11 YEARS AGO, ON MY BIRTHDAY, I WAS DIAGNOSED WITH TERMINAL CANCER. I AM LONG PAST MY EXPIRATION DATE . . . MINE ENEMIES STILL CANNOT DANCE UPON MY GRAVE!!!
Some claim that “Monte Bute” is a stage name. That is one of the few things I have not concocted. Having been stigmatized as an incorrigible juvenile delinquent, I’ve spent a lifetime giving my spoiled identity a do-over. Truth is that each of us has an existential freedom to script ourselves and our storyline—or to haphazardly allow others to do it for us.
Charles Lemert writes of the “mysterious power of social structures.” Far more than most of us care to admit, those powers define who we are and shape the contours of our lives. Too many of us live in a simulated reality analogous to the movie “The Matrix.”
Much of the time, this socially constructed reality seems immutable. It assigns us, for good or ill, identities and social roles. All too often, we accept without question those identities and play the roles we are dealt. A sociological aphorism to keep in mind: Either we “take” roles or we “make” roles. In other words, we have a fate or we have a destiny.
“Monte Bute,” a character I conjured up back in the day, seldom follows the screenplay. Whether it is the scripts of prisons and mental hospitals or political organizations and universities, he insists on improvising his lines and actions. This does not mean he does not run amok; he does so routinely, sometimes paying a god-awful price. Occasionally he even tilts at windmills. Nevertheless, he remains resolutely resilient and as stubbornly swashbuckling as a naïve Don Quixote, ever looking for the next adventure.
I approach death and dying just like all other movies I’ve been in—ignore the script and improvise like hell! If there is any such a thing, I will be eternally grateful to family, friends, students, and colleagues for having shared the stage. Your nurturing presence during the past eleven years has empowered me to play my most challenging and fulfilling role. While we are nearing the end this film, I am sure I’ll fashion a denouement that will surprise even Monte . . .
“Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth,” wrote Friedrich Nietzsche, “because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.” Welcome to the United States.
first principle of the American creed is that world is redeemable. We
believe that we are exempt from the constraints of the human condition. I
disagree. As Albert Camus suggests: We are Sisyphus.
their faith, ideology or party, most Americans are utopians. Since the Puritans
washed ashore and John Winthrop foresaw “a city upon a hill,” the American
experiment has been a perfectionist project, an exceptional escape from nature
and history. No matter if you believe in free markets, a welfare state,
democratic socialism or anarchism, your agenda is grounded upon an unshakable
faith in human perfectibility and the inevitability of creating a heaven on
Awash in cognitive dissonance
so often, a calamity of such magnitude occurs that it shakes the foundations of
our taken-for-granted reality. COVID-19 is such a moment. The United States is
awash in cognitive dissonance: Our illusion is that America is redeemable, that
the Promised Land is just around the corner; the truth is that we are embedded
in nature and history, tossed about by their unpredictable vicissitudes.
“The world is a hellish place,” said singer-songwriter Tom
societies, power struggles between groups are ubiquitous and perennial. The
powerful are predators who prey upon the vulnerable — they always have, and
they always will. In all environments, natural and human-made calamities are
ubiquitous and perennial. No amount of Shangri-La prophylactics will shield us
from injustice and cruelty, from death and destruction.
acknowledge this is not a brief for quietism; by no means does unblinkered
realism absolve us from acting against suffering, cruelty, and injustice.
Nevertheless, we are Sisyphus, forever condemned to push the rock of
righteousness up the mountain, only to see it roll back down, perpetually. The
world is not redeemable.
what if we have it all wrong? What if redemption is not a “forever after”
thing? Perhaps it is more like extended epiphanies, interludes in which we
transcend our mundane lives.
sure, communities do not experience forever-after redemptions; nevertheless,
they do have redemptive episodes. Throughout history, exemplary communities
have stood up against pestilences, disasters, and social catastrophes like war,
human slavery, ethnic cleansing, and climate change. Regrettably, too often
these redemptive communities have faced unresponsive dominant communities and
nation states. In this time of COVID-19, our essential workers are redemptive
communities, inspiring the rest of us to listen to our better angels, ignoring
the shrill voices of our demons.
