In this issue of Banter M:
Guns, Breasts and Massacres - The manifestations of male sexual repression are creating frightening spectacles of aggression against women and homosexuals, argues Ben Cohen. And they are becoming more volatile and harder to predict.
Losing My Religions (Part One) - Tommy Christopher describes his descent from devout fundamentalist Christian to a mortal sinner.
How One Great Educator Can Change the World - Bob Cesca was once a Catholic Republican, until he met Mr. Duddy, a once in a lifetime educator and biology teacher who turned him into the liberal Daily Banter writer you see today.
Guns, Breasts and Massacres
by Ben Cohen
Earlier this week, Jesse Mahler used her cell phone to film a man screaming at her for breastfeeding her newborn baby at a Target store in Torrington, Connecticut. In the video, the unidentified man can be heard demanding a refund from Target because of the "disgusting" spectacle he was forced to witness.
In a post on Facebook, Maher wrote:
Before the video started rolling he looked at me and said (very angrily), "can't you do that somewhere else?... That's fucking disgusting.. You are nasty"
Days earlier, Omar Mateen, 29, walked into a gay night club in Orlando, Florida, and massacred 49 people from the LGBT community because he had apparently become enraged after witnessing men kissing.
While the two incidents are physically unrelated, there is a consistent theme. And it is one of severe male sexual repression -- sadly now a hallmark of our confused culture. The manifestations of this sexual repression are creating frightening spectacles of aggression against women and homosexuals that are becoming more volatile and harder to predict.
The sight of a lumbering, angry old white man berating a woman for breast feeding her child is indicative of a truly unique and bizarre sexual dysfunction. To have such hatred for female sexual organs is to literally hate oneself -- because unless the man in the video was delivered by a stork and fed cheeseburgers from infancy, he only survived childhood because of the milk from his mother's breasts. Yet years of cultural (and no doubt religious) conditioning have convinced the poor man that sexual organs are somehow revolting, and women should be ashamed of exposing them when feeding their own offspring.
From early reports, it appears as if Omar Mateen was likely gay himself given he had frequented Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and had apparently used many gay dating apps. After his murder spree, Mateen spoke with negotiators while barricading himself in the nightclub bathroom. After claiming he was wearing a suicide vest and was carrying explosives, Mateen pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and praised the Boston Marathon bombers for their crimes against innocent Americans. We don't know whether Mateen was officially affiliated with an Islamic extremist group, but we do know that he was a practicing Muslim and had traveled to Saudi Arabia to make a religious pilgrimage known as the umrah.
Islam is opposed to homosexuality, and more virulent, fundamentalist strains are deeply homophobic. The toxic combination of a rigid religious upbringing and latent homosexual urges must have played havoc on Mateen's infantile psyche, and his inability to reconcile the two no doubt played a part in his murderous rampage. If Mateen was indeed gay, his act of barbarism was likely directed in part at himself and the fabric of his own being he could not bear to live with.
This deep hatred for the feminine is sadly present in most human societies around the world, and unless we start to address it, there will be more violence against women and the LGBT community. This 'dominator' model most cultures have adopted in recent history is a direct consequence of the male ego and the violent suppression of the feminine. As cultural historian Riane Eisler writes:
“Many cultural stories worldwide present the domination system as the only human alternative. Fairy tales romanticize the rule of kings and queens over “common people.” Classics such as Homers Illiad and Shakespeare’s kings trilogy romanticize “Heroic violence.” Many religious stories present men’s control, even ownership, of women as normal and moral.
These stories came out of the times that oriented much more closely to a “pure” domination system. Along with newer stories that perpetuate these limited beliefs about human nature, they play a major role in how we view our world and how we live in it. But precisely because stories are so important in shaping values, new narratives can help change unhealthy values.
Of particular importance are new stories about human nature. We need new narratives that give us a more complete and accurate picture of who we are and who we can be - stories that show that our enormous capacities for consciousness, creativity and caring are integral to human evolution, that these capacities are what make us distinctively human.”
