The Asshole Path and The Principle of Compounding Stupidity


The previous weeks have seen not one, but two cases of civilian-on-civilian shootings where initially insignificant slights were escalated to the point where one party dead ended up dead with the other in jail. These situations have been exacerbated by the fact that each shooting involved a black v. white confrontation and even further exacerbated by the fact that in both cases it was the black half of the equation that ended up dead.

 

Grand Theft Auto: New Orleans

Clockwise from top left: Mugshot of Ronald Gasser, Diagram of shooting scene, selfie of Joe McKnight, Gasser detained at scene, ground level view of scene (McKnight’s body behind screen).

Of the two cases, the death of former NFL running back Joe McKnight in the NOLA metro area has received far more attention.  The 28 year old McKnight met his demise in the proverbial ‘road rage’ incident.  If the dealer tags on the SUV he was driving are any indication, McKnight was enjoying a ride in his stepfather’s brand new Audi when he either cut off or was cut off by 54 year old Ronald Gasser’s Infiniti G37.

Regardless of who started it – and in fairness to Mr Gasser (who is currently awaiting trial) it hasn’t been determined that he initiated the confrontation – according to witnesses the conflict continued on for several miles, both men darting in and out of traffic, accelerating and braking erratically, appearing to jawbone one another whenever they would draw close.

Finally they reached an intersection, nearby a location where Gasser had years earlier recorded an assault arrest after a similar incident (Some consider this relevant to the case while others point out that it’s simply indicative of a high crime area).  Going by the published photos of the crime scene, Gasser was stopped at the light while McKnight pulled up onto the shoulder separating the intersection from the right turn lane.  McKnight then exited his vehicle and approached Gasser’s.  It seems, again from the photo, that McKnight folded in the side view mirror on the passenger door of Gasser’s Infiniti.

Apparently not satisfied with this display of his aggrieved offense – or perhaps inspiring yet another escalation of the confrontation which had now been going on for some minutes – McKnight walked into traffic to approach Gasser’s vehicle from the driver’s side.  Both parties were in possession of firearms and although McKnight’s gun was left in his vehicle, Gasser was armed.

McKnight leaned into Gasser’s open window and, several more angry utterances and three shots in the chest later, staggered back around the back of the Infiniti where he collapsed and died.  Gasser remained at the scene until the police arrived and after several days – an interregnum which infuriated many in the Social Justice community – has been charged with Manslaughter.

 

Never Get Off Of The Porch

From left: Selfie of James Means (filthy mirror most likely a strong indicator of his home life), William Pulliam at police interview, elementary school age picture of James Means (customarily used by media to mislead public and exacerbate racial tension).

Lacking a former professional athlete as a convenient focal point, the next case in our essay hasn’t commanded a similar level of attention.  In the previously little-known town of Charleston West Virginia, a 62 year old man by the name of William Ronald Pulliam went out to shop at the local Dollar General store (of course) one evening.   A collection of juveniles were apparently loitering about around the entrance of the store; there was some physical contact, a brushing against likely driven by the sort of deliberately obstructive behavior certain juveniles love so much.

Being what’s colloquially known as a ‘grumpy old man’, Pulliam expressed some umbrage; being the stereotypical juveniles one would find loitering outside of a Dollar General store, the loiterers responded to Pulliam’s umbrage with some expression of contempt.  This rude interaction was merely part of a continuing pattern; Pulliam and the juveniles had exchanged words on multiple occasions before, even to the point where one of the juveniles had complained about Pulliam to the police, the police telling him – quite reasonably – to avoid Pulliam in the future.

The juveniles had no desire to follow such commonsense advice though; as Pulliam exited the store the confrontation resumed.  The published reports give the impression that he walked home from the store, taking him by the home of one of the juveniles – their continuing animosity was apparently rooted in some ‘Stay off of my lawn!’ situation – the pack and Pulliam exchanging words anew as he passed.

It was at this point that one of the pack, a 15 year old by the name of James Means came down from the porch and crossed the street.  Whether he was personally incensed by something Pulliam said or simply trying to impress his juvenile peers at the older man’s expense is now lost to the tides of fate, but it proved to be a lethal decision; one last exchange of words and two shots later, Means would lie on the sidewalk dying from the bullet wounds in his abdomen.

