Nov

1

 The spectacle of public hangings in old England, where criminals were hanged in front of enormous crowds, were the largest social gatherings of the time. Picnics, children, barking dogs, and sweethearts on their boyfriends' shoulders were brought to watch the criminals die by hanging. A whole lot of offenses could get you stretched. Vendors would show up early to set up their food and mementoes related to the hanging. Pamphlets would be sold which claimed to have printed the dying speech of him with the rope collar. Known as the 'Last Dying Speech', the quotes were usually fake, as the truly inquiring rushed to get good spots close to the gallows, in hopes of hearing the final address. Sometimes he dropped still publicly shaming the hangman, the audience, and abuse of the times. It was not a quick process, since it was a short fall, the neck would often not break, and he would have to strangle to death, which took several minutes. Sometimes the families and friends of the dying would be asked to pull down on the legs to help speed the process along. This whipped the crowd up into riots, fighting and rolling in the mud; bets had been made on how long the hung would kick. After he was dead, the mob would rush the stage to try to get a souvenir. Hangmen were known to flog the body in order to cut off pieces of clothing to hand out. The rope was also cut up and sold, the cost based on the crime and fame of the hanged.

It was obviously an important occasion, that carried into the old US west. The collar carnivals were brutal things to witness, no matter how guilty. That was about as much conversation as is needed to sway the pop-eyed cowpokes away from the same position. Necktie parties saved many a young or potential criminal his life. Men were not hanged for stealing horses, but that horses may not be stolen.

In Slab City, the show of prevention carries on, with an intellectual twist. The more macabre and public the humiliation, the more reflective as a deterrent. Death is not so important as the shock and exposure. It has been determined in this outlaw town that an ounce of public example is worth a pound of cure.

There certainly is no harm among the lawless in striving for more graphic examples, which fall short of the death penalty. Public astonishment works where all else fails, despite what outsiders say, including the legal and penal process you are accustomed to in more civilized spectacles.

Here are some examples, in order of popularity, of how Slabbers punish in-house that others may be amended

1. Corporal Punishment – Corporal punishment is a tradition in Slab City, where due process is so slow and often unavailable. The thought process of residents seems to be, 'You have wronged me. I won't sue you, for the law is too slow or nonexistent. I'll ruin you!' This has been a bumper year for assaults on women. One I fetched water for was beaten on the body, but not head, by a pipe for stealing. She denied the light fingers but accepted the bruises on arms and legs philosophically without covering them up. Another female was hit in the face by the end of a 4×4" and, smitten, the next day moved in with her caveman. The black and blue marks seem to be like relief confessions with debts paid.

Any local punishment is colorful to draw attention. One thief was hitched like a piece of bacon to a truck bumper and dragged along the town streets for all to see, but slowly, until he was cured. Another resident, though not a churchgoer here, tied a cuckolding parson to a chair on his car bumper, and drove him to the front door of church on Sunday morning to greet his congregation.

You have not been assaulted or restrained until you have shaken with fear like a rabbit about to be mouthed and bruised, and then in a burst of adrenalin free yourself, and gone under a bush to think about what happened, and rehearse what better way to react the next time. Assaults like this are usually against overwhelming numbers, called 'making a mountain' on another person. After a few like this, the thing to look for early on in a fight is smiles. I like a man who grins while he fights, because if I am beaten he will let me live. For this reason I never smile, just for the psychological advantage. The best must be punished in the worst way where there is no other cure for the wrongdoing heart. Jack Black had the biggest, and he confessed, 'The whipping post is a strange place to gather fresh confidence and courage, yet that's what it gives me, and in that dark cell I left behind many fears and misgivings.'

Torture marks are extremely common in Slab City, where people wear them as extended advertisements. They are able to spew tales of awe, like Ray Bradbury's Illustrated Man whose tattoos jumped to life when you touched them, and each tells a story. There is an annual Rave party at the base of Salvation Mountain where, two years ago, a woman was found with 'Bitch' carved in script in her back. I believe handwriting analysts should be brought in for such travesties, although perhaps the victim's crime was worse, that she paid for with indelible stripes.

