Hair-Trigger Offense

When I was in high school, there was a long-standing, education-resistant tradition called “senior skip day.” The explanation is in the title. When it was my turn to blow-off learning for the day, most of us traipsed out to Kings Dominion, the closest amusement park to DC.

My friends Joe, Tom, and James drove together which must have been something special since Joe’s car was relatively small and James was a really big guy: he was 6’8” and weighed 230 or something, and, as an athlete, he was in excellent shape. This is a relevant part of the story.

The boys parked their car and had begun walking to the front gate of the park when another group of (apparently) very preppy-looking guys seemed to snort at my friends. Joe swore that someone said “Man, look at the crappy little school boys,” and he just launched into a stream of profanity that would have made Andrew Dice Clay blush. The prepsters, brought up short, began to move toward Joe as if to engage in some kind of West Side Story-inspired tangle. But they took one look at James, who was simply standing there looking 6’8”, and stepped back, raised their hands in surrender, and walked away.

Joe. Was. Ecstatic. Years of perceived slights had accumulated and sweet retaliation was unleashed against a throng of popped-collared high school dudes, simply because Joe had a friendly (6’8”) backstop as reinforcement. He was thrilled.

James and Tom, on the other hand, were totally bewildered. “Why did you do that? All they said was ‘Man, I’m happy there’s no school today.’.”

The point of this story is that one of the prepsters, believe it or not, was Brett Kavanaugh.

Just kidding. The real point of this story is that when we think we have a backstop, when we think we are supported by friendly defenders, we are more inclined to strike back at a perceived offense. And these days, with rapid-fire media blasts and emotional postings and personalized politics, there is no shortage of offense to be taken.

We are at a place in our culture where umbrage is considered fashionable and high dudgeon is our favorite vacation spot. We are so ready to take offense that it sometimes feels as if we are crouched in a permanent defensive stance. This is not good. Take it from someone who goes to the gym frequently, in a futile effort to fight age, genetics, and a remarkable love of cheese: staying in a crouched position for too long is really hard on the quads.

The partisan media have become our backstop. When we isolate ourselves within our ideological filter bubbles we are emboldened to react, believing we are supported by like-minded compatriots. Yet while we may be buttressed by those who share a fealty toward our positions, we do not always get those positions right. It’s probably good to remember that while reacting with visceral certitude is momentarily delicious, there’s always a chance that we have been mistakenly aggrieved. Maybe we heard it wrong, or someone expressed something badly, or maybe we’re just incorrect. Who knows? But using the pundits on partisan media as our own personal 6’8” backstops against perceived slights is a great way to keep the anger firing with both barrels. And the whole point of this blog is to lower the heat, if only just a little bit.

Thanks to the entirely altruistic mom and pop shop called “Facebook,” I remain in Zuckerbergian touch with Joe, James, and Tom, and all are doing really well. Just the other day, I got this picture from one of them, sent to me to remind me of that trip to Kings Dominion:

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I am KIDDING! I told you Kavanaugh wasn’t there. I saw on his calendar that he was hanging that day with PJ and Squi. We didn’t see them at all.