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By Professor Steven Yates
March 27, 2012

While following accounts of the U.S. soldier in Afghanistan who went on a bizarre rampage and murdered 16 civilians including children, you might have missed the story of the Indiana man who brutally assaulted a coach at a Catholic school on March 7.

The man, Shelly Miller, 37, had arrived at the school to pick up his daughter from afternoon basketball practice. The girl had been in an argument with another player. Assistant coach Jeffrey Yackus had told the two to run laps around the gym. This is hardly a cruel or unusual punishment; coaches have been doing it for decades. When the girl told her father about it, he jumped Yackus. He struck the coach in the face and knocked him to the ground; then climbed atop him and pummeled him into unconsciousness.

Yackus, who was taken to an emergency room and diagnosed with a concussion, might have been injured worse had a senior coach not pulled his attacker away. Miller fled the scene and was arrested two days later. He has been charged with class C felony assault.

According to a follow-up story, some who accompanied Miller to his arraignment defended his actions to local media. One of them said—are you sitting down?—“If the coach is [expletive] with your kid, what are you to do?”

That same week in Springfield, Mass., one Timothy Lee Forbes, 34, allegedly attacked the coach of the opposing team after his son’s team lost a basketball game and bit off a portion of the man’s ear. He then fled. He later turned himself in, but pled not guilty to a variety of charges including assault and battery, disorderly conduct, and felony mayhem.

The Western Massachusetts CYO Basketball League released a statement saying it was “stunned by this act against one of our most dedicated coaches” and that this was the first time in the history of the league anything like this had happened.

Another Massachusetts father, Joseph Cordes, 42, whose daughter’s hockey team had made the state playoffs, is facing criminal charges after directing the beam from a hand-held laser pointer at the eyes of the opposing team’s goalie. Fans spotted the moving green light on the goalie’s helmet, prompting officials to stop the game until the parent was removed from the stands.

These are just three very recent cases of parents displaying weird and violently irrational behavior at sporting events. There are plenty other signs that we live in a country some of whose people seem deeply unhinged. Some accounts make you wonder if you are jeopardizing your safety by going into certain public venues.

Fast food restaurants have been witness to an epidemic of customer violence. Strangely, many of the perpetrators are women.

In January, in Toledo, Ohio, a woman punched through the glass of a drive through window at a McDonalds when she was told they didn’t sell Chicken McNuggets in the morning.

Last April at a national hiring day at a McDonalds in Cleveland, a woman got into an argument with a group of other job seekers, threw her vehicle into reverse and backed through the group on her way out of the parking lot (video—warning: disturbing images).

In a Baltimore, Maryland McDonalds, a woman described as transgendered was brutally assaulted by a group of women after coming out of a restroom. One of her attackers accused her of trying to talk to “her man.” The attack was captured on video by an employee who chuckled as he filmed (warning: language!). He neither stopped the attack nor assisted the victim. According to a report an older woman who did try to intervene at one point was shoved away. The beaten woman was lying on the floor having seizures after the attack ended.

Some of these cases aren’t especially recent. Consider this one, from 2008 in Los Angeles—a city clearly gone over the cliff in many respects. In this case, a fight broke out over who was first in line in a McDonalds. A 16 year old girl confronted a man whose son had allegedly broke in line in front of two of her friends. The confrontation escalated to exchanges of curses; then he began hitting her until she was knocked unconscious. He fled with the boys in a pickup truck.

Not to single out McDonalds. According to another story also from a few years back a male customer at a Wendy’s in a Pittsburgh subdivision returned to punch out a female employee who had been working the drive through in the face after he didn’t hear a “have a nice day” from her.

As I said: not just violent but weird. The obvious question is, what is making people do these irrational things?

Brawls are breaking out in Chuck-E-Cheese restaurants, which used to be safe and enjoyable places for parents to bring children. Now it is not just kids getting into fights, often over video games. Sometimes parents fight, defending their kids. Michael Snyder, who writes the blog, just reported that one particular Chuck-E-Cheese restaurant in Susquehanna, Penn. has experienced 17 incidents where police had to be called during an 18 month period.

