Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Fringe

Time to try to explain something personal.

The Fringe has a very unsavory connotation today; it's a term used to marginalize and demonize--mostly out of fear rather than vindictiveness, but that doesn't change the effects of the process.

People worry about fringe elements infiltrating rightwing political groups; just the mention of the word brings out the calls for government surveillance, extra care, politically correct denunciation.

It has become impossible in these days of 24/7 MSM rectal examinations, YouTube, and blogs for many of us to see those with social and political views way off the beaten paths as ... well ... people.

Here's the thing: I've grown up with, lived with, worked with, joked with, even deployed to foreign countries with so many people that were so fringe in so many different ways that it is often the supposed mainstream that worries me more.

How do you explain this to folks who have led carefully sanitized lives, where the fringe population is safely kept below 1% of their encounters, and therefore can be dealt with entirely as threats, or problems, and not as people? The problem is that most of you have lived pretty sanitized lives, but you'd like to think otherwise. Except that it shows in your fear reactions....

Listen: I was a platoon sergeant in the Virginia Army National Guard for over a decade. A platoon, for those of you who have to look up the definition of regiment, is a sub-element of a company, somewhere between 14-30 soldiers depending on the type of company (infantry, artillery, medical, etc.) The Platoon Leader is normally a Second Lieutenant, about 22-23 years old, and completely clueless as to what's going on. The Platoon Sergeant (who will hopefully live long enough to train at least 5 or 6 lieutenants before their mistakes get him killed) is really the person who runs the platoon.

In the Virginia Army National Guard I spent most of my time running an Ambulance Platoon of 16-18 soldiers. The usual mix was this: two or three prior-service Black guys, who could not believe they'd been thrown into redneck hell; a good half-dozen actual honest-to-sheep-f**king backwoods rednecks who hated niggers [yes, I used the word; they did], fags and liberals; two or three college students out for the scholarship money and just as liberal as only white middle-class kids can be; at least 2-3 lesbians; and usually, just for good leavening, the odd Latino or Arab who didn't speak much English. Kinda sounds like the definition of friendly fire waiting to happen, doesn't it? Especially when I point out that we were all armed with automatic weapons and often carried live ammo to the ranges.

We operated, generally, detached as pairs in separate ambulances on missions that could last from a few hours to a few days, but sometimes we had to work together without sleep and without a break for 24-48 hours as well.

The British Army in the 18th Century had a term for soldiers like mine: gutter scum.

Funny thing: we made it work. Not because the National Guard is any reserve of extreme military discipline, but because necessity forced us to learn how to live and work together and see each other as people, rather than representatives of our respective warring groups. Yeah, there were fights and some really hairy moments--thankfully most of those only involved very large knives instead of very loaded guns. And you certainly would not have wanted to have our conversations taped and played back as evidence at the court martial. We made it work because some of the folks in my platoon who had brains (fringe does not equate with stupid) understood that one-by-one was different from group by group.

It's almost impossible to explain this if you've never been there, but what people on the Fringe want most of all is to be seen (honestly) as people. They don't really care if you approve of them, or vote differently, even though they will call you a communist and suggest sotto voce that the world would be better off if all the eggheads were lined up against the wall, and all the wetbacks were sent back to Mexico, but they are people...

They are Americans.

I've lived and worked among the Fringe in one respect or another most of my life. Among the Fringe druggies and gun nuts. Among the students who are proudly, defiantly gangbangers who are pretty sure that there really aren't any problems you can't solve with a gun or a knife. Among people in leather dancing and grinding together and then heading back to the restrooms for a blowjob in the toilet stall. Among day laborers in tobacco fields who mutter under their breath about what they'd like to do with that blonde, thin puta who is the farmer's daughter....

I don't fear them, because most of them--the overwhelming majority of them--are trying so desperately to deal with the disfunctions in their own lives that their actual violence is confined primarily to the personal and familial rather than the organized overthrow of the government. I don't fear them because I see them as people.

You either get that or you don't, which is why this post represents mental masturbation on some level.

If you already understand, you don't need it. If you don't understand, it will repulse you.