2. Rough Music - Recently in Slab a bully pinned down a girl and had to face the rough music. Her slight boyfriend rounded up a crew to take shifts following the Palooka around town banging on pots and yelling, 'Woman beater!' The public humiliation spread wherever the bully went for a full day, until he issued an apology. This technique was used throughout Europe, also known as Charivari, to draw public attention via discordant mock serenade.

3. Arson – Very black smoke caused by plastic or tires with obligatory gasoline is the best smoke signal. On first sight, a mob reaches the place to cheer, 'Eviction Notice', watch the fire engines arrive, and later sift the wet soot for valuables. There are about two burnouts per month here.

The most memorable was the AirBnB fire that charged tourists $100 a night for a hammock above a dirt floor crawling with scorpions in a thatched hut, and pancakes. I saw the smoke while hiking toward sunset, and veered to walk by the flames leaping from the apex. Already a dozen sifters had beaten the fire trucks, and thirty more joined after the department left. The owner was thus evicted for shooting a girl with a BB gun, videotaping it, and claiming to the police she had been trespassing. I treated the man who started it after Magnesium shavings from a VW engine block, that burns without oxygen, sprinkled and ignited on his arm.

This is a town of firebugs with the highest arson rate in the nation. The arsonists are highly-sought specialists who accept $10 - $50 for a simple burn. Their angles at a burn would stagger Pythagoras. Slab also offers amateurs to come knocking in the night, push over your tent, pick a fight as a pretense, and burn you out when you protest, collecting their fee in the ashes. You may think ahead and, wanting your place burned down, pick a fight with a torcher, and then collect from the warming heartstrings of the neighbors, local parson, and Red Cross. Losing a home can turn a fat profit, and you may relocate to a better site, or finance yourself out of town.

The most recent torch at the Sausage Camp was a double-alarm fire set by a clever arsonist using a cigarette fuse - gasoline balloon, while simultaneously lighting the corner of a tent across town as he shouted, 'Fire!' as an alibi.

4. Rail out of Town - $25 is the going rate to get someone run out of town. Locally, it's called 'walking' a wrongdoer to the town limit. $50 will get him beat up on the way. A small group of vigilantes overcomes the victim at his door, without allowing him to pack, and drives him to the limit, returning then to rob and occupy his camp as part of the payment. The rail is omitted from the old frontier method of the offender being made to straddle it held on the shoulders of two or more bearers, but from Slab he is usually dumped by the RR track where he may wait on a freight to continue. (Not a bad option.)

Most walk-outs occur in the middle when a party calls on Mr. Jones and urges him on. Sometimes, a meeting is held in advance to decide the place and time, inviting all to gather at the foot of the home and join the post-drive robbery. This is a rare mercy giving the individual a chance to prepare to defend, or to flee, in advance of the mob.

5. Badge of Shame - I've been to every major USA city. In Boston they ask, 'How much does he know?' In Washington DC, 'Who does he know?' In New York, 'How much is he worth?' In Chicago, 'Who were his parents?' In Slab City, 'Is his nose busted?' If you don't have a black eye, bruises, or broken knuckles, then you go unadmired here. I have devised to avoid a fight, or get a date here, by making a scratch under my eye or fall on the dirt bike, and let the blood dry without washing until the threat has passed.

A badge of shame is a mark of shame, a stigma, that works in reverse in Slab City. In old England, under the Poor Act, paupers in receipt of relief were required to wear a badge of blue or red cloth on the right sleeve in an open and visible manner, to discourage others from collecting relief. In other parts of Europe, people were made to go barefoot to platform their submission as is customarily associated with lower status. More recently, in Bangkok, Thailand, the police switched to punitive pink armbands adorned with cute Hello Kitty cartoons, as are seen tattooed on the bodies of many Slabbers, that were intended to be worn as badges of shame for minor infractions. Those displays are reversed here, reminding me of an incident a few months ago.

