This month’s Rolling Stone has an article about FSU (“Friends Standing United” or “Fuck Shit Up”, depending on whom you ask), which is a violent gang of punk rock fans, originating in Boston. Members of the group make no bones about being violent. What was particularly interesting to me about FSU, though, is that their violence is directed toward people who they believe hold certain views that are condemned by the broader society as well — specifically, racist views: the article described the beating death of a young man in New Jersey who got into a brawl with some FSU members because he was at a concert with a friend wearing a flag with a confederate flag on it.
Some of the FSU members are “straight-edge,” which means that they don’t use drugs (including alcohol). Straight-edge gang members identify themselves with the letter X; the article described straight-edgers drawing Xs on their foreheads and then going to clubs and beating up people who were not straight-edge.
I recognize in these gang members the same attitude that we see in those bellowing for retribution against our clients. Both the FSUers and the law-and-order types (like those I discussed here commenting on Norm Pattis’s recent Hartford Courant article) have standards of behavior and strong opinions on how they should be treated when they don’t behave according to those standards. The major difference is while most of those baying for their idea of justice (see “Sean O’Brien”‘s comments to several of Gideon’s posts, like this one, for example) do so while hiding behind the skirts of the government, the FSU members fearlessly enforce their own moral code.
At least one of the straight-edge gang members, Elgin James, shows a very high level of awareness about his attitudes. He tells the reporter, “Most of my friends now do drugs and drink. But I just don’t believe in the weakness of it, the whole ‘I’ve had a really hard workweek. I deserve this.’ Also, this way I can stay self-righteous, give myself something that makes me think I’m better than everybody else.” He chuckles. “My vanity may be the one thing that will keep me straight-edge my whole life.”
Wow. That seems like a pretty good working explanation not just of James’s straight-edge lifestyle, but also of the rabid retributionism of the law-and-order types. Some people have the need to believe that they’re better than other people; that belief allows them to demonize others, put them in prison, beat them, and kill them — whether face-to-face or through the proxy of the government.
As Darrow said, “Justice is something that man knows little about. He may know something about charity and understanding and mercy, and he should cling to those as far as he can.” The rest is vanity.
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