These new narratives are emerging, but they are facing violent repression as the old guard tries to reassert its dominance. The angry man in Target unable to be near a breast feeding mother and the repressed homosexual who thought nothing of blasting 49 people to death are manifestations of a the male Id, a fragile part of the human subconscious that has gone unchallenged for far too long.
“Being able to stockpile weapons and have ever bigger and scarier-looking guns is straightforward and undeniable overcompensation insecure men trying to prove what manly men they are,” writes Amanda Marcotte. “This isn’t a discussion being held on the plane of rationality, but a psychological drama about these men’s fears of emasculation.”
When the debate about gun control comes up after a deadly mass shooting, it is virulently opposed by the usual horde of white men who fear emasculation through losing their deadly weapons. As Jennifer Carlson, author of “Citizen-Protectors: The Everyday Politics of Guns in an Age of Decline,” explains, men who carry guns suffer from a “crisis of confidence.” One man told Carson that he felt “naked” without his gun. Carlson also found that men carry guns in public “as a reaction to broader socioeconomic decline” or because they view carrying as a type of “masculine duty.”
“The gun rights platform is not just about guns. It’s also about a crisis of confidence in the American dream," she continues. "And this is one reason gun control efforts ignite such intense backlashes: Restrictions are received as a personal affront to men who find in guns a sense of duty, relevance and even dignity.”
There is no better representation of the male ego than the gun and the violence it wreaks. Had the man screaming at Jesse Mahler for breastfeed her baby been armed, who knows how that situation could have unfolded. We saw what happened when another repressed male lost the ability to control his violent urges, and that ended with 49 people slaughtered on a nightclub dance floor. Do we really want to take any more chances?
Let's start telling ourselves a different story about what it means to be human, and in the mean time, get rid of the damn guns.
Next: Losing My Religions (Part One) by - Tommy Christopher
Losing My Religions (Part One)
by Tommy Christopher
There comes a time, in almost every life, at which faith is challenged, and either lost or retained. It's an important moment no matter which way it goes, and for me, it's a moment I've thought a lot about this week. Religious faith has been so central to the events that shook our world on Sunday, in myriad contradictory ways.
There's the faith of the Orlando shooter, which some would have you believe led him to the monstrous act of killing 49 people at a gay nightclub. That assertion alone is complicated and contradictory, because at one level, the shooter pledged loyalty to radical Islamist organizations that are bitter rivals, but which also condone the killing of civilians. At another level, there's a general level of intolerance toward gay people that runs through many religions.
The way things are shaping up, though, it seems his strongest motivation may have been his own shame at the urges he couldn't control. That shame, while certainly reinforced by religion, is much more a product of a universal culture of bigotry that has infected many religions, not the other way around.
Then there's the beautiful faith of the victims' families, which provides comfort in the midst of unimaginable horror. It's the same faith that I would like to think comforted the Charleston 9 as another horror unfolded in a house of worship. It's a faith I envy, and which I lacked when I was confronted with a similar fate many years ago. Waiting for a bullet you know you're never even going to hear to end your life is unbearable when you're facing only incomprehensible nothingness.
There was an old episode of "MASH" in which a friend of Hawkeye's is working on a book called "You Never Hear the Bullet," because by the time the sound reaches you, you're already dead. In the episode, of course, the writer is mortally wounded, but hears the bullet because it doesn't kill him right away.
That notion stuck with me, though, and years later, my next-door neighbor Chuck gave me a rare glimpse at that situation. He had been a bus driver for many years, until he was held up by a man with a gun. Chuck struggled with the man over the gun, and was shot in the head, the bullet entering just below his jaw and exiting the top left side of his head. He never heard the shot, or even felt it.
That was the chasm I was looking into years later as I lay on the floor of a McDonald's office with a shotgun pointed at the back of my head and the gunman's foot shaking like a pneumatic dildo on my ass. It's not like I'd never had a near-death experience before, but most of those were instantaneous and fleeting, and served only to reinforce the solipsistic sense of immortality that helps the faithless get out of bed in the morning.