Unlike our previous case though, Pulliam did not remain on the scene, no doubt motivated by the fact that, due to an earlier conviction for a domestic violence offense, he was prohibited from owning a firearm.  Instead he walked home, helped himself to dinner, then went over to a friend’s house where he ditched his gun.

Like Means’ decision to leave the porch to jawbone the older man, leaving the scene, failing to call the police and hiding the gun would prove to be a foolish sequence of decisions for Pulliam; he was taken into custody and, after some possibly accurate but nonetheless ill-advised comments, charged with Murder.

 

The principle of compounding stupidity

Both of the above cases are prime examples of a phenomena one could call the principle of compounding stupidity.  In its most basic form, the principle has three main elements (of course there are subsets with in the genus, but all are alike in these elements):

  • Stupidity tends to drive away the intelligent, thus leaving stupid people surrounded by either their senselessly like-minded brethren or people unsympathetic to and trying strenuously to avoid their stupidity.
  • When one chooses to behave stupidly in the company of other similarly stupid people, the odds of a stupid outcome dramatically increases.
  • Stupid behavior tends to complicate problems rather than resolve them, thus demanding an even greater degree of intelligence – which is already in short supply – to extricate oneself from the cycle.

Furthermore, when stupidity is combined with aggressive rudeness – and based on my experiences working with so-called ‘inner city’ populations, rest assured that there is a massive Venn overlap between those attributes – you get what I call The Asshole Path, a karmic magnetism which draws various stupid and contentious people together: first into orbit, then finally into collision.

 

Michael Dunn was not part of Rhythm Nation

Clockwise from top left: Taurus PT99 used in shooting, pictures of Dunn and Davis, selfie of Davis, bullet-riddled Durango, autopsy x-ray of Davis’ fatal wound, Dunn making court appearance, Davis’ mother (note the different last names, de rigueur in such cases).

Examples of such a dynamic abound: we arrive next at the case of Jordan Davis. It was still early one Friday evening in Jacksonville Florida, about 7:30PM, the scene a gas station convenience store.  Jordan was in an SUV with three of his friends, sitting in the back seat, waiting as the driver went in to the store to buy a pack of cigarettes.  At the same time Michael Dunn was at one of the pumps, filling his car while his girlfriend went into the store to pick up a bottle of wine.

Davis and his companions were whiling the time away listening to hip-hop music (according to Wiki, Lil Reese, an appropriate choice for the outcome given Reese’s criminal inclinations).  In the manner of many urban juveniles, they were playing their music at an earthshaking volume, the bass vibrations rattling the windows of the surrounding cars, including Dunn’s.

Not at all impressed with their choice of music and even less with their inflicting it upon everyone in the gas station, Dunn asked them to turn down the volume.  The front seat passenger initially acceded to the request, eliciting an objection from Davis, who insisted that the volume be returned to its previous obnoxious level, Davis also making sure to let Dunn know what he thought of his request.

According to everyone present, Davis continued to harangue Dunn in a belligerent manner, calling him a ‘cracker’ and shouting profanely.  At this point accounts diverge; according to Dunn, Davis brandished what appeared to be a shotgun, while investigators found no evidence of a weapon.

What isn’t under dispute however is Dunn’s reaction; having a permit to carry concealed, Dunn recovered a Taurus PT99 AF (a Brazilian made Beretta 92 clone) from his glove box and opened fire, spraying shots into the Durango, continuing even as the driver fled the scene.

Getting out of the Dodge a short distance later, Davis’ companions found him slumped over and gasping for air as he bled out from a perforated aorta.  Dunn for his part continued on with his evening; instead of calling the police, he and his girlfriend ordered a pizza and spent the night in a motel room.

The next morning Dunn’s girlfriend saw reports of the killing on the TV news and prevailed upon Dunn to finally call the police (an unnecessary measure, since police already had the plate number from Dunn’s vehicle).  Given his fleeing the scene, delay in reporting the shooting and various inconsistencies in his account, Dunn was charged with and ultimately convicted of Murder, a conviction that has recently been held up under appeal.

 

Do not go gentle into that dark night

Clockwise from top left: The poignant sight of McBride’s last pack of Newports, McBride’s totaled Taurus being towed from scene, street view of Wafer’s home, shotgun used in shooting, Black Lives Matter agit-prop poster of McBride (done in circa-70s Fat Albert cartoon style), the sad sight of Theodore Wafer in attendance at his railroading.

