The World of the Walmart Pugilists
You may have seen my post last night with the video of the two prole women who get into a fistfight at the Walmart shampoo aisle. It’s a pop-up episode of “Jerry Springer,” basically. The fight is disturbing, but far more so is the fact that one of the women’s small boy stands by watching his mother’s antics, cheering her on … and then is enticed by Mama to join in and help her beat the other woman. To top it all off, all the proles stand around watching this spectacle, with none trying to break the fight up, or to get the poor kid away from it. Actually, when one of the off-camera adults gently chastises the boy for being part of the throwdown, the kid approaches her aggressively, because she’s not going to tell him what to do.
You might watch this for the sheer white-trash spectacle of it, but there is a deeper and much sadder point present, one that can’t be laughed away by us gawkers watching animals in the zoo, or moralized away by those who chasten us gawkers on the belief that it’s best not to notice such things. Theodore Dalrymple, the retired British physician who spent most of his career providing medical care for his country’s underclass, explains, indirectly, why what was revealed by that video tells us a lot about social breakdown. He does so in a review of a new memoir by Tina Nash, an underclass English woman whose violently abusive boyfriend gouged her eyes out. Dalrymple sets the story up like this:
Nash expresses herself unguardedly and artlessly, as if unaware of what she reveals to the reader about her way of thinking and the subculture in which she has lived her life. It is precisely because of this unself-consciousness that her book is so instructive: it should be required reading for those who believe that degradation in modern society is simply a matter of insufficient money.
It is impossible not to sympathize with someone who suffered as Nash did. Her description of waking up to find one of her eyeballs dangling by the side of her face, as if it were some soft, damp, alien object, is as horrific as anything I have ever read or hope to read. Her conduct might have been foolish and irresponsible, but nothing she did could possibly have deserved a minimal fraction of so awful a consequence. As for the perpetrator, no punishment could have been too condign to be just; and the severity of his punishment was limited only by our need to remain civilized ourselves.
But merely to sympathize with Nash would not be an adequate response to her story. It would amount to an evasion—intellectual, moral, and emotional. In the circumstances, it is comfortable to sympathize; it is uncomfortable to have to think and to judge.
The world into which Tina Nash emerged into this world was chaotic and fatherless, owing to the revolting behavior of her mother:
“I’d seen my mum go through hundreds of break-ups and be badly treated by men,” she tells us. The mother’s complex love life left little time for her children, for, as Nash observes, “I was much closer to [my grandmother] than my mum, who never seemed to have time for us.” How many of the six children shared the same father we never learn, and indeed Nash makes no mention of a father of any of them, including her own. It appears that she came into a radically fatherless world, and though she does not say so, it is likely that at least some of her brothers and sisters were half-siblings; and again, though she does not say so, it is likely that the principal economic support of the family was the state, whose paid-out benefits meant that it was, in effect, father to the children. Nash grew up in public housing and seems to have lived in such subsidized housing all her life. Nevertheless, her childhood wasn’t altogether deprived: one of her passions during childhood and adolescence was horse riding.
Not surprisingly, the question of fatherhood scarcely exists for her. She tells us early in the book that she is a single mother of two children.
Nash’s book then becomes an account of repeating the selfish lifestyle of her mother: not allowing care for her children to get in the way of her drinking, partying, and bedding men. And she didn’t have to be responsible, financially, for any of it, because she and her family are on welfare; she finds enough money to buy big-screen TVs for her apartment, and to finance a party lifestyle involving heavy boozing.
This is how she came to know Shane Jenkin, the psychopathic ex-con who ended up blinding her, but only after a long and violent relationship during which time there were any number of flashing red lights warning her that she had taken a wild animal into her house, around her children. But Tina wanted what she wanted. Dalrymple:
Maybe there is no new thing under the sun, but it is also hard not to believe that the state enabled, though it did not mandate, Nash’s conduct. True, if her ideas about the good life had been different, no dependence on the state would have achieved the same result. But with a materialistic conception of life, in which what counts as important is raw consumption, and in which there is no material incentive or reward for sensible decision making and no material penalty for bad, it is unsurprising that some people do not take decision making, even about their own lives, seriously, and therefore blindly follow their basic inclinations, irrespective of the most obvious consequences. The pleasure of the moment is all that counts. For them, sooner strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.
Read the whole thing. It’s important. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that Tina Nash — and the mother who raised her — bears significant responsibility for this atrocity. As a criminal matter, of course, the fault is entirely Shane Jenkin’s, and he deserves to rot in prison for the rest of his miserable life. But we have to think hard about the culture that formed Tina Nash’s worldview.
Reading Dalrymple’s review of Nash’s memoir brought to mind a story that one of my brother-in-law’s firefighter buddies told me about life on the streets of the north Baton Rouge black neighborhood where his firehouse sits. This is the community they serve. It’s violent, poor, drug-ridden. He told me that it’s very common to go out on calls at midnight or later, and see children in diapers walking the sidewalks, their mothers in their houses or apartments, drinking or drugging with their boyfriends. Nobody cares. Total chaos. The adults have abandoned all responsibility for raising the children they choose to bring into this world. Men don’t care about the kids they sire, and the women treat their children as less important than fulfilling their own desires for sex, drinking, drugs, and fun.
