Reading The Paper Without Getting Angry — It’s Not Your Fault


I have a friend whose story of his long-dead grandparents has shaped my interactions with my wife, Jayne. He says his crotchety grandpa liked to read the paper out loud, offering opinions freely (and often scornfully) on the state of the world. The grandmother, who found this extremely irritating, would respond with a bitter, “You don’t know nuttin’,” and after a short pause, “You don’t know a damn thing!” After which he would snap his paper and humph. For some reason, my wife has found this a useful response regarding my own pronouncements.

I’m not like that grandfather. The newspaper (the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in my case) doesn’t often upset me, largely because it rarely surprises me – either in the events it describes or the opinions it expresses. Occasionally, however, it will crystallize something for me.

Like the story about a drug courier from Mexico which opens as follows: “Somewhere along his path to a better life in the U.S., William DeRoo-Ramirez found himself hauling carloads of meth up to Minnesota for one of the same drug cartels that wrought horror back in his home country of Mexico.”

The key words for me—“found himself” – are priceless. So much implication condensed into so few words. Didn’t choose to help the people who were ruining his country. Wasn’t persuaded to do something evil by the up to $20,000 he got for each trip. Simply “found himself” doing something that eventually landed him in jail. A victim actually, suggests the rest of the article. Woke up in a daze and there he was, hauling meth up interstate 35W. Out of his control.

Lest you accuse me of simple racism (my racism is actually quite complex), I hasten to add that the blame in this case is on the author, not the drug hauler. The writer is the one who diminishes William’s humanity by diminishing his responsibility. William, in his view, is a powerless pawn, engineless, who makes no decisions about his life, but just “finds himself” in this situation or that.

But in the writer defense, he is merely dispensing the common wisdom: we are all victims of other people’s power. And, in my opinion, we can mostly thank dead, white males for this view. Marx said we are determined by our class, Darwin said we are determined by our biology (and the brain chemistry folks have run far beyond Darwin in freeing us from free will), Freud said we are shaped, in great part, by our unconscious. Many others have simply joined the parade. Bottom line: not my fault.

I was actually going to post about another story in my newspaper, but this one imposed itself on me. I guess I just “found myself” writing about my friend’s story and then about William the will-less one. Not my fault.

It must be true, I really don’t know a damn thing.