The story of football star Michael Vick's federal indictment on allegations related to dog-fighting is getting a lot of attention in the media. It should. Dog-fighting is a centuries-old blood-'sport' that has become a widespread but still mostly underground cult activity in contemporary America. That reality should give us pause as we consider how it configures with our perception of our national character.
This indictment of a leading sports figure for participation in animal cruelty may be viewed as part of a continuum within the fundamental fabric of our contemporary culture. It is the conceptual thread of 'manageable violence,' and it emerges again and again as a haunting reminder that violence, by its very nature, resists 'manageability.'
'Controlled violence' is woven into our basic cultural conceptualizations: patriotism, militarism, capitalism, patriarchy, and, of course, 'sportsmanship.' It is no accident that many of the 'sports' in our culture - hunting, boxing, wrestling, and football, to name only a few - are essentially violent endeavours that have been nurtured and glorified into cultural iconography, along with the other above-mentioned cultural establishments.
And yet we claim to be astonished, dismayed, and on the verge of disillusionment when, again and again, the violence that informs all of these cultural fundamentalisms veers out of 'control,' out of the realm of the 'manageable,' and obtrudes its indiscriminate nature - its essential nature - into areas we indignantly proclaim 'out of bounds.'
The reality is that violence has no notion of boundaries. Like every other drug - especially power and power-over, to which it seems inextricably linked - violence is possessed with the ability to generate an ever-increasing and effectively insatiable appetite for itself. When this voraciousness crosses the ambiguous line that we have constructed between acceptable and unacceptable violence, it is disingenuous of us to insist that we are shocked and appalled.
Unless and until we are willing to commit to the levels of personal and societal nonviolence that will permeate to the core of our cultural establishments, we must be prepared to accept the reality that the role models we glorify on the basis of their participation in fundamentally violent endeavours will continue to act in the ways that such rewards reinforce: they will continue to be violent.