The Moment of Truth — April 30, 1999

Capital – Normative And High School

Hello and welcome to the moment of truth, the fly in the electromagnetic ointment that somehow escaped the flyswatter of capitalist media self-censorship.

I want to coin a phrase here today. This new phrase is "capitalist normativity." Capitalist normativity refers to a cultural acceptance of power disparity based on wealth, a cultural acceptance so profound that all statements, attitudes and actions outside the limits of this acceptance seem insane, sick, dirty, and queer.

The love of my life, Anaheed Alani, who in addition to doing many amazing things answers children’s sex questions on the internet and is a fierce and eloquent supporter of the freedoms of children and other beings living and otherwise – Anaheed Alani directed me to an article by a guy nicknamed JonKatz. The article is at a website called

Slashdot

News for nerds. Stuff that matters.

http://slashdot.org

The article can be got to directly by going to

http://slashdot.org/articles/99/04/25/1438249.shtml

It’s called

Voices From The Hellmouth

Posted by JonKatz on Monday April 26, @12:26PM EDT

and I’d like to quote it at length, because it gives a voice to a population that really needs to be heard from in the light of recent events and their immediate distortion by the capitalist-normative media:

In the days after the Littleton, Colorado massacre, the country went on a panicked hunt for oddballs in High School, a profoundly ignorant and unthinking response to a tragedy that left geeks, nerds, non-conformists and the alienated in an even worse situation than before.

Schools all over the country openly embraced Geek Profiling. One group calling itself the National School Safety Center issued a checklist of "dangerous signs" to watch for in kids: it included mood swings, a fondness for violent TV or video games, cursing, depression, anti-social behavior and attitudes.

"We want to be different," wrote one of the Colorado killers in a diary found by the police. "We want to be strange and we don’t want jocks or other people putting us down." The sentiment, if not the response to it, was echoed by kids all over the country.

But the Littleton killings have made their lives much worse.

Many of these kids found themselves … suspects in a bizarre, systematic search for the strange and the alienated. Suddenly, in this tyranny of the normal, to be different wasn’t just to feel unhappy, it was to be dangerous.

Everywhere, school administrators pandered and panicked, rushing to show they were highly sensitive to parents’ fears, even if they were oblivious to the needs and problems of many of their students.

Unhappy, alienated, isolated kids are legion in schools, voiceless in media, education and politics. But theirs are the most important voices of all in understanding what happened and perhaps even how to keep it from happening again.

Accompanying Katz’s article were emails he received from kids responding to an article he’d written earlier about the media blaming computer games for the Littleton, Colorado coup d’ecole. Here are some of them.

Bandy from New York:

"After Colorado, things got horrible. People were actually talking to me like I could come in and kill them. It wasn’t like they were really afraid of me – they just seemed to think it was okay to hate me even more…

"This is a whole new level of exclusion, another excuse for the preppies of the universe to put down and isolate people like me."

From Jay in the Southeast:

"I stood up in a social studies class -the teacher wanted a discussion – and said I could never kill anyone or condone anyone who did kill anyone. But that I could, on some level, understand these kids in Colorado, the killers. Because day after day, slight after slight, exclusion after exclusion, you can learn how to hate, and that hatred grows and takes you over sometimes, especially when you come to see that you’re hated only because you’re smart and different, or sometimes even because you are online a lot, which is still so uncool to many kids.

"After the class, I was called to the principal’s office and told that I had to agree to undergo five sessions of counseling or be expelled from school, as I had expressed "sympathy" with the killers in Colorado, and the school had to be able to explain itself if I "acted out". In other words, for speaking freely, and to cover their ass, I was not only branded a weird geek, but a potential killer. That will sure help deal with violence in America."

From Jason in Pennsylvania:

"The hate just eats you up, like the molten metal moving up Keanu Reeve’s arm in the "The Matrix." That’s what I thought of when I saw it. You lose track of what is real and what isn’t. The worst people are the happiest and do the best, the best and smartest people are the most miserable and picked upon. The cruelty is unimaginable. If Dan Rather wants to know why those guys killed those people in Littleton, Colorado, tell him for me that the kids who run the school probably drove them crazy, bit by bit. That doesn’t mean all those kids deserved to die. But a lot of kids in America know why it happened, even if the people running schools don’t."

From Andrew in Alaska:

"To be honest, I sympathized much more with the shooters than the shootees. I am them. They are me. This is not to say I will end the lives of my classmates in a hail of bullets, but that their former situation bears a striking resemblance to my own. For the most part, the media are clueless. They’ve never experienced social rejection, or chosen non-conformity. Also, I would like to postulate that the kind of measures taken by school administration have a direct effect on school violence. School is generally an oppressive place; the parallels to fascist society are tantalizing. Following a school shooting, a week or two-week crackdown ensues, where students’ constitutional rights are violated with impunity."

From Anika in suburban Chicago:

"I was stopped at the door of my high school because I was wearing a trenchcoat. … I was given a choice – go home and ditch the coat, or go to the principal. I refused to go home. I have never been a member of any group or trenchcoat mob or any hate thing, online or any other, so why should they tell me what coat to wear?

