Saturday, January 10, 2009

'After the brooding, then the firepower.'

A few bits and bobs I've run across in my last few days' reading that seem, somehow, to fit together.

Via Norm, an intriguing excerpt from Charles Baxter's interesting-sounding novel, The Feast of Love:

They sulk, men, so many of them. They bear grudges and they get violent almost as a hobby, the ones I've known. Didn't you realize this? Ask around. As a gender they're - you're - always scheming or at least they seem to be scheming because they never ever tell you what's on their minds. The sample I've had. They just sit there day after day and they brood. After the brooding, then the firepower.

A case study that appears in an article by criminologist Fiona Brookman, 'Confrontational and Revenge Homicides Among Men in England and Wales':

Since Jeff (aged 34) married into the victim’s family a great deal of animosity had occurred between him and his brother-in-law (Ian, aged 39). Specifically, Ian had, on two separate occasions, physically assaulted his sister, Sue (Jeff’s wife) in respect of trivial matters. The day before the killing, Jeff went to work at 4.00 p.m. on a night shift. Some time after 10.00 p.m., Ian arrived at his sister’s house in a drunken state, shouting to be allowed into the house. On gaining entry he became abusive towards Sue and punched her, breaking her nose. When Jeff arrived home from work he saw his wife’s injuries and was informed of the previous night’s events, to which he responded, “I’ve had a gut’s full of him hitting you around”. Jeff went to bed and when he got up he proceeded to put into action his plan to avenge his wife’s beatings. He cancelled work for that evening and obtained a shotgun and cartridges from an acquaintance. At around 11.20 p.m. he walked the short distance to Ian’s flat, knocked on the door and, without saying a word,shot him twice in the head at close range. Jeff then telephoned the police to explain what he had done stating, “he got what he deserved, he gave my misses a kicking. I hope he dies”. (pp. 44-45)

A couple of excerpts from David T. Courtwright, Violent Land: Single Men and Social Disorder from the Frontier to the Inner City:

[T]here is an abundance of other evidence that Gold Rush California was a brutal and unforgiving place. Camp names were mimetic: Gouge Eye, Murderers Bar, Cut-throat Gulch, Graveyard Flat. There was a Hangtown, a Helltown, a Whiskeytown, and Gomorrah, though, interestingly, no Sodom. Even innocuously named places could explode into violence. The city of Marysville reportedly experienced seventeen murders in a single week, prompting the formation of a vigilance committee. Suicide and violent death occurred in all mining regions. Witnesses wrote of men suddenly pulling out pistols and shooting themselves, of bodies floating down the river, of miners stoned to death in gambling disputes. They described men who had become beasts, biting and pulling hair, flogging one another without mercy, cropping boys' ears, laughing at executions. (p. 75)

But whatever the cowboys' guns brought in the way of deterrence and emergency use was paid for by an increase in accidental death and injury. Cowboy and noncowboy alike died when guns tipped over, dropped from pockets, or fell from blankets. The Caldwell Post, a Kansas cattle-town newspaper, estimated that five cowboys were killed by accidental gun discharges for every one slain by a murderer. Those who survived accidents were often horribly injured, living out their lives with shattered knees or shot-away faces.

The other evil associated with gun toting was the increased incidence of unpremeditated homicide. 'I always carried a gun because it was the only way I knew how to fight,' [cowboy 'Teddy Blue'] Abbott admitted. 'That was the feeling among the cowpunchers. They didn't know how to fight with their fists. The way they looked at it, fist fighting was nigger stuff anyhow and a white man wouldn't stoop to it.' (p. 91)

From comments made by a former 'sweet boiler' describing dispute settlement in late 19th and early 20th century Manchester that I quote in my book (which I was re-reading, astonished to find out all the things I once knew):

You always settled your arguments with a fight. You see it was the only expression you had. They wouldn’t listen to you arguing, you know what I mean. He’d be looking while he’s arguing with you…he’d be looking for an opening to let you have one. You see…it was very common. In fact, in the workshops, the public houses at the time of Sullivan or Corbett, the men were always fighting. In fact, behind my grandfather’s house there was a canal and a croft. Any quarrels which my grandfather and any of his sons had with anybody would be settled by one son on the Sunday morning on this croft. [...]

Question: How do you mean…how do you mean by one son?
Answer: Because one son was kept for that purpose, fighting.
Question: He was a fighter for the family?
Answer: He was a fighter for the family. Bare fists…and very often his opponent was knocked out. They’d throw him in the canal and then bring him out when he’d recovered. ‘Course, often as not, a ducking would be enough. (p. 91)
From an excellent essay by Simon Sellers at Ballardian:

[...] Birmingham proceeds to whip up a storm of hatred against all cyclists (an extremely dirty tactic that, as we shall see, he decries when used by others). In the comments section of his blog, his followers took up the call, branding cyclists ‘poofs’, ‘clowns’ and ‘dickheads’ and coming up with more ways to kill them — like ‘rotating knives on car tyres’ (Birmingham might think such comments are harmless fun, but in Britain the journalist Matthew Parris advocated stringing piano wire across cycle paths to decapitate cyclists, then had to apologise and retract his attempt at ‘humour’ when real-life stories of cyclists being garroted subsequently came to light; I’ve also written previously about my own experiences observing how anti-cyclist hatred is rife on the roads after such articles get printed).

From the Sunday Pictorial, 12 February 1928:


Home Team Protect Him from a Hostile Crowd

There was a remarkable scene after the football match at Minehead yesterday. The referee, Mr. F. Chidgey, of Watchet, had to be escorted to his hotel by members of the Minehead team to prevent a large and hostile crowd from molesting him. But for the team's action Mr. Chidgey would have been roughly handled. The match was a Somerset Senior Cup game between Minehead and Wells City, Wells winning by a penalty goal. (p. 2)

Have a nice weekend.

[UPDATE] Here. Via Boing Boing.


The Wife said...

Und was sagt uns das alles? There's nothing new under the sun.

Anonymous said...

John, have you heard Richard MacMahon's interim conclusions about violence in Pennsylvania mining districts? IIRC, he appears to have found that institutional factors made a great deal of difference to the degree of violence in settlements full of young single men from Ireland.

NB Not that I'm challenging the essential problem of the (young) male primate, mind.

Chris W

PS See also:

J. Carter Wood said...

TW: Nope, that fat old sun has seen a lot...

Thanks, Chris, for the tip: I haven't read Richard's PA material. (But my review of his excellent edited collection should be coming out soon.) Absolutely: social/institutional factors make a great deal of difference. The settlements that are referred to in the Courtwright quotes are pretty extreme frontier.

Martin Daly and Margo Wilson, in various articles and chapters, also argue that factors such as economic inequality and access to resources might also have an important impact on propensity to violence.

The Brookman stuff looks pretty interesting to me. It would benefit a lot from some historical perspective, but, you know, I would say that wouldn't I?