The Devil Made Me Do It or How We've Found Excuses for Fucking Everything

By Don Hall

Several cops shoot a guy 47 times. This is not about wounding or incapacitating him; this is about killing him as dead as dead can be. The rationale (in a legal sense) is that they were in fear for their lives. As if fear for life justifies shooting someone 47 times.

A Chicago kid gets shot in a drive-by shooting caught between two street gangs warring over a moment of personal disrespect. When the gangs are called into question, family members and neighborhood activists place the blame on white supremacy keeping these otherwise stand up citizens in a system where they have no choice but to shoot one another.

An angry Fundamentalist Religious type decides that he needs to kill a bunch of people in a social setting to make a point. Instead of blaming the guy for being a homicidal asshole, we blame the religion. He, of course, blames the media or women or the Devil.


I recall working with Behavior Disorder students when I did my eight-year Tour of Duty in the Chicago Public Schools. With almost radical consistency, when one of these kids would lose his or her shit in class and either A) destroy some property, B) pummel a smaller kid or C) start physically hurting him or herself. When the chaos was contained (briefly) and the parent brought in, the excuses would fly out.

"Why?"
1. "His father hit him this morning."
2. "She didn't have a healthy breakfast."
3. "His medication isn't working."
4. "She needs more individual attention and time for herself."
5. "If that other kid hadn't provoked him..."

During my first few years, my Bleeding Heart accepted these excuses as legit. The alternative was punishment for Crimes Against the Body Politic and, with so many obstacles these students had in their way (mostly black or first gen. Latinx, poor, shitty home environments, reading at grade levels far below their ages, labeled as fucking behavior disordered and isolated from the rest of the herd as unmanageable), it seemed to add insult to existing injury to punish them.

After hearing the same set of excuses over and over, the Empathy began to wane. And it occurred to me that I was locked in a paradigm that I could change if I wanted to, but it would require a lot more work on my part. Given I was the music teacher and only saw these particular kids once a week, the task ahead was daunting but, as I was young and idealistic (and a white male replete with all the advantages and arrogance those two designations allowed), I jumped in with both feet.

NO EXCUSES
CHOOSE YOUR PUNISHMENT
CHANGE YOUR MIND

This became the mantra for my class. I made it known far and wide. When a kid lost his temper and wailed on another kid, I'd reign in the melee, pull the offending kid aside. I never asked "Why?" again. "Why?" was just an opening to an excuse, even a reasoned one and did not address the action itself.

I let the kid choose her punishment. The power to punish, Nietzsche wrote, can enhance your sense of social status, increasing the pleasure of cruelty.  By taking myself out of that equation, there was no ego of authority involved. I remember one boy, after slapping another boy in the face, chose to let the other boy slap him in the face three times. The other boy refused.  The offender looked at me and I closed the case. Another incident involved a girl who defaced the bathroom. Initially, she decided her punishment was study hall for one week (equivalent to a reward rather than a punishment). When I said that was fine, she came back and changed her punishment to cleaning up the graffiti after school.

NO EXCUSES
CHOOSE YOUR PUNISHMENT
CHANGE YOUR MIND


Worked great for eighth graders. Not so sure letting the murder cop, the gang member, the religious terrorist, the crooked politician, the Right Wing pundit, the guy using a protest to loot stores, the Corporate Apologist, the shifty Wall Street hedge fund manager, the Robber Baron, the petty thief or the rapist choose his punishment but the NO EXCUSES part is quickly becoming credo.

I don't care "Why?" you steal, kill, rape, plunder, lie and otherwise behave like the worst aspects of our fondest nightmares. The Devil Made You Do It. Who gives a fuck? You can't get a date so you gun people down in a church? Fuck you. You sell drugs and shoot kids because of your fake cultural ties to a series of streets because of white privilege? Fuck you. You're depressed and decide to join a terrorist organization filled with murderous teenagers? Fuck you.

CHANGE YOUR MIND.