These women are Southern black versions of British white Tina Nash. These men are Southern black version of the kind of British white men that Tina Nash routinely bedded (though not, one hopes, a monster like Shane Jenkin). And the Walmart pugilists (who, by the way, are white) are on the same social spectrum. Think about the kind of world you must come from in which the way of life Tina Nash embraced uncritically seems normal to you. For that matter, think about the kind of world you must come from in which it seems normal to you as a mother to get into a hair-pulling, foul-mouthed fistfight at Walmart, and to ask your eight-year-old boy to jump in to help you beat up another woman. Think about the kind of world you must come from to be the sort of person who stands by watching this, enjoying the freakshow, and not trying to restore order, or at least remove a child from the degrading spectacle of watching his mother rolling on the floor of the discount store, punching and choking another woman.
That kind of cultural corruption is not a matter of not having enough money. You can imagine what the little boy in that video lives with day in and day out. What kind of man will he become? How will he treat women? How will the women in his world expect to be treated? Will he sire children out of wedlock, and if he does, how will he see his responsibilities to them and their mother?
Can he be rescued from this life? If so, how?
Longtime readers will recall a story I’ve told her on several occasions, about the black pastor in inner-city Dallas opening up his and his wife’s home to younger children of the church, so they could have a safe place to go after school to do their homework. They were startled to see all these kids coming over, day after day, and falling asleep on the floor. They figured out that this was because the pastor’s home was the only place they ever had order, and quiet. They could let down their guard, and rest. To the extent that that pastor showed those inner-city kids that there could be another, more humane way of life, he and his wife were rescuing them, or at least doing the most they could do. One despairs that it could ever be enough.
Would you want your children to go to school with children who have been socialized like the child in the Walmart video? Because questions like that is where the rubber really hits the road. From time to time on my Facebook feed, somebody posts a mobile phone video of the latest throwdown in the halls or grounds of an East Baton Rouge Parish public school (for example, this). Sometimes these videos make the local news. What they telegraph is the breakdown of social order in those schools. Yes, kids fight from time to time in high school, but what you see in those videos is something more disturbing than a mere fight. You always see a huge crowd of kids standing around, cheering them on, cursing in ways that would make a sailor turn crimson, laughing wildly, enjoying the chaos.
White, black, Hispanic, Asian, whatever your race, would you want your child to be part of a school where this sort of thing happens? Do you think learning goes on in those places, except by accident? What you see here, as in the Walmart video, as in Tina Nash’s memoir, is the breakdown of social order. There is little external order in a milieu like that because there is little internal order among its people, no authority except their own desires and compulsions. Chances are they have never known a world in which anybody displayed a sense of order, discipline, and self-control, and expected others to do the same.
Again, I ask: if you had the choice to remove your kids from a school that had a significant number of kids like this (of whatever race) in it, and send them to one that did not, would you? Why or why not?
We live in a popular culture that exalts materialist desire (sexual, consumerist, etc.) and its fulfillment, a culture catechized by a news and entertainment media that propagandizes constantly on behalf of the sovereign desiring Self. The bourgeoisie, somehow, manages to hold on to certain habits that keep them from being swallowed by this ideology, but when the middle class gets a cold, the underclass gets pneumonia.
When I think about this issue, I’m haunted by a conversation I once had with a friend who taught in a rural public school. She burned out and resigned after a few years when she came to the conclusion that her work was pointless. The overwhelming majority of the kids she taught did not desire to learn, and did not foresee a future for themselves that involved college, or even gainful employment. These were kids whose desires were shaped by a local culture — their moms, their (absent) fathers, the TV they watched, the music they listened to, their peers — that placed no value on work, self-discipline, or thinking about the future. All their culture taught them to value was desire itself — lust, anger, envy, greed, the gamut — and the everlasting now. The teacher herself had once been a single mom on welfare, but worked hard to get off of it, and was trying to model to the kids that they could have a future too if they desired the right things and worked hard. The despair of seeing entire classrooms full of kids, year after year, who had no idea what she was talking about, and who aspired to nothing more than having some boy’s baby (the girls) or kicking back and enjoying life (all of them), was too much for her to bear, and certainly too much to bear on a public school teacher’s salary. These kids did not desire to have a normal family. They did not desire to have a normal career. They did not desire to have an education. They had never seen any adult in their community desire these things. This teacher, who drove in from another town to work, might as well have been teleporting in from Mars. So the things she taught them in their classroom was received by the kids as nothing more than random information that they had to endure because it was against the law not to go to school. This was the ethos of that school: chaos.
This is the world of Tina Nash. And this, I’d wager, is the world of the Walmart Pugilists. The poverty within that world is not primarily a matter of money, but of conscience, of spirit, of imagination. How you ameliorate that, I don’t know. The people within those communities who hold countercultural views want to get the hell away from their “villages,” and can you blame them?
A friend of mine has been struggling for years with a deeply messed up, destructive culture within his (middle-class) family. It’s nothing on the level of what we’ve been talking about here, but it’s still presented a constellation of problems that my friend has spent years trying to ameliorate, with no success. He told me recently that one of his family members’ behavior had landed the family member in the care of a doctor in their small town. My friend ran into the doctor socially, and confessed to him that he was hitting the wall on trying to help his kin sort their lives out. They keep reverting to self-destructive behavior, said my friend.
“The doctor told me that for the sake of my own mental health, I needed to distance myself emotionally from the whole clan,” my friend told me.
The doctor advised, said my friend, that he should keep loving and trying to help when I can, but that the kind of pathologies eating up his family are very hard to cure. The doc told him that he sees this all the time in his work, and that the best my friend could do is to keep offering help, but not to feel bad if it is not received.
“He said that you can’t save people who don’t want to be saved,” my friend said.
So: what does society owe Tina Nash? What does Tina Nash owe society? What can be done to save Tina Nash’s children from Tina Nash, whose new, post-gouging boyfriend was carted off to jail for threatening her with a knife?