In that moment, though, with all that time to think about it, I really wished hard for the sort of faith I'd had as a young child.
I still remember some of the details from my first day of church at the Terrill Road Bible Chapel, a Christian fundamentalist church with its roots in the "Plymouth Brethren" movement. I was only four years old, but I can still see the faces of Erin McCall, the little red-haired girl who immediately took charge of showing me around, and a couple of the other kids whose names and faces are still clear as a bell. I still remember all the dog-eared Christian children's books and well-worn toys that dotted the basement Sunday School of the church.
Very quickly, that church would become the only place I ever felt safe as a child. That's a whole other story, though, one which you'll have to just take my word for right now.
I was a voracious reader as a child, so even though my eyelids grew heavy reading the actual Bible just like anyone else, I devoured Bible stories with a fervor rivaled only by those about dinosaurs. Some of it I didn't really get, like the importance of collecting a thousand souvenir Philistine dick-skins, but one of my early biblical heroes was Solomon. This was mainly because when he was offered riches, power, or wisdom by God, he chose wisdom. The parable about splitting the baby didn't impress me nearly as much as it did everyone else, because I always wondered what he'd have done if both women had said "Fuck that, it's my baby, you monster!"
It was wisdom that I was looking for in that church, and over the years, I memorized hundreds of Bible verses so I could go to summer camp for free every year, but the wisdom became harder and harder to extract. I remember every year, when we'd go over the events leading up to Jesus' crucifixion, I'd sit and hope for a different outcome, like, "Come on, Peter! Not three times!"
Many Christians cite John 3:16 as their favorite Bible verse, but mine was always John 14:
Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me.
In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.
And whither I go ye know, and the way ye know.
At the time, I thought a house full of mansions was cool, but it was also Jesus' reassurance that I loved. "If it were not so, I would have told you."
Eventually, I drifted away from the faith, long before I drifted away from the church, and I always traced that loss to the purchase of a book called "Baseball Stars of 1971."
One of my favorite things to do as a child was to run errands with my mom, and my favorite destination was the PM Bookstore in Plainfield. They sold used books and magazines, and if I was well-behaved through all our other errands, I'd get to load up on all the out-of-date reading material I could get my hands on.
When I was about 8 years old, I developed an extreme affinity for baseball, which I sucked at athletically, but which I loved watching and reading about. So, when we'd go to the PM Bookstore, I'd grab whatever yellowed paperbacks I could get my hands on, and that thin baseball anthology was one of them. In it were repeated references to a book called "Ball Four" by former Yankees ace Jim Bouton, mainly talking about the outrage that the book sparked.
I was actually an insane reader, and would read all of my books several times each, so my curiosity about "Ball Four" grew and grew, and I looked for it every time we went back to that bookstore. Finally, I scored a copy, probably a year or more later. Bouton's baseball diary was a revelation, combining everything I loved about baseball with heavy doses of philosophy, politics, and sex, which were all fairly new concepts to me.
The book became my "Catcher in the Rye." I read and re-read it, underlined and marked my favorite passages by folding the corner of the page, and obsessively bought more copies of it like the Mel Gibson character in "Conspiracy Theory." I probably still have five or six of them in my attic right now.
There were two main ways in which that book fundamentally changed my worldview, the first being that it was the first time I'd ever felt validation for thinking and being different. That 1971 baseball anthology had described Bouton as an "iconoclast," a word I'd never heard before, and when I looked it up, I was shocked to learn that bucking commonly held beliefs could be seen as a positive. Bouton questioned everything, particularly idolatry, both religious and secular. People hated him for destroying their illusions about heroes like Mickey Mantle.
