Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Throwing things

Ann Althouse blogged today on "milkshaking," the new-ish trend of throwing the contents (apparently it's usually only the contents) of your milkshake cup at someone with whose politics you disagree. Oh, heck, let's dispense with the even-handedness: "milkshaking," the new-ish trend on the Left of throwing milkshakes at conservatives.

I have two thoughts. The first relates to a young kid I've known for many years; he is the king of the not-quite-justifying-physical-response annoyance. Erma Bombeck had a kid like this, apparently. In The Grass Is Always Greener Over the Septic Tank, her brilliant and hilarious commentary on suburban life, she describes a road trip with her family. The kids, all piled together in the backseat, are making the family vacation a banal and enervating hell, as they can do; one of them complains, "He's humming!" Erma or her husband responds, "I can't hear anything." Kid counters with, "He's humming so nobody can hear it but me!"

This is quintessentially the kid I know. For as long as I've known him, he's skated at the thin edge of inviting repercussions for his actions. He's repeatedly thrown balls and other projectiles past people's heads; he's scootered inches from people's bare feet; he's moved his chair so it's touching the chair of the person next to him; he's taken over the playlist and played Minecraft parody songs nobody wants to hear; he's done the repeating-what-people-say thing right up to the point where he's about to get smacked by the kid whose words he's repeating. And then the other kids, who just want him to stop but don't want to resort to violence, appeal to the adult on the scene, who tries to intervene: "Stop what you're doing."

"I'm not doing anything!" or variants of this, such as, "I wasn't touching him!," "I wasn't even close!," or "I'm not hurting anybody!," ensue. The adult is thrown back on, "I don't care what you say you were or weren't doing, it stops now."

Aaaand the kid gets upset. Sometimes he protests: "S/he does stuff like this all the time and doesn't get in trouble." (The adult is well advised not to argue against this point; it's a black hole.) Sometimes he just invokes the silent treatment. (The adult is well advised to ignore this.) Either way, he's getting upset because he's been called on something he was doing that he thought wasn't quite over the line, but that has now drawn the attention of authority. The adult sometimes points this out to him - the fact that he's not upset because of the rank injustice of being called out, no matter what he says, but rather because he misjudged the line. It doesn't do any good. Give him an hour (he's a pretty happy-go-lucky kid and bounces back fast) and he'll be right back on the scooter again.

A milkshake-thrower is likely to be mighty surprised - probably furiously angry - if he is brought up on an assault charge for throwing that milkshake. But it is a perfectly rational response to what is, in fact, an assault.

My second thought relates to the first. A number of commenters on the Althouse thread took the tack of, "When the Right finally decides to stop being nice and actually fights fire with fire, things are going to get real." A dangerous thought, and potentially a true one, and the whole reason why the adult on the scene with the kid I described would always try to intervene, no matter how frustrating and pointless that intervention seemed: because if the adult didn't intervene, the other kids would eventually get fed up and punch him in the nose.

Milkshake-throwers, like pie-throwers before them, should be leery of what they might unleash against themselves. I always want my side of the ideological argument to show endless restraint, invariably to take the path of debate rather than any sort of violence - but I am not in control of other people's actions. I think it's possible, perhaps even likely, that the throwers of supposedly funny, squishy, "harmless" stuff believe that the vaunted Rule of Law will protect them from the thrown punch and worse, since after all, "they're not hurting anybody." But people get fed up.

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