The worst of these ended a birthday party. Unruly children were helping themselves to food from the table where the party was being held although not invited. Eventually, after repeatedly telling the children to stop, one of the parents complained to the other parents, and the result was an abrupt physical attack. Snyder quotes the victim: “All I remember was hitting the floor and being kicked again and again in the head… I think her husband jumped in and was kicking me too….

My daughter threw up, and another one of the children wet their pants because they were so scared.”

The same source recounts how a 60-year old Michigan woman was brutally attacked at a birthday party at a Chuck-E-Cheese and taken by ambulance to an emergency room after complaining that a group of adults were not controlling their kids. A 200-pound woman had jumped on top of her and started beating her.

One of the curious features of all these incidents, and many others besides, is how onlookers are either indifferent to sometimes injured victims or find them entertaining—filming them and uploading the films to YouTube.

Many of these people are behaving as if they are playing a video game!

In Detroit this past February, an 86-year-old World War II Veteran named Aaron Brantley was attacked and carjacked at a gas station. His leg was broken in the attack, and since he couldn’t walk, he had to crawl across the parking lot, which was busy with people walking and driving through. Just as no one had intervened to stop the attack, no one came to help him. “People were passing me just like I wasn’t even there,” he said later. “I was crawling and they just walk by me like I’m not there.”

He wasn’t bitter about the attack, just happy to have gotten through it alive.

This is only a handful of cases. There are many, many more. A search for restaurant violence on YouTube yielded 1,320 hits. I won’t recount more. We’d be here all night.


Some will cite our ongoing economic woes for the hostility that has overwhelmed this country. The problem with that explanation is that we have had economic hard times before. Historians assure us that the Great Depression was worse. Unemployment was higher, and benefits did not yet exist. The creature comforts and gadgets we have today couldn’t have been imagined then. People did not snap, and behave like wild animals. They helped one another when possible. I don’t think the Meltdown of 2008 is irrelevant, but given that people have suffered before, there must be more to the horrid breakdown in basic public decency we’ve seen over the past few years than just that.

I will try to isolate three factors. First, we are seeing the results of this country’s continued descent into materialism—those who gripe about religion in the public square notwithstanding. (Constant griping about religion might be a symptom of this factor.) Second, American society long ago embraced and began to live—with increasing militancy—an entitlement mentality that began in the 1930s and has gotten more pronounced with each generation.

Third—our world of violent video games may be a contributing element—some of those doing these things may literally have no sense of the difference between fantasy and reality.

By materialism I don’t mean just obsession with accumulating material goods, although that may be part of it. I’m talking about a view of the universe which sees only its material aspects: without a God or any sort of divine providence or sense of ourselves as beings created in His image. Without these, there is no spirituality, no morality of substance, and in the end, no empathy with others.

Whole generations have acquired these traits through a kind of cultural osmosis: they are exposed by parents as well as peers. The perpetrators of these weird forms of violence haven’t “philosophized” these things, of course. Government schools have gotten so poor as to preclude that. Rather, both parent and child start living a mindset, if that’s the right word. In this mindset what matters is whether my violence can conquer your violence. In the upper echelons of business, a different form of violence reigns: that which throws millions out of work and turns once-thriving cities into post-urban wastelands looking like outtakes from a Mad Max film (example: Detroit). All for profit: that is how the CEOs of Wal-Mart and Goldman Sachs keep score.

The entitlement mentality tells me I have the right to live at the expense of others—at your expense. We see it in the idea that government should give people jobs, and if it can’t give people jobs it should give them unemployment benefits indefinitely. The other side of the coin is that many employers are often no better. They believe themselves entitled to an honest day’s work while paying starvation wages—and they see themselves entitled to tax breaks or other government favors for having located in a certain state or town. Politicians and bureaucrats operate under their own assumptions of entitlement, suitable for their station. All this leads to crony capitalism—unfortunately, the prevailing form of capitalism in today’s materialist world.