"Two security guards took me into an office, called the school nurse, who was a female, and they ordered me to take my coat off. The nurse asked me to undress (privately) while the guards outside the door went through every inch of my coat. I wouldn’t undress, and she didn’t make me (I think she felt creepy about the whole thing).

"Then I was called into the principal’s office and he asked me if I was a member of any hate group, or any online group, or if I had ever played Doom or Quake. He mentioned some other games, but I don’t remember them. I’m not a gamer, though my boyfriends have been. I lost it then. I thought I was going to be brave and defiant, but I just fell apart. I cried and cried. I think I hated that worse than anything."

From ES in New York:

"High school favors people with a certain look and attitude – the adolescent equivalent of Aryans. They are the chosen ones, and they want to get rid of anyone who doesn’t look and think the way they do. One of the things which makes this so infuriating is that the system favors shallow people. Anyone who took the time to think about things would realize that things like the prom, school spirit and who won the football game are utterly insignificant in the larger scheme of things.

"So anyone with depth of thought is almost automatically excluded from the main high school social structure. It’s like some horribly twisted form of Social Darwinism."

[As if social Darwinism weren’t horribly twisted enough]

From Dan in Boise, Idaho:

"Be careful! I wrote an article for my school paper. The advisor suggested we write about "our feelings" about Colorado. My feelings –what I wrote – were that society is blaming the wrong things. You can’t blame screwed-up kids or the Net. These people don’t know what they’re talking about. How about blaming a system that takes smart or weird kids and drives them crazy? How about understanding why these kids did what they did, cause in some crazy way, I feel something for them. For their victims, too, but for them. I thought [my article voiced] a different point-of-view, but important. I was making a point. I mean, I’m not going to the prom.

"You know what? The article was killed, and I got sent home with a letter to my parents. It wasn’t an official suspension, but I can’t go back until Tuesday. And it was made pretty clear to me that if I made any noise about it, it would be a suspension or worse. So this is how they are trying to figure out what happened in Colorado, I guess. By blaming a sub-culture and not thinking about their own roles, about how fucked-up school is. Now I think the whole thing was a set-up, cause a couple of other kids are being questioned too, about what they wrote. They pretend to want to have a ‘dialogue’ but kids should be warned that what they really want to know is who’s dangerous to them."

From a Slashdot reader:

"Your column Friday was okay, but you and a lot of the Slashdot readers don’t get it. You don’t have the guts to stand up and say these games are not only not evil, they are great. They are good. They are challenging and stimulating. They help millions of kids who have nowhere else to go, because the whole world is set up to take care of different kinds of kids, kids who fit in, who do what they’re told, who are popular. I’ve made more friends online on Gamespot.com than I have in three years of high school. I think about my characters and my competitions and battles all day.

"Nothing I’ve been taught in school interests me as much. And believe me, the gamers who (try to) kill me online all day are a lot closer to me than the kids I go to high school with. I’m in my own world, for sure, but it’s my choice and it’s a world I love. Without it, I wouldn’t have one… Last week, my father told me he had cancelled my ISP because he had asked me not to game so much and I still was. And when he saw the Colorado thing online, he said, he told my Mom that he felt one of these kids could be me. I am a resourceful geek, and I was back online before he got to bed that night. But I have to go underground now.

"My guidance counselor, who wouldn’t know a computer game from a Playboy Bunny poster, told me Dad was being a good parent, and here was a chance for me to re-invent myself, be more popular, to "mainstream". [Ooh – mainstream is a verb now.] This whole Colorado thing, it’s given them an excuse to do more of what started this trouble in the first place – to make individuals and different people feel like even bigger freaks."

Katz, the author of the article, says:

I referred some of my e-mailers to peacefire.org, a children’s rights website, for help dealing with blocking and filtering software. I sent others to freedomforum.org for help with censorship and free speech issues, and to geek websites, especially some on ICQ.com where kids can talk freely.

I’d just like to close, mejeffdorchen again, by saying, as I implied in last week’s moment of truth, that the feelings of alienation the above teenagers express in their emails is not unlike the alienation experienced by people who feel themselves forced to the fringes of society by their race, gender, sexual orientation, political beliefs, appearance, or economic class. I guess that explains the violence and other antisocial behavior that emerges from those margins from time to time.

What it doesn’t explain is the violence and oppression and general lack of respect for life and truth and the happiness of others that pours constantly from the corporate owners of the world and their lackey governments and state and global institutions. Capitalism throws up its hands in the face of the question of its own antisocial behavior. It calls these products of its own greed "human nature." "There will always be rulers," says capitalism. "There will always be struggles for world domination. To desire anything else is utopianism. The rank and file of the world ought to accept that they may end up collateral casualties of this thing, this "human nature."

I guess if your antisocial violence falls under the definition of "human nature," well, that makes it okay. That makes it "normal." Capitalist normativity.

And if you don’t accept it, you’re not normal.

Makes me feel like I’m in high school again.

I’m jeffdorchen and this has been the Moment of Truth.