During this plague, the selfless acts of courage rise to a heroic level when speaking of health care workers, first responders, transit workers, and workers in essential industries. At a more prosaic level, we must not overlook a contagion of kindness, the millions of small acts of care and compassion that emerge like blades of spring grass. Amidst all the death and destruction, this too is a redemptive moment in American history.
Still, Camus closes “The Plague” with a cautionary note:
the less, he knew that the tale he had to tell could not be one of a final
victory. It could be only the record of what had to be done, and what would
assuredly would have to be done again in the never-ending fight against terror
and relentless onslaughts, despite their personal afflictions, by all who,
while unable to be saints but refusing to bow down to pestilences, strive their
utmost to be healers.”
world remains a hellish place. It cries out for our attention. We must create
what Martin Luther King Jr. called “beloved communities” who answer those pleas
by pushing the rock of righteousness toward the peak, acting against suffering,
cruelty, and injustice. I am one with Camus: “The struggle itself toward the
heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must
imagine Sisyphus happy.”
Bute teaches sociology and social science at Metropolitan State University in
CAN’T WATCH IT NOW? SAVE IT AND WATCH SOON–THEN SHARE.
This is a 22-minute documentary by Vice reporter Elle Reeve. She embedded herself within the storm troopers who descended upon Charlottesville. This will provide you a gut-wrenching, experiential understanding of the White nationalists who endanger us all.
Karl Marx once wrote, “Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.”
If you will permit me a bit of literary license, Charlottesville was a tragedy; President Trump’s reprehensible responses to that event were a farce.
Nothing that President Trump has done since the Inauguration has so exposed that he has a cancer of the soul, something he is inflecting upon our nation. That he sits in the same White House that was once occupied by Abraham Lincoln is an indelible stain that we shall never expunge.
Even if the American people eventually remove Trump from office, we will never again be the same. As William Faulkner put it, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
Here is what a leading neo-Nazi website had to say about the woman THEY killed yesterday in Charlottesville. These forces of evil are the walking dead, souless mutants, seeking death and destruction wherever they roam.
IF YOU ARE NOT HORRIFIED AND TERRIFIED BY WHAT IS HAPPENING TO OUR CONSTITUTIONAL DEMOCRACY, PLEASE IGNORE THIS POST.
Some of you occasionally read my posts about our constitutional crisis. Most of you just randomly spot something of mine when you are scrolling through a thread of posts from your friends. If you appreciate some of what you have seen from me, check in on my FB page once or twice a day and scroll through to see what I’ve posted that day.
Since his inauguration, I’ve turned my FB page into “A Virtual Trump Teach-in.” I spend several hours a day finding 5 to 10 news, commentary and analytic articles, plus cartoons. They are often from sources you may not regularly access. I try to post materials for well-informed citizens who are resisting All-things Trump.
This is an excerpt from something that he once wrote for the New York Times.
“You might consider them romantics, fighting in a doomed cause for something greater than their self-interest. And even though men like Mr. Berg would identify with a cause, Communism, that inflicted far more misery than it ever alleviated—and rendered human dignity subservient to the state—I have always harbored admiration for their courage and sacrifice in Spain.
“I have felt that way since I was boy of 12, reading Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls in my father’s study. It is my favorite novel, and its hero, Robert Jordan, the Midwestern teacher who fought and died in Spain, became my favorite literary hero. In the novel, Jordan had begun to see the cause as futile. He was cynical about its leadership, and distrustful of the Soviet cadres who tried to suborn it.
“But in the final scene of the book, a wounded Jordan chooses to die to save the poor Spanish souls he fought beside and for. And Jordan’s cause wasn’t a clash of ideologies any longer, but a noble sacrifice for love.
‘“The world is a fine place and worth the fighting for,’ Jordan thinks as he waits to die, ‘and I hate very much to leave it.’ But he did leave it. Willingly.”
“I puzzled over this for some time. Eventually I sensed that Trump wasn’t inducing people’s self-destruction so much as he was acting like a divining rod, revealing rot that existed already but was not apparent. . . . It’s a general malady. Trump is exposing our collective rot. The rotten flock to him. And there’s so much rot to go around.”
About A Backstage Sociologist
Monte Bute is a backstage sociologist. From his roundabout journey from Red Wing Boy's Reformatory to anti-war activist to sociology professor. Monte's full of great stories, creative insights and powerful critiques—and now he has a blog! Read more…