"How many observe Christ's birthday, how few his teachings."
In April of 2001 I went on a class trip to France with several of my high school peers, a few close friends and several chaperones.
It was quite an intense trip for my not-quite-fully-formed young mind, and one which has left me with many a vivid and lasting memory;
Going up the Eiffel Tower at night springs to mind, along with the Palace of Versailles. The miles upon miles of stones at Carnac still spring to mind vividly after nearly ten years as well. Along with eating steaming-hot chocolate croissants on the streets of Paris. The great cemetery at Normandy beach, the breathtaking town of Le Havre, and of course, the majesty of Mont-Saint-Michel.
I still have many happy memories from this trek through the fine nation of france as a sheltered, ignorant fifteen-year-old... Yet every so often when i reflect on my visit to France, I can't help but have one particular incident stick out in my mind.
In the countryside whilst touring a Chateau, (don't ask me because I can't for the life of me remember the name) We were allowed an hour to explore the venerable former home of French aristocrats at our leisure.
I had made my way up to a balcony and found a rather remarkable view of immaculately-tended gardens and a beautiful, peaceful stretch of rectangular pond, highlighting the elegance and glory that was the potential of France in times of former glory.
Yet as I stared and pondered what this venerable old building might have been like in it's heyday, i heard an odd, metallic clinking sound.
Confused, I looked around and saw nothing. I went back to admiring the scenery and I heard the noise again.
Now determined to discover the source of the noise I turned around, and that was when I felt something very small and very hard collide with the back of my skull, and heard a faint, ponderous chortle.
Turning back around I looked up and to my right.
Joe, a Senior instantly recognizable by his commanding hight, rotund physique and gaping horse's teeth was standing on a balcony above me, throwing coins down at me.
I tell this story to illustrate a point; I was frequently the target of bullies in high school. At a time when I was finally, gratefully beginning to ween myself off the glass tit that is television and actually expand my intellectual curiosity and possibly reach some reservoir of untapped potential, I was ever a target for some misanthropic or simply bored peer.
I could point the finger at the fact that when I started high school I was quite fat, or simply short. But as freshman year came and went and thankfully weight watchers helped restore a proper metabolic balance, it quickly became clear that I was the target abuse not because of any physical deficiency, but because I was a spaz.
If I've learned anything from being on the receiving end of schoolyard abuse, it's that the primary cause for bullying, in my experience at least, is for entertainment on behalf of those doing the bullying.
Anyone easy to rile up and get an emotional reaction out of, such as myself, is quickly singled out and made victim of antagonists, solely so one or a group of people can be entertained at either their victim's powerlessness to retaliate or simply the sick schadenfreude gained from watching the unhappiness of a fellow human being.
This is not to suggest that casual cruelty as entertainment is the only cause of bullying. There are, of course, social reasons for the practice as well.
A lot of bullying in males is centered around finding an "Other" to single out, chastise and ostracize in order to solidify solidarity and a sense of belonging within a group.
Anyone who's different, anyone who's an "other" is fair game. Black, short, gay, tall, handicapped, asian, redhead, transgendered, you name the perceived deficiency and there's a clique out there which singles it out as the thing or things which they attack in order to better cohere as a group.
But, to reiterate, most of the bullying I was on the receiving end of growing up was mostly directed toward me for the purpose of eliciting an emotional reaction, presumably for entertainment.
This might be one reason why I consider empathy to be a crucial quality in human beings, and it must be present in the mind and behavior of anyone who wishes to claim any kind of superiority whatever.
This is also the reason why I hated high school. Between the ages of fourteen and seventeen, almost none of the happy memories I possess actually occurred within the building I completed my grade-school education in.
This is also why I loathe and abhor any TV show or movie that glorifies the high school experience, and why I have a knee-jerk "I don't care," reaction to any story centered around high school life.
Going to a tech school to help attain a more controlled mastery of the culinary arts didn't help matters much either, as the gender ratio is horrifically slanted,resulting in five guys for every one girl. One can easily imagine how the social fabric becomes more and more unstable without the civilizing presence of the fairer sex.
So, naturally, being a spineless little pussy for nearly all of my high school career, and an easily-addled spaz to boot, long from developing the emotional control and social graces that would have spared me so much grief in the first place, there was a good amount of my time in high school that I would happily, permanently delete from the elephantine catalogue of my memory.
Naturally, being a frequent victim but lacking the courage or conviction to find any kind of catharsis, my thoughts turned brooding and often violent, frequently revolving around the horrific things I'd do to my tormenter if presented the opportunity.
This scene from the 2000 movie "The Cell" will give you some inclination of how my teenage mind worked when allowed to ferment into a haze of malignant dissatisfaction. [link]
So frequently victimized but with no outlet for my aggression, it was only a matter of time before I snapped.
I won't go into too much detail about the incident, but suffice ti to say i was suspended for two days and thankfully nobody got hurt.
