Why Boy Scouts Have Always Bothered Me

Boy Scouts of AmericaI live across the street from a family that is very involved with Boy Scouts of America. The father is a scout leader and two of the sons are Eagle Scouts. And they are all very nice people. One couldn’t ask for better neighbors. But here’s the thing: I find the Boy Scouts a deeply creepy institution. And this is not some liberal thing. I’ve always felt this way.

Although it might not be clear to look at me now, when I was a child, I was a very typical boy. I loved my army men and when I got older, I ran around with the other boys playing war with sticks fashioned into guns. So when my friends started becoming cub scouts, you would have thought I would have followed along. But I didn’t. Then, as now, I thought it was all very creepy.

It probably comes from the core of my being—my fascination with the Romantic hero archetype. But the idea of everyone dressing up the same way just wasn’t my idea of what it is to be a man. And more to the point, it wasn’t what my idea of what it is to be an American. As I noted last year:

It may be unfair, but I always associate the Boy Scouts with the Hitler Youth. I understand that the Hitler Youth basically took over what had been the Boy Scouts in Germany. But the uniforms, the paramilitary style, the right wing politics? It strikes me as downright un-American. But that’s just because there are two currents in America: the fierce individual and the belligerent conformist. I respect the first. But the Scouts reflect too much of the second, even if it is not intentionally bad. Its exclusionary policies alone reinforce the worst aspects of in-group/out-group politics. Hell, some troops were still racially segregated until 1974!

So I wasn’t exactly surprised to see an old article in The Atlantic by Jennie Rothenberg Gritz about the announcement that the Boy Scouts were going to let gay scouts into their club[1], Christopher Hitchens on the Mildly Fascist Founder of the Boy Scouts. I’m afraid she’s soft-pedaling it. Robert Baden-Powell was very supportive of fascism. And you can see why. Socially, fascism pushes the same kinds of ideas that that the Boy Scouts do: duty to the group and conformity.

Now let me be clear: I don’t think that the Boy Scouts of America are a fascist group. I don’t think that at all. But it wasn’t hard for Mussolini and Hitler to change the Boy Scout programs in their countries to fascist youth groups. And I think that is what is creepy about the group. But that is completely expected. I am the kind of person who rebels against authority. I am an equally bad leader and follower. A society made up of people like me would be no kind of society at all. So we need a lot of people who are willing to conform to create social cohesion.

Just the same, I think it is a major mistake to turn conformity into a fetish. The military does this because it is an unfortunate necessity, just as the very existence of the military is an unfortunate necessity. But to push boys into blind and ostentatious conformity before they are able to make the choice seems wrong to me. It’s too much like indoctrination. What’s more, it is a particular kind of paramilitary indoctrination. And for me, that’s what tips it from concerning to creepy.

[1] But they still aren’t allowing gay leaders. It is not clear what they think they are doing by this ban. Are they afraid gay leaders might rape the boys? Well, their straight leaders seem to already be doing that.

Truth and Consideration

Virginia Woolf by Roger FryTo pursue truth with such astonishing lack of consideration for other people’s feelings, to rend the thin veils of civilization so wantonly, so brutally, was to her so horrible an outrage of human decency that, without replying, dazed and blinded, she bent her head as if to let the pelt of jagged hail, the drench of dirty water, bespatter her unrebuked.

—Virginia Woolf
To the Lighthouse

The Muddle of Rick Perry’s Indictment

Rick PerryI’ve been biding my time on this whole business with Rick Perry and his actions to get Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign. Over the weekend, Jonathan Chait wrote, This Indictment Of Rick Perry Is Unbelievably Ridiculous. Now, I often disagree with Chait who is awfully neoliberal in many areas. But he is also incredibly smart, informed, and thoughtful. But the truth is, I think that Chait and others are jumping to a lot of conclusions. The truth is, we still don’t know what evidence Perry was indicted on. The dominant media narrative seems to be the one that Rick Perry wants.

