I sent my middle child to a boarding school, deep in the bowels of the English countryside, when she was of a tender single-digit age. One doesn’t make such a decision without carefully consideration, but the reasons, while complicated, were compelling and I have no regrets. She will have her whole life to ruminate upon it, and blame me. But what doesn’t kill you, often makes you stronger, and as a result of her experience, she has become very strong indeed.
Most parents blithely have positively distorted images of their children. I’m no exception, but I won’t digress further because I have a point to make. This child was wilful, playful, and mischievous. Boarding schools for adolescents necessarily have lots of rules, for more or less everything, and children have equally numerous ways to break them. Sweets. Phones. Reading time. Bedtime. Evening movements. Study time. Music Practice. Treatment of others, all have rules. For whatever reason, mine was involved in almost every transgression, and prank. They got away with lots: hiding prohibited sweets in the ceiling tiles, using night lights under their covers to read when lights were out, or pranking overly-severe matrons . But clever and precocious as they are, experienced minders don’t miss much, so she was caught. Frequently. Sometimes as inspired leader, but most often as co-conspirator. And we’d get the inevitable call from her, or the school, that she’s been caught (again) doing ABC and as a result will be punished by XYZ. Here is my point, and one that expresses my strong admiration of her: whenever she was “caught” and was guilty, in whatever capacity – either as leader or co-conspirator – while her mates typically denied responsibility, she quite courageously and stoically accepted responsibility and subsequent punishment. No whining or whingeing. Not defiant, not overly contrite. She knew the rules. She knew she was breaking them. She knew the consequences. Just courageous mature admission - an integrity that earned not just my respect, but that of her interlocutors, and gave her a legendary reputation amongst her more cowardly peers. Greasy readers might think her stupid, but despite her frequent mischief, she had the strongest sense of justice and fairness (unsurprising raised as she was in a Rawlsian household). When, from time to time, she was unjustly accused or punished, or witnessed others similarly suffering, she became fearsome and would march into the Head’s office (or the Head’s wife) and passionately plead her case, or those of others. So strong was her character and sense of justice, that when she saw others being bullied – whether or not her friends were the bullies or irrespective of whether she disliked the bullied, she would intervene. She has retained this courageous awesomeness into university, yet this trait sits in a blind spot of her consciousness. She doesn’t try to be this way – she just IS this way.
This brings me to the “Alt-Right”, exemplified presently by James Alex Fields, Jr. now infamous for ploughing his vehicle into a crowd of counter-protestors, injuring many and killing a young woman. He has pleaded “not guilty” and disingenuously claims to have driven over counter-protesters “in fear” (or so is the absurd claim of his defense strategy). For on that day in Charlottesville, the facts are indisputable as to who arrived with their own heavily armed militia. There is no revisionist version of this history. Fields, Jr. is a coward. Fields Jr. is pussy. He is a coward and a pussy because he refuses to accept responsibility for actions, or acknowledge – without weasel words – the beliefs that drove him to his actions. Deeds without consequences. He epitomizes the cowardliness of the alt-right, and both their apologists and sympathizers who, to avoid the moral revulsion of the overwhelming majority of fellow citizens and its practical consequences – both in the marketplace and under the law - also refuse to explicitly, wholly, own their own dogma and sentiments. There are few other words for it.
And when I see this fully grown, mature man, with strong ideas and beliefs, make a plea of “not guilty” for an undeniably objective action seen by all, that had mortal consequence, I think back to my daughter, who at age nine, standing accused, for something she knew she was guilty of, had the integrity NOT to lie in order to avoid culpability. Her morals and integrity were clear. Fields, Jr. and the Alt-Right? Not so much.