The other way it changed my thinking was to make me skeptical even of the book itself. One central theme of Bouton's writing is that you shouldn't just let go of your illusions, but never have them in the first place, a lesson that prepared me for the fact that even Jim Bouton was kind of a terrible guy in a lot of ways, and about two-thirds full of shit himself. You could read it between the lines of "Ball Four," but was all over his ex-wife's tell-all "Home Games," which I resisted reading for decades.
Until this week, that was the story I told myself about my loss of faith, but I guess reliving those moments in the aftermath of the Orlando attack, and in imagining the final moments of that toddler who was dragged to his death by an alligator, has made me realize I've been wrong about that all these years. My fond remembrances of my childhood faith were interrupted by a moment of Proustian clarity last night.
I was seven years old, and a Christian pop music group called The New Life Singers, if I remember correctly, came to perform at my church. They had drums and electric guitars and all that shit, and I was really into it. One of the singers, I think her name was Jill, was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen in my life, and I just had to talk to her.
This was the first time I can ever remember feeling attracted to anyone, and it was an overwhelming thunderclap that I could scarcely understand, let alone deal with. Looking at her made me ache in my stomach, but it was the sort of pang you get when a dose of really strong opiate hits you. I remember it like it was five seconds ago.
She was blonde, and she had on a light blue vest and a billowy white blouse, and her eyes and her lips made me dizzy. Her breath smelled like coffee, but like coffee breath, not actual coffee, and I did not care.
I knew that an intro like "Oh my God, can you please marry a child?" wouldn't really go over, so I quickly concocted a lie to get her to talk to me. I told her that my best friend, whose name was actually "Buddy," was in danger of eternal damnation, and could she please help me iron out a pitch for him?
I was really pouring it on thick, too, with misty eyes and the whole nine yards. Mind you, I was still a good Christian boy then, so not only was I feeling deep shame at the weird feelings I was having, I was also whipping myself for lying. About God. In church. But I just wanted her to keep talking to me.
I still remember her response, verbatim. She smiled and suggested I quote him John 3:16, but with a twist! "Tell him 'For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that Buddy should not perish, but have everlasting life!"
Even to a seven year-old, that sounded like the dumbest, most obvious pitch in the world, but I still remember how the look of clever revelation in her eyes made me fall even more deeply in love with her. I also felt like the most worthless piece of scum ever.
Oh, but I definitely could sink even lower, and promptly did by asking if she would pray with me for my poor friend's soul. She took my hands, and we prayed for what I wished had been an eternity, and the whole time I was being assailed by the intoxicating warmth of her hands over mine and the sure knowledge that with every syllable of prayer, I was stabbing God right in the heart.
At the end of it all, though, I realized that I'd have done or said anything to gain eternal life, especially with Jill, but that I didn't really believe in it, and never would. Ironically, it was wanting so badly to believe in it that made it impossible.
I never saw Jill again, and she's probably 70 years old now, but I did keep going to church and trying like hell to be saved, but that was the night I lost my faith, or realized I never really had it. But I still miss it.
Next: How One Great Educator Can Change the World - by Bob Cesca
How One Great Educator Can Change the World
by Bob Cesca
You probably never heard of my alma mater. It's a small state university nestled in the geographical gray area between Reading and Allentown, Pennsylvania. I enrolled at Kutztown University with the goal of becoming an illustrator or graphic designer, but before day one of my first semester, I switched majors from Communication Design to Political Science and never once regretted my change of mind. For much of my high school life, I was a mediocre, if not awful student who was more interested in working on the school newspaper and listening to shitty '80s hair metal.
It might also shock you to learn that I identified as a conservative in those naive teen years, and even founded the Young Republicans club at my high school -- a club that continues to exist today, likely doing its part to elect Trump. (Incidentally, most of the best Democrats I know were once Republicans. Do the list: there's Stephanie Miller, Charles Johnson from Little Green Footballs, Arianna Huffington and, yes, both Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren, to name a few. I've always believed it's provided me with an insight that many lifelong progressives never possessed. So, if you have a problem with the fact that I was a Young Republican in 1989, feel free to bite me.)
