Duluth, MN (OpEdNews) January 10, 2011: For understandable reasons, we have already heard an enormous amount of commentary about Jared Lee Loughner's deadly shooting spree in Tucson. He evidently aimed to assassinate Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. He did seriously wound her, and she is still in critical condition in the hospital. He also wounded a dozen other people and killed six.
John Hinckley's attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan was far less deadly. Hinckley did wound Reagan and others. But Reagan's trained body guards wrestled Hinckley to the ground and disarmed him. Nevertheless, I think the two would-be assassins could be instructively compared with one another.
The most instructive analysis of Hinckley that I have read is James M. Curtis's article "Coming of Age in the Global Village" in the journal ORAL TRADITION, volume 2 (1987): pages 357-80.
To analyze Hinckley, Curtis draws on Walter J. Ong's thought about the psychodynamism of male contesting behavior in his book FIGHTING FOR LIFE: CONTEST, SEXUALITY, AND CONSCIOUSNESS (Cornell University Press, 1981), the published version of Ong's 1979 Messenger Lectures at Cornell University.
Ong is content to describe various manifestations of male contesting behavior, which he also terms agonistic behavior (Greek, "agon" means contest or struggle). The part of the human psyche that Plato and Aristotle refer to as "thumos" (rendered in English as the spirited part, as in our expression about "fighting spirit") is the psychodynamism behind contesting behavior.
The Warriors Sculpture By anguila40 / Alejandro Groenewold
In their book THE WARRIOR WITHIN: ACCESSING THE KNIGHT [ARCHETYPE] IN THE MALE PSYCHE (William Morrow, 1992), Robert Moore and Douglas Gillette refer to the psychodynamism behind contesting behavior as the warrior archetype at the archetypal level of the human psyche. (They center their attention on the male psyche in this book, but they claim that there is a feminine counterpart to the warrior archetype in the archetypal level of the female psyche.)
As the title of Curtis's article reminds us, many cultures around the world, evidently independently of one another, established coming-of-age rituals for teenage boys so that they would learn how to control and direct their contesting behavior in socially acceptable ways. Those rituals are known as male puberty rites. The French anthropologist Arnold van Gennep (1873-1957) wrote the classic anthropological study of such rites, THE RITES OF PASSAGE (1909; English translation, 1960).
But what happens to teenage boys who do not learn how to control and direct their contesting behavior in socially acceptable ways? They might become gang members. Or the loners such as Hinckley and Loughner might become assassins, or would-be assassins.
The second part of Curtis's title also deserves attention and comment. Marshall McLuhan (1911-1980) popularized the term "global village." For understandable reasons, McLuhan was a controversial figure in his lifetime, and the term "global village" was and still is a controversial term. What does it even mean?
At the very least, this term calls attention to the obvious fact that most people around the world today do not grow up in the small group-oriented world that established male puberty rites. On the contrary, many people around the world today grow up in a world dominated by communication media such as television and radio and newspapers and the Internet. McLuhan did not live to see the emergence of personal computers and the Internet. But he was profoundly aware of the emergence of television.
Through television and radio and newspapers and the Internet, many people around the world today grow up being informed about certain events around the world. Many Americans today take this for granted. But McLuhan's term "global village" is designed to remind us that we today are learning about global events the way that many earlier people learned about only local events -" only events in the village that could be discussed by word of mouth.
Most of the time, Americans today take this expanded horizon of awareness for granted and even celebrate it.
But let's return to the male puberty rites and their counterparts for females. Our human ancestors, evidently independently of one another, figured out that teenagers needed to be ritually initiated into socially acceptable grown-up behavior. They needed to show that they were worthy of leaving their childhood ways behind. They also needed to be acknowledged and recognized as worthy members of the grown-up community.