The entitlement mentality, in a cultural ambience of materialist amorality, tells me I am entitled to what I can get away with, or to do pretty much as I please, including taking from others, at your expense if necessary, and by force if I need to use it and can get away with it. If the others try to stop me or get in my way, I am entitled to push them out of my way including taking them out if it comes to that. Again, obviously there’s no conscious chain of reasoning here. Perhaps people just snap—especially if they’ve already lost all sense of control over their lives.

Under the worldview of materialism, life is increasingly cheapened. We are all animals, after all. (Think of the millions of women who have committed lethal violence against their defenseless unborn children and then called it a choice.)

This, of course, is not civil society. It is a recipe for social breakdown and a return to Thomas Hobbes’s state of nature in which the life of a person is (as Hobbes famously put it) “solitary, poor, brutish, nasty and short.” This is where the U.S., an empire in decline, is heading.

Now add that third ingredient: the blurring of the difference between fantasy and reality. Violent video games sell by the truckloads. Is this a factor? I don’t know, but one has to wonder if someone who abruptly flies off the handle in public and starts pummeling a total stranger really has any sense of cause and effect. Did the two men who attacked the coaches, or the one who tried to shine a potentially blinding laser light into a man’s eyes, not consider that their actions would have consequences?

Video games end, and you walk away. Nobody really gets hurt. That’s not really blood on the screen, just CGI. Reality doesn’t work that way. Real violence hurts people. And it sends its perpetrators to the slammer—assuming they get caught.

There has been at least one credible study of the effects of violent video games on the human brain. I wouldn’t be opposed to more.

There might be a fourth element at work: no one really trusts anyone anymore. Many times absence of trust is justified. You know this if you’ve trusted in another person’s good intentions and gotten burned. Combine this with the third ingredient above. Maybe those who walked or drove by the struggling World War II Vet thought it was some kind of gag—not real. Maybe they didn’t offer help because they thought they’d get into trouble: he’d turn around and sue them if they offered assistance and something went wrong.

People will give you all sorts of reasons for not getting involved. Some of these reasons are valid. They will tell you there are just too many nuts out there.

Earlier today, as I write this, I saw a stopped car in the center lane of a major thoroughfare on my way home. The car’s hazard lights were flashing. A man was standing outside the car. He might have been trying to flag someone down. I couldn’t be sure.

I drove on.

There are cases (here, for example) where someone either had or pretended to have a stalled car, succeeded in flagging down a lone good Samaritan, then jumped in and assaulted him. This has happened on busy streets in broad daylight.

A consequence of materialism in civil society is moral and cultural decline—endless rationalizations by secular intellectuals notwithstanding. A sense of other people as having no standing other than objects to be used—often violently—seeps into a population and takes over. Trust disappears. We all become strangers to one another. There is no sense of community.

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Economic hard times make the effects worse, of course. If the supposed recovery doesn’t take hold—if the economy goes into another tailspin, whether because the financial crisis in Europe has spread here or for some other reason—the results will be nastier than they were four years ago: possibly the worst in the world! Occupy may be just the start.

In Greece, thwarted entitlements have sent mobs of people into the streets where they started burning things. Many are laid off bureaucrats, captive of the entitlement ethos.

I see that happening in this country eventually. Barring apocalyptic scenarios, I can envision these attacks of irrational violence increasing in number and severity, especially in cities, until the rest of us barricade ourselves indoors: de facto prisoners in our own homes and apartments as the U.S. slowly returns to a Hobbesian state of nature.

� 2012 Steven Yates - All Rights Reserved

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Steven Yates’s new book is entitled; Four Cardinal Errors: Reasons for the Decline of the American Republic, and was published in December by Brush Fire Press International. He is the author of two earlier books, Worldviews: Christian Theism versus Modern Materialism (2005) and Civil Wrongs: What Went Wrong With Affirmative Action (1994), as well as several hundred articles in various periodicals and online. He earns his living teaching philosophy and lives in Greenville County, South Carolina.











The entitlement mentality, in a cultural ambience of materialist amorality, tells me I am entitled to what I can get away with, or to do pretty much as I please, including taking from others, at your expense if necessary, and by force if I need to use it and can get away with it.