Late in 1989, while I shuffled off to college and away from my sheltered Catholic upbringing, I clearly didn't know what the hell I was talking about, politically speaking and otherwise, but in my defense, my liberalism was merely buried under a shallow, powdery layer of ignorance which, thanks to an educator named Patrick Duddy (pictured above), would emerge and flourish.
If you're lucky, maybe you had a teacher in your life who was the manifestation of Robin Williams' John Keating in Dead Poets Society -- or close enough -- someone who was damn close to existing on that inspirational plane. My lackluster grades and subsequent enrollment at Kutztown turned out to be a fortuitous series of events leading to Duddy, a soft-spoken, heavy-set, disheveled biology professor who, based on first impressions, I never would've guessed was destined to utterly change my life; leading me to liberal politics and ultimately to the writing of this article for The Daily Banter.
Without Duddy, I'm not sure I'd be doing what I'm doing. And I know for sure that I wouldn't be the man I am today.
Patrick Duddy was a lifer at Kutztown, having grown up in town and eventually becoming a tenured prof who taught four of the most challenging and rewarding classes in my too-long college career. This understates the importance of what happened in those classes, each of which so profoundly expanded and enlightened my worldview. In fact, I was required to take Duddy's Biology 010 class in my first semester, but I voluntarily enrolled in the rest of his series of four classes as electives. Even if I hadn't been able to move things around to accommodate Duddy's repertoire, I would've happily audited them. I was so completely drawn in by Bio 010 that, for my second semester, I signed up for both "Man & The Environment," covering environmental issues, and "Biology & Society," the euphemistically-named class that covered literally every aspect of human sexuality. The next semester was perhaps the most challenging Duddy class, "Fetal Biology & Birth Defects," which covered in exhaustive detail every stage in fetal development. It was a majors-level class, but I ferociously absorbed it anyway.
In order to understand why a poli-sci major would take so many bio courses, I have to explain what happened in that first Bio 010 class and its influence upon my rapidly forming database of ideas.
Unlike many professors, Duddy refused to waste his lecture time on describing the parts of a caterpillar or the cellular structure of a pine cone, which he left up to the textbook. In class, however, we were expected to talk about the concepts of life and the real-world applications of the textbook's details. Duddy's philosophy revolved around the fragility of life in all forms, each existing in the face of a trifecta of obstacles he coined as "PEE" -- politics, ethics and economics, and how each of these tenets of society conspired to shape our world for better or worse. This was a class about learning to live our lives as better people, rather than a class about its trivialities. It was a class that taught us how to be well-rounded citizens of the world -- in Duddy's words, "to know a little about a lot of things, and what we don't remember, we know how to find it."
Roughly halfway through that first semester -- my brain expanding by the day with notions about how the world really works -- Duddy entered his lecture hall; his black hair appearing unwashed and messy; he was wearing his usual blue lab-smock uniform and, beneath his thick beard, he looked determined. He closed the doors and handed out the notes for the day. (Did I mention he forbid the taking of notes during class? He did. He insisted that we pay attention to the ideas rather than hurriedly scribbling them down. So, he typed up the day's notes himself and simply gave them to us in advance.)
This day was going to be one of the heaviest of my college life. Duddy began talking about his son and namesake, Pat Duddy, Jr., who, we learned had died several years earlier. Had he lived, he would've been a couple years older than we were, but it'd never come to pass because, Duddy revealed to us, Pat was born with a rare disease that slowly destroyed his liver, eventually requiring a transplant. At the eleventh hour, a donor was found and the surgery was performed. As Duddy described the ordeal, he choked back tears, as did nearly everyone else in the room. The new liver was fine, but the surgery itself was badly botched, and Pat's life ended.
Again, this was an entry-level freshman science class.
