm resource officers were present at Columbine and Parkland, and that turning schools into fortresses surrounded by barbed wire and gated with metal detectors is more likely to criminalize our students than protect them.

Ultimately, however, our choice is not between fatalism—throwing up our hands and doing nothing—and grasping at misleading and even harmful policies that give the appearance of making schools safer.

First, the U.S. is well overdue on a reckoning with our gun-lust. We have too many guns in the U.S., and we allow far too much access to those guns. Internationally, we are an obscene outlier in gun violence and access.

If school and community safety is a real concern in our country, we will find the political and public will to change our laws and our behavior. Without that will, our schools will remain ground zero for tragedies that could be avoided.

Next, of course, school policies and practices can have positive consequences for safety.

After Columbine, in fact, the Secret Service and U.S. Department of Education cautioned against safety structures (officers, metal detectors, cameras, etc.) and stressed:

Specifically, Initiative findings suggest that [school] officials may wish to consider focusing their efforts to formulate strategies for preventing these attacks in two principal areas:

  • developing the capacity to pick up on and evaluate available or knowable information that might indicate that there is a risk of a targeted school attack; and,
  • employing the results of these risk evaluations or “threat assessments” in developing strategies to prevent potential school attacks from occurring.

In other words, school safety is about paying close attention to our students, their needs and their struggles. School safety is a human issue, not something that can be barricaded or watched over closed circuit.

Ill-informed “gotcha” social media exchanges reveal the essential problems with our political and public responses to school violence: We are too often driven by our hearts and our guts while refusing to see and listen to the often hard answers for genuinely dangerous realities.

Be Informed, Not Ideological

The Onion has created a dark humor Groundhog Day response to school and mass shootings in the U.S.: ‘No Way To Prevent This,’ Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens.

Public discourse and social media discussions suffer from something as predictable after school shootings as well—a fruitless clash of ideological claims, often bereft of evidence or historical context.

As an educator and a scholar, I feel compelled to advocate for safety in our society and our schools; therefore, I routinely address the research base on gun violence and school safety through my Twitter feed, on Facebook, and in my blogging.

Here’s a pattern I witness each time.

I post something about gun violence and school shootings, and someone comments with a claim that the school shootings are the result of a decline in morals, occasionally tossing in a reference to taking God and prayer out of schools (this last part is, by the way, entirely false as forced prayer has been deemed unconstitutional in public schools, but everyone in those schools are free to pray without interference).

This popped up after the shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, so I simply responded by asking what evidence exists that the U.S. was ever a moral/ethical country and thus how do we prove a decline.

The person openly stated that they had no proof, and just believed it to be true—conceding that I had the right to believe whatever I wanted.

Herein is the problem: Most people believe and argue as ideologues, and thus, assume everyone else is arguing as an ideologue also—reducing public and social media debate to little more than a shouting match absence evidence.

The worst extremes of being ideological, for example, are racism and sexism. Racism is the idea that some races are superior to others, and racists, then, impose that idea onto the world instead of drawing conclusions about race from evidence. Sexism functions the same regarding sex/gender.

The ideologue, then, can often be discredited by evidence—except that those functioning by ideology alone refuse to move from being ideological to being informed by that evidence.

Science, often misunderstood, is a discipline designed to build better understanding through a variety of ways of thinking, reasoning:

“In inductive inference, we go from the specific to the general. We make many observations, discern a pattern, make a generalization, and infer an explanation or a theory,” Wassertheil-Smoller told Live Science. “In science, there is a constant interplay between inductive inference (based on observations) and deductive inference (based on theory), until we get closer and closer to the ‘truth,’ which we can only approach but not ascertain with complete certainty.”

We start with some idea—I think this is true about the world, or human behavior—and then we put that idea to a test. The outcome of that testing creates some foundation for anticipating how the world will work, how humans will behave.

However, those ideas grounded in evidence are then always subject to the consequences of further evidence—if the evidence reinforces the idea, it survives; if the evidence contradicts the idea, it must change.

Ideologues, resistant to evidence, become victims to logical fallacies—flawed thinking, for example:

A leading candidate would be “attribution error.” Attribution error leads us to resist attempts to explain the bad behavior of people in the enemy tribe by reference to “situational” factors—poverty, enemy occupation, humiliation, peer group pressure, whatever. We’d rather think our enemies and rivals do bad things because that’s the kind of people they are: bad….

This is attribution error working as designed. It sustains your conviction that, though your team may do bad things, it’s only the other team that’s actually bad. Your badness is “situational,” theirs is “dispositional.”…

Another cognitive bias—probably the most famous—is confirmation bias, the tendency to embrace, perhaps uncritically, evidence that supports your side of an argument and to either not notice, reject, or forget evidence that undermines it.

To refuse continually interrogating our ideas about the world against the evidence is to commit to faulty thinking, attribution error and confirmation bias, for a just a couple of the most powerful ways people become mired in false ideology and resistant to credible ideas.

Being ideological instead of informed has dire consequences. Ideological thinking created a healthcare crisis because patients believed antibiotics cure every sort of illness, and then the medical field made a market error by allowing patient demand to drive bad medical practice.

Antibiotic-resistant disease is the child of ideological over informed behavior.

The gun debate and the pursuit of safety also suffer from ideological flaws.

For example, many people argue for gun ownership, and against gun regulation, because they believe guns in the home protect their family and property.

Two aspects of this argument are important.

First, this argument conflates safety with gun ownership without investigating whether or not this is a fair association.

The personal and family safety—self-defense—argument is both rational and irrational. To desire safety is entirely rational; to cling to guns in that pursuit, once you are informed and not ideological, becomes irrational.

Thus, second, gun ownership for safety has many outcomes more common that self-defense—domestic violence, suicide, and accidental shootings (see research listed here).

At the root of many people being ideological and not informed is our basic human nature; we are causal machines as a pursuit of survival.

Humans are constantly jumping from correlation to causation because we are predisposed to making those inferences at the unconscious level, split-second decisions once necessary to survive.

Consider, again, our rush to make medical claims not based in evidence: People think being cold causes colds; however, colds are the result of the presence of viruses. (It seems worth noting we can experience cold with our senses and viruses are not recognizable to the bare senses.)

Extreme cold can lead to hypothermia, and can reduce our resistance to bacteria and viruses. But cold weather doesn’t cause colds.

To be ideological (and wrong) is easier because there is some seemingly concrete way to jumble correlation with causation; the be informed requires a willingness to step back from what we believe.

As great failures of ideology, then, we demand antibiotics and cling to guns because we have made flawed associations with both in pursuit of perfectly good outcomes—health and safety.

To be informed, and not ideological, means that we must be willing to identify what it is we are trying to understand. And then we must be willing not only to seek out evidence but also to recognize that evidence even as it goes against our initial idea—that which we have always believed.