The most troubling part of the narrative is that this is part of some Democratic witch hunt. That doesn’t really fly. As USA Today mentioned in an editorial criticizing the indictment, “It is being brought by a special prosecutor appointed by a Republican judge.” So I wish that liberals would stop arguing things such as that it helps Chris Christie by implying that all questions about Republican corruption are politically motivated. This one just doesn’t seem to be.

As for the main argument that the indictment is based upon nothing, well, we just don’t know that. Most interestingly, My San Antonio reported, Perry Aides Offered Lehmberg a Job for Resignation. This muddles everything. On the one hand, Perry’s office allegedly offered Lehmberg a different job in the DA’s office. But they apparently also offered to replace her with a Democrat. That last bit of information would seem to eliminate Perry’s primary motive. Or maybe he felt any other Democrat would be less effective than Lehmberg. Or maybe he was just looking for a way to save face. Who knows at this time?

And that’s the point: we don’t know. James Moore at Huffington Post did a good job of laying out the potential problems for Perry, Why Rick Perry Will Be Convicted. In the article, he noted a bit of an inconsistency in Perry’s claim that Lehmberg was unfit for office because of the drunk driving conviction. Moore wrote:

Two other Texas DAs were arrested for DUI during Perry’s tenure in office and he spoke not a discouraging word about their indiscretions. Kaufman County DA Rick Harrison drove the wrong way into traffic and was found guilty of drunk driving in 2009 and in 2003 Terry McEachern, DA of Swisher County, was convicted of a DUI. Perry said nothing. It’s probably only coincidental that both of those individuals were Republicans and did not oversee an investigative unit responsible for keeping elected officials honest in the capitol.

In addition to this, the special prosecutor Michael McCrum has indicated to Vice that the case isn’t about the veto threat itself. He said, “I’m investigating the circumstances surrounding the veto and whether the governor’s actions were appropriate or not under the law.” And Jeffrey Toobin at the New Yorker has indicated that at this point, it doesn’t much matter if what Perry did was common, “[C]ourts respond to the argument that ‘everyone does it’ more or less the same way that your mother did.”

In the end, I don’t suppose it much matters. Rick Perry was never going to be the next President. No one on the left likes him. And on the right, he’s been an outcast ever since he indicated that he had a soul in the 2012 primary, “If you say that we should not educate children who have come into our state for no other reason than they’ve been brought there by no fault of their own, I don’t think you have a heart.” The Republican Party, in fact, does not have a heart and they won’t forget that.

So whether or not Rick Perry gets convicted doesn’t much matter outside of Texas. But I do wish that my fellow liberals would stop arguing that this is partisan and that Rick Perry is some kind of victim. It’s nothing like that.  It’s just Texas.

John Hiatt

John HiattThe great singer-songwriter John Hiatt is 62 years old today. I first noticed him in my teens. “Pink Bedroom” got a lot of play on our local radio station. He seemed to me like the American equivalent of Elvis Costello. That’s still not an entirely inappropriate comparison. But whereas Costello is more adventurous musically and lyrically, Hiatt is more audience-friendly and doesn’t suffer from Costello’s many excesses.

I don’t have much to say about his life or career. Mostly, he’s written a lot of songs that other people have covered. And he has a substantial following, but he isn’t playing stadiums. He has the kind of career I think most singer-songwriters would like: widely acclaimed by his peers, famous enough for it to be flattering, and rich from all his royalties.

To me, his 1983 album Riding with the King made him a star. For one thing, it is just a great album. But it seemed to me that everyone was playing “You May Already Be a Winner.” But that doesn’t seem to be the case. Here is “She Loves the Jerk”:

In 1992, Hiatt put out the album Little Village with Ry Cooder, Nick Lowe and Jim Keltner. I still listen to that album. It’s not great, but it’s a lot of fun. Here they are performing live:

Since that time he has been extremely consistent. Here is the title track from his 2005 album Master of Disaster:

Happy birthday John Hiatt!