By the end of the 90-minute lecture, many of us in the room began to grapple with our own mortality, learning that anything can and might happen that'd either take our own lives or the lives of the people we love. It was John Keating's "carpe diem" lesson, but told in a deeply personal and heartbreakingly profound way. In my five years in college, there would never be another class like that one -- on that day -- about a kid I never knew, but felt a kinship with. To the day I die, I'll never forget Pat's photographs on the pages of that day's notes. And I didn't stop talking about that class for weeks to anyone who'd listen. Until that day, I didn't fully realize how influential educators could be, and how too many of them don't -- or aren't allowed to -- live up to that potential.
Throughout the semester, the frost of conservatism melted away and I began to embrace global attitudes and a broader view of my place in the world. During the following semester, the last bits of Catholic guilt regarding sexuality disappeared with Duddy's Bio & Society class, which covered everything from the detailed structure of human sex organs, to LGBT lifestyles to sexual positions, contraception, erogenous zones and, yeah, sexually transmitted diseases. I learned, among many other things, that men and women aren't so different in terms of sexual and cognitive biology -- that we have complimentary yet totally analogous organs. My feminism began here. In Man & The Environment (yes, it should've been Humanity & The Environment), I absorbed the shocking precariousness of climate change as well as the dominating crisis of human overpopulation.
Duddy's Fetal Biology class was a far cry from the philosophical, conceptual Bio 010 class. While we didn't have lengthy discussions about seizing the day, I learned something immensely valuable about myself. In the process of memorizing literally every minuscule event in the fetal development process, I learned how to learn. Duddy taught me how to digest vast amounts of information and to recall that information in a way that made sense on a page or via the spoken word. In learning about zygotes and umbilical cords, I learned how to compose and repeat exhaustive research in manageable forms, while also learning at every step how a human life can go horribly awry with one seemingly inconsequential mishap in cellular division. After that class -- which was arguably the most difficult course offered by Kutztown -- I never took for granted my ability to walk, talk or breathe -- I never took for granted the rare gift of being able to live a life of physical and emotional normalcy, knowing everything that could've gone wrong even before taking that first breath.
Duddy gave me an "A."
After graduating, I maintained a mentor-relationship with Duddy, occasionally joining him for lunch at Snuzzles, his favorite off-campus dive. But I eventually lost touch with him as the years passed and as my life drifted from one adventure to another. Throughout all of it, I've tried like hell, but didn't always succeed in living by Duddy's prime directive: to live one day at a time and to make it a masterpiece. Fuck, it sounds quaint, but its sentimentality doesn't make it any less true, or any less real.
On the same day when I learned that 49 people were gunned down in Orlando, I learned through my college girlfriend that Duddy passed away at his home in the hills just outside of Kutztown -- his home, which he described as a sanctuary for life of all varieties. Duddy enriched the lives of his students for more than three decades at a little known college in eastern Pennsylvania. There will never be a movie about Duddy, even though there should be. But the lives he touched reach far beyond his roster of students over the years. I'd like to think that I, along with my classmates, helped to carry his philosophy to countless others. And while they might not know his name, they have a sense of who he was anyway.
Paraphrasing scripture: Whoever changes one life, changes the world entire.
Make no mistake, Duddy wasn't overtly liberal. In fact, I have no idea which party he was registered with, and he seldom discussed the politics of the day in class. But when conservatives screech about academia as a fertile breeding ground for liberalism, they're kind of right. But it's not necessarily deliberate. Liberalism, in my experience, grows organically from a place of knowledge and inspiration. One educator taught me to embrace both, and it's become inextricably manifested in my life's work.
Duddy once told a story about how he and his family were trapped at campsite during a weekend getaway. It wasn't because of a storm or a flat tire. It was because, overnight, a spider created an elaborately beautiful web over the dirt road leading out of the woods. Duddy refused to disturb the web and instead chose to find another way out. When you're going about your day, maybe take some extra time to spare a life -- even a relatively insignificant one like that spider in the woods blocking Duddy's car. Somewhere, somehow, it'll make him smile.