All through my high school career, I was hopelessly preoccupied with the question of why, why we human beings would treat our fellow creatures as such.
Why we would be casually, indifferently cruel to one another for nothing more than sheer entertainment.
Now that I'm older and well-removed to the stagnant stew pot of hormones and bad decisions that is high school in America, I have the benefit of perspective, and the accumulated knowledge of a lifetime of being a biology geek.
I don't believe human beings are inherently good. I believe the fabric for cruelty is woven into our species as surely as our bipedal locomotion and color vision.
It's a recurring trend among the higher animals, and humans, kin to beast as few of us are willing to admit, share the same taste for cruelty as do other, higher animals.
Wild dolphins kill porpoises.
Dolphin's don't eat porpoises, mind you. There teeth aren't designed to penetrate the porpoises tough, durable hide, so the porpoises field biologists observe killing porpoises can't possibly be for food. And while it's impossible to prove definitively that dolphins kill their cetacean cousins for pleasure, it is enough to give one pause. Even when food is plentiful and there's no competition, dolphins still kill their odontoceti brethren.
Wild elephants kill rhinoceroses.
Okay, mind you, this one deals with a more specific case.
As a result of many female wild elephants on Africa's serengeti plains being killed for their ivory, there were, for a time, many orphaned elephants running free and without a group to help and support them.
Eager to help and prevent further kulling, conservationist caught and transfered the orphaned elephants to national parks so they could better be protected. What happened then was quite unexpected.
Rhino carcasses kept turning up throughout the park, but what made these killings odd were that the horns were always left intact, which indicated that poachers weren't the culprit. Of course, it was revealed that the teenage elephants were responsible, which baffled biologists because elephants killing rhinos is rather rare in the wild, and yet it was occurring over and over in the confined space of the park.
It was theorized that the rending of the social structures of these particular elephants that lead to an emotional imbalance. Without parents and without a cohesive group, they became unstable and began to take out their aggression on the nearest target; namely, the rhinos.
Dolphins have been proven to have problem-solving intelligence and remarkable brain-to-body ratio, and are generally considered to be among the most intelligent of mammals.
Elephants have recently been found to be self-aware, semi-sentient creatures, making them an offshoot of mammalian evolution that, like the cetaceans and primates, have risen beyond simple survival awareness and, while still not on par with human intelligence, self-aware and very clever in their natural environment and otherwise.
No matter how intelligent an animal species gets, it is still held back by the limitations of it's animal nature, and is never above violence on the whole. This goes for humans too.
But getting back to the point about the Elephants, there was a reason those young bulls lashed out and killed, not for food, not for self-defense, but for the sake of killing, it was the disturbance of their lifestyle.
Shaken and addled, taken out of their natural environments, the elephants were left psychologically unsatisfied, and acted seemingly without regard for thought or reason.
We humans suffer from the exact same problem every day. All of modern society is built around feeding this division from our natural element. We all help feed it every day. I'm doing it typing out the words on this keyboard, and you're doing it yourself reading these words on your computer screen.
Human beings did not evolve to be sedentary creatures.
For over 90% of the course of human evolution, humans were nomadic creatures. Out psychology, our physiology, the very nature of our brains and thoughts themselves were fine-tuned over countless generations to help us better move across the landscape, following food sources and moving in accordance with the dictations of our environment.
Carl Sagan explains the whole precept perfectly succinctly here. [link]
The human eye evolved for staring across the horizon, not at a computer screen.
Human legs evolved for walking for miles, for days on end, not the mere 400 yards the average American walks in a week.
The human body was designed to endure physical activity, not to atrophy on a couch or behind the wheel of a car.
Even the Native American's knew enough to heed the call of our wandering nature. It has been a long tradition in many tribes to keep both summer homes and winter homes, and to move to them accordingly as the seasons dictated. The original colonizers of this land knew enough to heed to our wandering nature, not only for practical and survival purposes, but for psychological ones.
When you keep all this in mind, it's little wonder that the average American teenager is allegedly in a constant state of boredom.
In theory, American teenagers should be the happiest in the world. Even in spite of the recession, the nation is enjoying a level of wealth, prosperity and comfort unprecedented in the history of human civilization. Yet any honest teenager will tell you that even if their life doesn't suck, adolescence still sucks in a big, big way for a lot of people.
With so many teenagers sitting in houses in the suburbs with nothing to stimulate the call for exploration and discovery encoded in their very genetic codes, is it any surprise to anyone anywhere that backyard wrestling and "Jackass" exist? [link]
Which brings me to "Spirit Day."
In case you hadn't noticed the spectral shift in the color at the top of the DA bar as of late, it might interest you to note that DA is putting itself up in solidarity with "Spirit Day," which devotes itself to awareness of how bullying has lead to the suicides of several gay and lesbian teenagers as of late.
Bullies directing their brand of cruelty toward homosexuals is nothing new. With openly gay people making up approximately ten percent of the population, you'd be hard pressed to find a better "other" to single out as a subject for ridicule.