But perhaps no one has ever trod down The Asshole Path with such blazing intensity as Detroit’s own Renisha McBride (Whenever a matter of human stupidity or malfeasance is up for debate, never bet against Detroit). Ms McBride was out one November evening, enjoying the nightlife – such as it is – that the west side of Detroit has to offer.  In a state of high drunkenness she set herself behind the wheel of her white Taurus, careening through a subdivision in the area of Warren and Telegraph Road.

Predictably given her state of intoxication, she struck a parked car (at quite a high rate of speed, considering the damage on McBride’s car).  Although most people would call it a night after totaling their car in a drunken crash, Renisha was undeterred; pressing on dauntlessly she fled the scene on foot, staggering off to whereabouts unknown.

She returned about an hour later in a ranting and disheveled state, eliciting a call to EMS from the hapless owner of the parked car McBride demolished; heedless of the offered succor though, she refused to identify herself to EMS or even communicate intelligibly, instead striking out again into the chill air of the winter’s night.

Shortly before 4:00AM, after several hours of seemingly indefatigable wandering, Renisha found herself a mile away and in front of the home of the unfortunate Theodore Wafer.  It’s still a mystery what exactly led her there; according to some unsubstantiated rumors, she had purchased marijuana from a dealer that lived on the same block, while her family stated she was seeking ‘help’ (a dubious claim since the arrival of EMS is what provoked her flight in the first place).

No doubt growing exhausted from her wanderings and now thoroughly cold, Renisha advanced to the door and began knocking, issuing vague petitions for entrance.  Like most people, Mr Wafer wasn’t in the habit of opening his home to strangers at such late hours and bade her to leave: like many people who live within walking distance of Detroit, Mr Wafer bore a firearm as he expressed his refusal (in this case a pistol-gripped pump shotgun).

By her behavior one might believe Renisha was an admirer of Dylan Thomas (although given her background and the parlous state of Detroit schools, one doubts that she was of a particularly literary bent).  At any rate, if James Means erred in getting off of the porch, Renisha’s critical mistake was remaining on the porch; refusing to seek out more welcoming environs, her knocking escalated to pounding, denouncing her prospective host’s lack of hospitality with a loud and foul-mouthed vehemence.

Whether motivated by concern or fear or anger one will never know, but Mr Wafer opened the door and thus opened himself to an unalterably dark turn in his fate; one shotgun blast to the face later and Renisha’s raging against the dying of the light was finally and definitively extinguished.

Although he insisted that what transpired was an accident, Wafer was charged with Murder, and quite unjustly so in my opinion since, unlike either Pulliam or Dunn, Wafer can hardly be said to have sought out the attentions of the drunken and belligerent woman; if a person can’t enjoy an expectation of peace in their own home at 4:00AM, where can they? (Sadly though, Michigan’s Stand Your Ground and Castle Doctrine provisions aren’t as strong as say, Florida’s).

Black Lives Matter took up Renisha McBride as one of their own and, Wayne County jury pools being what they are, Wafer was convicted of Murder and sentenced to serve a minimum of 17 and a maximum of 32 years in prison.

 

Desserts: Just, and perhaps something less than…

Given the nature of our politics, each of these situations has attracted their share of commentary; given the stupidity of the situations being discussed, much of the commentary has been of a corresponding stupidity.  One particularly stupid argument stands out though, the assertion that the victims did not ‘deserve to die’ in the manner they did (usually followed by a specious insistence that this posited injustice renders the offense ‘murder’ inspired by ‘racism’).

While the first half of this assertion may be true if considered in a purely legalistic manner – and in cases like Pulliam’s and Dunn’s the accused did initially attempt to conceal their actions, thus giving indication of a Guilty Mind – this ‘deserve’ idiocy grants the so-called victims a presumption of virtue they scarcely merit, given the social dynamic of The Asshole Path.

The harsh reality is that there is no referee hovering over The Asshole Path, making sure that everyone gets precisely everything they deserve and no more; just the sort of people one would rely on to deliver justice – people of discernment and empathy and character – are in fact those who strive to vacate the scene first once the assholes show up.