The Fringe is everywhere, you know. But then again: you don't, or you wouldn't worry so much about stamping it out.

The Fringe is a good friend with a high-paying, responsible administrative position (enforcing EO policy as a matter of fact), who salivates when she tells me she had the chance to buy a modified .45 cal ACR with an 8x scope at an illegal gun show in Virginia.

The Fringe is a meticulous, upscale dentist who slips brochures warning about black helicopters and the Trilateral Commission into the magazines in her office, and then drives home in the Audi sporting the Obama bumper sticker.

The Fringe is the paramedic who pulls your bleeding body out of the wreckage and carts your broken ass back to the hospital listening to skinhead music in his ear buds. He might be wearing Doc Martens. Or not.

You really have no idea.

The Fringe doesn't scare me, but I will tell you what does. I also spend hours and hours with suited bureaucrats who raise perfectly manicured children, give to the United Way, and routinely screw over the people they are supposed to be helping/educating/supervising.

The little Eichmanns scare me, and I do not apologize for using a term coined by Ward Churchill, because even an utter asshole gets it right occasionally.

The problem with Adolf Eichmann, as Hannah Arendt discovered in Jerusalem, is not that the bureaucrat who administered the Holocaust in any way belonged to The Fringe, but that he was terrifyingly banal, disturbingly normal.

Interesting fact: the occasional loonie-tunes member of The Fringe shoots up his family or some cops. But it takes supposedly normal people wearing suits and acting responsibly to invade other countries, to make the US the number one exporter of weapons on the planet, to put the highest percentage of its population in prison of any industrialized nation, or to criminalize behaviors that hurt nobody except (possibly) the person engaging in them. The Fringe doesn't do any of those things because The Fringe is never in power.

The Fringe commits the little murders; the normal people in the suits are necessary for bombing cities.

Some day soon, because I want to see for myself, I will visit the Sussex County Community Organized Regiment. I'll be up front with them that I favor gay marriage, abortion rights, teaching evolution, pretty open borders, and legalizing drugs. They'll shake their heads and call me a communist and we'll discuss the economic stimulus package, or the 2nd Amendment, or hypocritical politicians, or even dredging in Sussex County and what kind of load to use for maximum stopping power in a .41 caliber pistol. They'll be polite and invite me back, because even though I stand for things that scare them to death, one fact generally overcomes it all: whether or not you can see them as people, not threats.

If you've read this far, sorry about that. Probably not anywhere near my best piece of writing; possibly not even comprehensible except to those who already get it. But I had to give it a shot.


Waldo Lydecker's Journal said...

Well said. And I am grateful people like you are, at least metaphorically, watching my back.

Anonymous said...

"If you've read this far, sorry about that. Probably not anywhere near my best piece of writing;..."

No, it was excellent writing. You just described, to some extent, me and most of my family, where "Fringe" is rather... average.


kavips said...

To truly understand the meaning of "fringe", one had to survive the seventies when every piece of clothing that was made in order to cater to youth, in someway, somehow, was embodied with a piece of "fringe" pasted somewhere on it...


kavps said...

... and that was a darned good piece of writing...

Unknown said...

Steve, I've been most of the same places you've been, yet not run across the "fringe" you so well described, though I do relate totally to many of your other observations. This may be because I chose not to join in the extra-curricular, off-base frivolities. Thus, my exposure to the fringe was usually when they had returned to civilization, because they had to.

I hope you do get to an SCCOR meeting, as I look forward to your description of your experience.

I also intend to attend one of their meetings.

As I said before, you would have to listen to WGMD for a while to get a feeling for the truly hateful and intolerant rhetoric emitted.

On the other hand, I have to hand it to these people, when there is a family in need, when there is money to be raised or services to be voluntarily rendered, these folks are the first to jump into it. It seems to me that this may fit into the pattern you describe of the "fringe" you have experienced.

I enjoyed reading your eloquent piece, because it broadened my horizons. Thanks!!


Anonymous said...


That was a magnificent post.


Anonymous said...

I thought I was reading about the Fox show "The Fringe" :)