I know in high school I got called a "faggot' once every two days at the very least. This standing in contrast to the fact that I do now, as I did then, prefer the company of women to men, but of course, observation and deductive reasoning are far too much to ask for in those who gay-bash to inflate their own self-esteem.
In addition to having a ready-made other to single out and gang up on, I agree with the late, great George Carlin who theorized why packs of straight men single out gay people as targets;
"The reason there's so much violence against gay men is because heterosexual men are forced to prove that they are not gay. Men in strong male subcultures bond and bond until one of them is just drunk enough to say "You know, I really love these guys!" And that frightens them, so they have to quickly add, "But I'm not a queer!" See the dilemma? Now they have to go out of their way to prove to the world, to their buddies and themselves that they don't harbor homoerotic fantasies. And it's only a short step from, "I'm not a queer!" to "In fact, I hate queers!" to, "Lets go kill some queers!" And it's not the queer outside that they seek to kill, it's the queer inside.
Gay-bashers are repressed homosexuals, attempting to deny the queer inside."
George couldn't have hit the nail on the head more perfectly.
And if you think this is hyperbolic, consider this; 400 known species from every animal group and all over the world, mostly the mammals and higher animals, are now known to practice homosexuality, between same-sex partners of both genders.
Anyone who spouts the belief that "Homosexuality is unnatural." is only proving their ignorance of the natural world and mankind's kinship to the beasts from which he evolved.
Don't believe me? Watch this. [link]
And take some time to appreciate the irony that the same media conglomerate that owns National Geographic also owns Fox News.
Well, not that I've handily and expediently dealt with the issue of homosexuality, on to the subject at hand.
I can appreciate and understand the sentiment of "Spirit Day," I really can.
Losing a loved one and especially a friend you've come to love and respect to suicide is a pain I'm frankly glad to be ignorant of, and I can't even begin to fathom what it must be like to feel a fraction of that kind of pain.
But having been on the receiving end of well more than my share of bullying, I have to ask... Is this really the right way to go about addressing the issue?
When I finally snapped after being the whipping boy too much and too long in high school, I was suspended for two days under the school's "Zero tolerance policy."
Now the national media is attempting to enforce a "Zero tolerance policy" against bullying committed against homosexuals.
I need hardly point out that a "Zero tolerance policy" is a fallacious precept in and of itself that only hides an issue rather than addressing it, because if the long and rambling diatribe that composes the main body of this journal has spelled out anything... It's that no matter how much pressure the media and schools try to put on the would-be bullies out there, you can't fight them and you can't stop them.
So does this mean we should allow gay and lesbian high school students to be victimized? Obviously not if we want to even put on a pretense of a fair and just society.
So what's the solution?
Penn Jillette summed up the point quite succinctly in the "Sensitivity Training" episode of his TV series "Bullshit."
"If you're in warfare there are two ways to stop people from killing you, you can disable your enemy from shooting at you, or you can give yourself a bulletproof shield. If you have to worry about stopping the whole world from hurting your feelings, that means you have to try and control the whole world, and that means trampling on the first amendment. It's a lot cheaper and fairer to build yourself an emotional shield."
Take it from someone who's experienced in matters like this, bullies want to be bullies, and they're a natural occurrence among any social group or social institution.
So I say instead of just taking one day to show off pride or a fashion statement in the name of gay people not getting bullied, I think we'd be a lot better suited to addressing the underlying issues in our society that are making it so hard for the gay people who are our friends, our family members, our fellow human creatures.
I know it's far too much to expect for a massive overhaul of all human standards, but a broad-range attempt at knowledge and enlightenment on the subject is bound to be more effective than picking a random color and wearing it once a year and hoping the problem goes away.
And to the gay men and lesbians who are being victimized right now, I advise them to do the only time-tested thing that works on bullies.
Don't follow my example and be a spineless little pussy who takes it like a bitch until they snap.
Stand up to your antagonists.
Seek help. Get your friends to back you up. If they don't, talk to a guidance counselor or a school administrator. If they don't listen, then you have no recourse but to stand up to your aggressors, and if you can't intimidate physically, use the power of your diction.
In my adult life I learned one of the most powerful, if not the most powerful weapon a person can deploy is the spoken word.
And if you're not confident in your abilities with the gift of gab, follow the advice of Dennis Miller;
"If you're not confident in your skills in your wit, you go home, you read, you invest in a thesaurus, you build up your mind and you stay at home, you stay cloistered until your wit, your sensitivities, your constitution and your command of the english language are on par with or greater than the people giving you shit in the first place, and you get back out in the world and make your mark with the power of your words."
So, bottom line people, if we do want to live to see any kind of age of enlightenment where people of all backgrounds and sexual orientations can live without fear, the burden falls on each and every one of us to be a little more thoughtful, be a little more considerate, not on a day where we all wear purple, but EVERY day.