It is useful at this point to consider what Aquinas has to offer, on both the origins of the law – in its codified form as well as the looser form of social mores – and the vices related to interpersonal strife (all passages are from A Tour of the Summa by Msgr Paul J Glenn):

Summa Theologica, First Part of the Second Part, Question 90

Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Question 58
Summa Theologica, Second Part of the Second Part, Questions 37, 38

Given this, The Asshole is a person who knowingly places themselves outside the bounds of social consideration (usually to gain advantage but often simply to satisfy their assholish ego at someone else’s expense).  And the selfishness of The Asshole is the beginning of all injustice – after all, justice requires setting self interest aside in favor of both the needs of other individuals as well as the propriety of the community as a whole (Putting the ‘civil’ into civil society!).  And finally, not being just, The Asshole can hardly expect others to number them among the Good.

In this light, we can reexamine the actions of the ‘victims’ described above:

  • While Joe McKnight didn’t ‘deserve to die’ over a traffic dispute, he could have avoided the ensuing conflict by simply driving along on his way (instead of chasing Gasser, or blocking Gasser in at the intersection, or getting out of his SUV to directly confront Gasser, etc).
  • While James Means didn’t ‘deserve to die’ over brushing up against someone in a parking lot, he could have avoided the ensuing conflict by simply stepping aside politely when Pulliam passed (instead of getting involved in a verbal dispute with Pulliam, or walking over to confront Pulliam directly or, for that matter, loitering around in front of a Dollar General store, etc).
  • While Jordan Davis didn’t ‘deserve to die’ over playing music too loud, he could have avoided the ensuing conflict by simply letting his friend turn the volume down (instead of verbally berating Dunn or gesticulating wildly at Dunn, etc).
  • While Renisha McBride didn’t ‘deserve to die’ over knocking on a door late at night, she could have avoided the ensuing conflict by simply leaving when Wafer refused to let her in (instead of cursing and raving at Wafer or leaving the scene of her accident when EMS arrived, or driving intoxicated in the first place, etc).

And even in the case of minors, this ‘deserve’ argument is less than convincing; these juveniles were certainly mature enough to understand manners and experience empathy, so their shocking lack of consideration should rightly be considered an indicator of both their upbringing and character.  Besides which, juvenile status really shouldn’t be the primary concern for the community anyway; one can hardly blame others for not wanting to enable or assist the current generation of assholes in raising the next generation of assholes (Which gives rise to another social dynamic for a similar Thomistic critique: The Self-Blighting Community).

 

Making the world safe for stupidity

My own opinion is that schools cause much of this with their ‘Safe Space’ nonsense.  Essentially, in pursuit of their social justice driven, relativistic, Inclusion-Uber-Alles world view, the public schools have adopted the attitude that the best possible environment for children is the environment that tolerates the widest range of social behavior – read: most relativistic – possible (Great examples of this thinking are available here and here).

Although superficially this laxity seems an agreeable idea – especially to single mothers – in practice ‘Safe Space’ methods serve to foster unrealistic expectations in juveniles; the everyday adult world does not have ‘Peace Rooms’ and ‘Justice Circles’ where tantrums and cursing can find a sympathetic greeting and mollifying accommodation.  And at any rate, it’s a foolish idea to act as if one can make a space ‘safe’ by making it open to rudeness and stupidity, and even more foolish to lead children to believe that the adult world will work that way.

Finally, to address the racial aspects that many strive – all too regrettably-  to introduce into such situations: Whether or not black people have some sort of cultural or physiological predispositions towards contentious or confrontational behavior is extraordinarily difficult to say and outside the scope of this essay.  Myself, I strongly prefer having one high standard for social behavioral norms and applying it across the board; if people have to shelve sound ideas regarding social virtues and good manners as the cost of including you in their community, then the price is already too high.

Ultimately though the racial aspects are incidental to these situations; perhaps there are environmental or physiological reasons why some ethnic groups are more prone to contentious interactions than others, but the root cause of why these people ended up shot is because they were assholes.  In the end it cannot be stressed enough: as a rule, approaching someone with the intent to fuck with them is always – always – a bad idea.

In the Bible Christ teaches us of the Golden Rule: ‘Do unto others as you have done unto you’.  Or, in a wording more attuned to our less refined, more modern ears, ‘Don’t be an asshole’.