Thursday, November 14, 2013

Should Conservatives "Toughen Up" Our Children?

The NFL "toughening up" scandal involving offensive lineman Richie Incognito and rookie Jonathan Maartin raises an interesting question.

What about toughening up?  What about hazing?  Is it a bad thing or a good thing?

After all, all military training involves some kind of "boot camp" in which recruits are deliberately given a "hard time".  For what exactly?  Is it to make recruits into obedience machines?  Is it to prepare them for the rigors of the march and the battle?  Or is it merely an exercise of power, like the slavemaster and his cowskin whip?

Here's an example of "toughening up."  It's the contrast between the rich kids in Jane Austen's Mansfield Park and the country cousins.

In Mansfield Park there are six rich kids.  Four of them are clearly vicious.  Only one of them is really virtuous, and he is weak.  There are two poor kids, William and Fanny Price; they are noble, virtuous, and exemplary. The story of Mansfield Park is really just the story of the "toughening up" that William and Fanny have to go through before they get their reward.

Fanny has to go through years of humiliation as the poor kid in the household of rich kids, not to mention suffer the bullying of her nasty aunt Norris and the awful presence of the forbidding uncle Sir Thomas Bertram.  But she remains true and virtuous through all her trials.

William goes off into the Royal Navy at age 11 or 12 as a midshipman.  Readers of Napoleonic naval novels will know what that life is like.  William returns to Mansfield Park at the age of 19.  He is an impressive figure and Sir Thomas encourages him to relate his experiences.
Young as he was, William had already seen a great deal. He had been in the Mediterranean; in the West Indies; in the Mediterranean again; had been often taken on shore by the favour of his captain, and in the course of seven years had known every variety of danger which sea and war together could offer.
Everyone listens to Midshipman Price's stories, even the indolent Lady Bertram, who is shocked by his stories of danger and privation.
To [rich kid] Henry Crawford they gave a different feeling. He longed to have been at sea, and seen and done and suffered as much. His heart was warmed, his fancy fired, and he felt the highest respect for a lad who, before he was twenty, had gone through such bodily hardships and given such proofs of mind. The glory of heroism, of usefulness, of exertion, of endurance, made his own habits of selfish indulgence appear in shameful contrast; and he wished he had been a William Price, distinguishing himself and working his way to fortune and consequence with so much self-respect and happy ardour, instead of what he was!
We moderns cuddle and protect our teenagers in "habits of selfish indulgence."  We mew them up in child custodial facilities where the only adults they meet are bureaucratic lifers.  We send them on to college with luxurious dorms and exercise facilities where all they learn is how to get good grades out of the professors for the least work.  We neglect to challenge them with "hardships" and forget to encourage in them habits "of usefulness, of exertion, of endurance."

This was not always so.  In England children, boys and girls, have been sent away from home since the 13th century to work as apprentices and servants in their early teens.  In North America things were no different. Abraham Lincoln was sent away to work on another man's farm at age 14.  Jay Gould was self-employed as a surveyor at age 18.  John D. Rockefeller built a house for his mother at age 18 while working as a bookkeeper at a commission merchant.

We may perhaps determine that the "toughening up" of the Miami Dolphins' Jonathan Martin went too far.  But how tough do you need to be to make it in the NFL?  Rush Limbaugh worked as a grunt for the Kansas City Royals way back.  And the players were ruthless with him.  It got to the point that he was afraid to go to the locker room and ask them to autograph baseballs for the fans.

But you know why the players were hazing him?  They liked him.
But what I figured out was it all happened 'cause they liked me. It wasn't the other way, that I saw that they disrespect me, dislike me. I'll tell you, it got so bad at one point that I refused to go down. I went up and I said, "You know what? Send somebody else down to get those damn baseballs autographed and I'm gonna find another way to the field to do the first pitch 'cause I'm not going in there. I'm just not going down there."

About two weeks later, a contingent of players came up to my office and said, "Where have you been?" They're in uniform and they're coming up into my office. "Where have you been? Come on back." They dragged me back down there and everything was okay. I wouldn't trade those five years for anything. That's why I say I learned more in those five years, the first five years out of radio than I ever did in the whatever, 10 or 12 in it.
They say that the basis of male honor is that you never quit on your buddies on the battlefield.  It's not patriotism that keeps soldiers fighting, you see; it's the loyalty each soldier feels for his buddies.  But how do you foster that feeling of comradeship, that feeling of loyalty that demands that you lay down your life to save the life of your buddy?

I don't know, but I'm pretty sure we need more of it here in 21st century America, and I don't think we can hope to teach virtue and courage by confining teenagers in schools under the authority of government bureaucrats.

Something else is needed.

1 comment:

  1. Is this "toughening up"? "According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, the most egregious of these exchanges was a highly graphic voicemail Incognito left in April 2013, in which Incognito called Martin a "half-nigger piece of shit," threatened to slap Martin's mother across the face and even uttered a death threat against Martin." BTW I had lots of that kind of toughening up when I was a kid- involuntarily from racist violent bullies who i completely unfairly likened to Nazis.

    Mansfield Park is not about toughening up WIlliam and Fanny - it is about not having choices if you are poor - and especially if you are a woman (strangely a common theme in Ms Austen's work). It would have been much tougher if they had stayed at her father's house which by the end Fanny looks down on. Her "reward" is to go off into the boring sunset with a boring man to achieve nothing - as prefigured by her priggish attitude towards the others acting an innocuous play. Jane is so much deeper than people think...

    BTW I reached here by trying to find out whether UK public spending was a reputable site - and I was going to suggest that you put what it is or who it is on the Home page or more easily accessible than where it is so people like me can know. The data looks authentic and if so, it is a v good site and a genuine resource.