There’s a lot of sports stuff we could talk about this week – including Andy Murray reuniting with former coach Ivan Lendl in an attempt to stop Novak Djokovic’s bid for the Grand/Golden Slam. (Nole fan though I am, I’m all for the “It’s the eye of the tiger,; it’s the dream of the fight, rising up to the challenge of a rival” attitude Murray has adopted. Nothing worthwhile comes easily. There’s no point in lying down for an opponent. And no champ worthy of the name would want a competitor to roll over. I think Nole knows the Grand/Golden Slam will mean nothing if he doesn’t earn it.
But there are two ways to think about sports. Like the arts, they can take us outside ourselves. And there are moments when they simply pale in the wake of tragic events.
And so we have to step away from sports and the arts to continue considering what hangs heavily on the heart – the Orlando shooting.
We hear, we read that we don’t know the why of Omar Mateen. But I think we knew the why even before we knew him. He belongs to what I call the literature of rejection – those mass murderers, assassins, serial killers and dictators who have a disproportionate rage at some rejection and thus seek to demonize others.
Some of this is clearly biological. And if we subscribe to the Determinism that neuroscience has demonstrated, then the decision to kill 49 people at the Pulse nightclub and seriously wound as many others was made deep in Mateen’s unconscious even before he realized he had made the decision to pull the trigger.
That does not excuse him – in part because, as even neuroscientist and Determinism disciple Sam Harris notes, we are responsible for our patterns of behavior. And Mateen’s pattern of behavior in school, in the workplace and at home was nothing but trouble from the time he was 5.
There are simply people who are no good. But that doesn’t mean that we throw up our hands and fail to consider the cultural, historical context in which they implode/explode. I’m not talking merely about the gun culture – although there is no reason for any civilian to have military-style weapons.
I’m talking about the terrible transition we are living through, particularly in America, a transition of power from the longtime white, male ruling class to women and minorities – gays, blacks, Hispanics, Asians – who coalesced to elect Barack Obama president and become the new face of America. This coalition coincides with the transition from a manufacturing economy, in which men with their superior upper body strength excelled, to an information-based, service-oriented economy that taps into women’s superior verbal, empathetic skills.
It’s like a snake shedding its skin, and it’s going to get worse before it gets better. It explains the rise of fundamentalist Islam and, frankly, it explains the appeal of Donald Trump. Even though the radical Islamists and the Trump-ets would seem to be diametrically opposed, they are both about white male fear, power and the fear of losing power. That’s why they must demean women. In their minds, strong women equal weak men. They don’t see strong women the way Alexander the Great did – as further proof of male strength.
And even though Trump has positioned himself as a friend to gays, the fundamentalist Muslims and Trump-ets see gays as the feminine in the male. Whether or not Mateen was a closeted, conflicted gay man – he took homosexuality as an affront to his traditional masculinity.
It is the masculinity of the guy who inherited his grandfather and father’s job at the plant, came home after his shift and sat down in “his” easy chair with a remote in one hand and a beer in the other as his wife waited on him hand and foot and the kids tiptoed around him. Or the masculinity of the two-martini ring-a-ding-dinger with the corner office, the decorous secretary, the city mistress and the suburban wife.
Regardless of whether the model is Archie Bunker or Dan Draper, it is a masculinity that is going the way of the dinosaurs.
Come to think of it, they didn’t go gently into that good night either.