Tuesday, 3 May 2016

The Law of the Schoolyard

There was another boy he picked on, Nigel Ruddy, although ‘picked on’ is too forgiving a term - "ground into the dirt" would be better. He was a tall gangly boy with short frizzy hair. There was something wrong with his leg, so he walked with a limp, or more than a limp really, a broken lopsided walk that claimed his whole body and threatened to topple him. Because of this Tanner called him a “spastic” or a “spazz” and did impressions of him, clawing his hands to his chest and making “gumby noises”. Because of his hair Tanner called him a “nignog” and asked him about his father: “how come your mum and dad are white when you’ve got a nignog’s hair”, and “maybe your mum’s had it off with a black man Ruddy”. Ruddy’s other mistake was to be studious, which the Tanner cretin could only interpret as a sign of homosexuality, and so he called him a “puff” and a “homo” and asked him "who did you bum last night?". Ruddy dare not read, because Tanner would say “What you doing, reading a fucking book, Ruddy, it’s break time you thick cunt”. Tanner wanted to chip away at this quiet serious boy until there was nothing left but a damp patch of tears, a blush of pain on the pavement. He would sit opposite Ruddy in the canteen at lunch, staring at him and repeating his name in a slow mocking voice: “Rud-eeee, Nye-gel Rud-eeee”. Ruddy would turn scarlet, burning with discomfort, and look down at the table, or sometimes murmur “please leave me alone”, which was fatal of course: “Leave you alone? That’s not very nice when I’ve come to talk to you is it? No need to be rude is there Ru-deee, or should we call you Rude-y, Nigel Rude-y.  I’ll see you under the bridge later and we can have a talk about manners, eh? Or he would grab one of Ruddy’s sandwiches and take a big bite before spitting it out immediately:  “Fucking hell, that is disgusting Ruddy. What’s in there Ruddy, some of your dad’s fucking knob cheese? Tell your mum her sandwiches are fucking rank”. And so on, drip drip on Ruddy's head, day after day.

When you are at school, as a young child, it seems like this is the whole world and there is no exit. It is a closed universe, in which your thoughts and feelings receive no echo, no confirmation, from anyone else and are actively attacked if exposed. In effect, it is a totalitarian world. This totalitarianism does not come from the teachers, from the rules imposed by the headmaster and the staff.   “The Teacher”, like “The Police”, is in any case a stock authority figure, and part of a pantomime image, a lazy and uncritical idea of what constitutes authority. People who want to show their backside to the Teacher and the Policeman are typically blind to the actual sources and forms of authority; to the multifarious ways in which authority and power creep into our soul and solicit our collaboration. And so the totalitarian world of the schoolyard does not take the form of a law forbidding things, such as, for example, “do not run in the corridor” and so on, laws which incite, like clockwork, petty forms of disobedience. No, it is a totalitarianism of the pupils, and it urges and demands certain forms of enjoyment, predictable forms of pack enjoyment, copied and borrowed from the pack. I remember at our school, for example, anyone not wearing dock martin boots and high-waister trousers was automatically suspect, and would be dragged before some kangaroo court to be interrogated about their clothing; similarly people who did not like the prescribed bands, fashions, the latest gadgets, the latest games, certain new slang phrases, TV programs;  also of course, people who did not perform the prescribed petty forms of disobedience– flicking rubber bands in class or smoking under the bridge. All were hauled before a tribunal of dunces. And of course these laws, demanding certain forms of enjoyment, and excommunicating those who refuse, are far more effective than the kind of laws signposted and enforced by the teacher. Power is best exercised when it urges us to enjoy and desire certain things and, simultaneously, casts out to sea those who refuse. It is no accident that Tanner’s cronies, the petty rebels, the smokers under the bridge, have all grown up to be, not the great creative rule breakers, but the wife-and-two-kids, 9 to 5 conformists. These were, in addition, the money chasers who left school at 16, who couldn’t wait to leave school and make beer money. Their rebellion against education was in effect a rebellion against the mind, against difference, against dissent.

Ruddy refused this totalitarian world. Ruddy was a "swot", a "boffin", and therefore deserved merciless torment, the callous retribution that the cretinised take upon the clever, that the mentally weak, who always seek confirmation from a pack, take upon those pursuing a different path. Most notoriously, in what became a cause célèbre, Tanner forced Ruddy to eat some dog shit. “It wasn’t fresh dog shit,” someone explained, “It was some of that hard white dogshit, probably been there ages,” as if this were a mitigating factor, or as if they were slightly disappointed the shit wasn’t softer. Ruddy’s name was then synonymous with eating dogshit, and anyone who touched him would declare they had 'Ruddy germs' and try to pass them on to someone else as soon as possible. I hadn’t been there but could only imagine him knelt on the wet pavement by the grass verge, Tanner and his cronies craning over him, stupidly swaggering, leering and laughing, offering freedom if only he’d eat the dog shit, and of course "tell no one" or he'd have his 'head kicked in". The totalitarian mind-set of the schoolyard is such that Ruddy was always spurned as the boy who had eaten dog shit whilst Tanner was never spurned as the boy who'd forced someone to eat dog shit. Actually, this is not simply the law of the schoolyard; it is the way of the world. People like Tanner are everywhere walking free and regarded as normal human beings, as 'good blokes', whereas they are psychopaths and sadists who evade the law only because they inflict microsadisms and microhumiliations which pass unseen and unmonitored. It was Tanner who should have been ostracised and despised, slammed in the stocks and spat on, or fed faeces through a funnel, rather than being feted by a claque of cowards and allowed to carry on his life as normal, after treating another human being like rubbish. To treat the supposedly weak and defenceless as rubbish, this is what is called Evil. And it is not enough to claim that he was only a child, or that children are like that, since all children are not like that and the legal age of responsibility is in any case an imposed and convenient fiction rather than a  sudden leap of the soul into adulthood. Some reach adulthood at 12, others defer it forever; some are fit for the franchise at 14, whilst others are best barred till death. Tanner knew what he was doing and enjoyed it. I suspect he has not only never recanted or confessed but actually forgotten the incident or regards it as 'harmless fun', a phrase which almost always conceals a crime, for anything deemed “harmless fun” is placed beyond criticism and analysis: either salute "harmless fun" or be hanged as humourless, laugh or be deemed a loser.