Politics Foreign Affairs Culture

Prairie Home Degeneracy

What are the deeper cultural contours of our violent society?

In Omaha, a babydaddy with a long rap sheet (violence, theft, drug use, booze) confronted cops with a shotgun, using one of his three children as a human shield. When the police shot the fertile felon dead, Natalie Glucklich, local TV news reporter, gave  babymama Levette Spracher an uncontested platform to blame the police for brutality. Spracher tells the TV reporter that she let the cops know the shotgun wasn’t loaded, so why did they shoot her man? Couldn’t they have tased him or something?

That’s the known criminal who took one of their children hostage in an armed standoff with police. Couldn’t the police have sprinkled some sandman dust in his eyes? Inhuman bastards. As Omaha resident The Mighty Favog snarks:

And if you can’t stake your life on the word of a woman possessing the good judgment to shack up with — and have three children by — a felon who had a three-page rap sheet, outstanding warrants and numerous convictions, including several firearms violations, on what exactly can you stake your life?

About this whole mess, Favog is properly splenetic — but more at the crap journalism than at the degenerates whose behavior drew the police’s attention that night:

Listen, I’m sorry Spracher and her kids are traumatized. I’m sorry she lost a boyfriend and three children lost a father — even a whacked-out, felonious one.
I’m sorry Tyree Bell made such a terminal mess of his life. And I’m sorry that Bell is dead and that four cops will have to live with killing someone — even justifiably — for the rest of their lives.

What I’m most sorry about, though, is that contemporary journalism, just like contemporary American society, finds itself completely unable to deal with uncomfortable facts. Like, for one, that this poor woman made some catastrophically bad choices involving men — or at least a man. That she compounded her error by shacking up with that massively troubled individual who had no capacity for obeying the law, then gave society a gift that is likely to keep on giving by having three children with him.

Those three children’s long odds in life just got a lot longer, thanks to being witness to a human spectacle that’s just about as ugly as they come — a trauma that will likely torment them all their lives, a torment they’re apt to endure absent the kinds of cultural and mental-health resources they so desperately need.

What I want to know is where that story is?

Elsewhere on the prairie, The New York Times reports today that the over 500 killings in Chicago last year were primarily gang members killing other gang members. The Times frames the story as — surprise! — racism:

Already, 2013 began with three gun homicides on New Year’s Day, two of them on the South Side. Like other cities, Chicago has long been a segregated place, richer and whiter on the North Side, and the city’s troubling increase in killings has accentuated a longstanding divide.

“It’s two different Chicagos,” said the Rev. Corey B. Brooks Sr., the pastor of New Beginnings Church on the South Side, who had led the funeral service for Mr. Holman the day shots rang out, then found himself leading Mr. Miller’s funeral service a week later. The authorities here have described both shootings as gang related. “If something like that had happened at the big cathedral in downtown Chicago or up north at a predominantly white church, it would still be on the news right now, it would be such a major thing going on.”

Ah. Well, look, it’s no doubt true that these killings heighten consciousness of the racial divide, and it’s also true that you can’t expect a single newspaper story to explore all the key aspects of this phenomenon. Still, it’s eye-rollingly predictable that the Times would go for the “white people don’t care” framing, because anything else might provoke inappropriate thoughts about why it is that the murder problem in Chicago, and nationwide, is disproportionately a matter of young black men killing other young black men. This anecdote from today’s NYT story from Chicago, contains within it the seed of a very good story:

As friends of the deceased stepped past his framed photograph to stand at a microphone, Mr. Brooks called for peace in the church, read out his own cellphone number (in case, he said, anyone needed it), and stopped one young man from launching into a rap, for fear, Mr. Brooks said later, of what new trouble that might stir.

So a clergyman stops a young man from rapping in the middle of a funeral, because he fears the outburst of popular song might start a gunfight? That’s unreal. What does this tell us about the culture of death among urban Chicago black men? For that matter, what does the story of Levette Spracher and Tyree Bell tell us about the kind of future their children, and children born into those circumstances, are likely to have? Are there good reasons why sensible people (of whatever race) want to wall themselves off from toxic cultures that produce Tyree Bells, and the kind of men murdering each other in Chicago (and other cities)?

Here is a video from a Baton Rouge rapper. The scenes were filmed in Baton Rouge, a violent city where crime statistics show that the murders are largely confined to poor black areas, and take place among young black men. What we see here is the fruit of a culture of degeneracy and death:

Last year, the Baton Rouge Advocate did not shirk from exploring the deeper racial and cultural contours of the city’s homicide problem. Full series here. Excerpts:

“We’ll see what happens during the next few years,” Shihadeh said. “But as of right now, New Orleans and Baton Rouge are officially, in my view, the most dangerous corridor in the state, if not the nation.”

The people most affected by such violence are young black men.

The majority, 83 percent, of those killed in East Baton Rouge Parish in 2011 were black men, as was the case in past years. The same goes for the people arrested for homicides last year — 89 percent were black men, and 10 of them were teens.

Violence among this segment of the population “is perhaps one of the most paramount issues facing Louisiana and is a major growing public crisis across America,” stated a 2010 report about the status of black boys and men in Louisiana.

“Black males at every age, across every station in life are in imminent crisis, and have been in crisis, and will continue to be in crisis until fundamental systemic changes are enacted by the collective stakeholders,” community activist Calvin Mackie wrote in the report, which was commissioned by Gov. Bobby Jindal and the Louisiana Legislature.


Sgt. Don Kelly, a spokesman for the Baton Rouge Police Department, said that with every generation there seems to be a group of children who grow up with a “complete disregard for themselves and for anyone or anything.”

Factors that contribute to this fatalistic mind-set, Kelly said, include poverty, inadequate education, lack of access to positive male role models, and prolonged exposure to violent messages in video games, movies and music.

“Murders and violent crime are not the problem in and of themselves, as much as they’re the most visible symptoms of much deeper-rooted societal problems that face, and must be confronted by, every element of the entire community, not just the criminal justice system,” Kelly said.

True enough, but nobody will “confront” them because nobody knows what to do.   The problem is rooted in the breakdown of the family. A government that allowed children to starve because their deadbeat fathers wouldn’t care for them would be heartless. A government that had the means and the will to prevent people from conceiving children outside of wedlock, and to marry and form stable families within which to raise their children, would be tyrannical. What would be useful is sociologically informed reporting that explored this kind of thing. But that may require thinking inappropriate, unsentimental thoughts, and committing journalism.

UPDATE: This Alan Jacobs remark about critics of Tolkien seems applicable here, in a sidelong way:

It has just become the tale that middle-to-highbrow critics tell — ever since Edmund Wilson was saying his own manifestly untrue things about Tolkien in the New Yorker fifty years ago — that Tolkien’s fictional world is morally simplistic and rigidly Manichaean. It may be true that the story of the Ring is less morally ambiguous than the average realistic novel, but that’s primarily because Tolkien wasn’t especially interested in the problem of knowing right from wrong. His concern was to explore the psychology of the moment when you know right from wrong but aren’t sure whether you have the courage and fortitude to do the right thing.

Modern liberalism likes to think that all our problems are epistemological: we are afflicted by never knowing with sufficient clarity what we ought to do. Our fictions tend to reflect that assumption. Tolkien, not being a modern liberal, thought it more interesting to explore situations when people know what they need to know but may lack the strength of will to act on that knowledge. He might say, and with some justification, that contemporary literary fiction is not simplistic in regard to such problems but oblivious to them.




Want to join the conversation?

Subscribe for as little as $5/mo to start commenting on Rod’s blog.

Join Now