The victim was a golfer in a hovel, and his arsonist so displeased by public sentiment from torching the place with the Campbell cans that served as nine holes, that he sifted the ashes until he found the One-wood. He went to him, with the driver in an outstretched palm of penance, and the golfer grabbed it. He drove the head with gusto into the chest over the target heart of him, who fell back as though pulled by a giant bungee. He got to his feet, thanked the golfer, and paraded from slab to slab shirtless, showing the crimson mark on his chest to all, who examined the horizontal lines of the driver head. They forgave and admired him, and gave him beers, every time he said, 'He didn't drive me out of town!'

6. Pet Humiliation - Regularly the innocent are also shamed. The animals have few quarrels among themselves, but weekly are caught among their owners' tiffs. The Pet Cemetery has standing room only for the strangled, raped, and barb-wire muzzled dogs in this so-called dog lover's paradise. As a vet, I was called to Poverty Flat to examine the three-inch carving of 'PhD' on a Labrador puppy's thigh. The P and D were particularly painful to view on the curves. The owner had figured the pup as the best defense against repeated burglaries, and had posted him at the entrance. After, the dog shied from rather than barked at strangers. Feeling worse, the owner gave the pup away, who now answers to PhD, and gets lots of positive pats.

7. Execution – Murder makes no sense as a deterrent unless it is newsworthy. The executions are carried out by a group, plus an approved 'witness for the public' who is trusted in the community to speak the truth. He becomes the town crier of the event rather than the people flocking to the gallows as in England, because that would be messy with the law.

A victim is invited into the desert for a party, sometimes his birthday, or a supposed rave, or to participate in the execution of another. When he is positioned at the remote site, usually on the adjacent gunnery range, he is seized, and the punishment begins, as viewed by the witness. What follows turns the stomach, without detail here, and only the general images given.

Canal drownings are common, about biannual, and cement boots in the concrete lined canal are unnecessary because the victim is usually stoned, unable to swim, and with a ladder out only every 200 meters, it is a steep climb from watery death. These slayings are conveniently blamed on accident, and for the reasons just named. Drownings in the hot spring are less frequent but more effective, because the body floats around and bumps into someone late at night, driven to the shores by a bubbly jet up the center. That person tries to make conversation with the floater before finally admitting the death, which is lengthy in his drug-crazed monologue. He cannot go to the police because he will be implicated, so it just floats around town.

Some of the other slayings to curb violence have been tying the person to a target on the bombing range, and rely and the sharp eyesight of the US Marine gunships and bombers. Another standard for many years has been dropping the person screaming down a vertical mineshaft, and letting him perish from thirst and hunger. (You may see their old trousers at noon.) In another, the public witness of the rattlesnake pistol whipping to the face of a man, who had plundered the valley where I lived, last remarked that he would not return. Finally, a person was stripped and spread-eagled on hot black desert pavement for the vultures to have their say. These California scavengers spiral in on 7'-wingspans, alighting clumsily like Grandpa McCoys, but swift to the anus. Their feet are useless for ripping skin, but their powerful beaks plunge up the entrails, through the diaphragm, and to the lungs, flapping and screeching at their own display.

The guideline for execution is the offender is incorrigible and uncontrollable, so let the great axe fall. It must be spectacular to piggyback prevention on removal. One man was cut into small pieces and found over the course of a month by various scrappers strewn in a ten mile radius about the bombing range. No one figured out how they got there, as they were handed about town for appraisal, but the reason was clear – he had ratted on human smuggling.

Execution is a business. If they kill you, they don't consider it murder, only doing business. They don't get much publicity. They just disappear.

Is public humiliation useful? The first premise is that whenever a human being, though commission of a crime, has exiled himself from decency, he needs to be reintegrated with it through suffering. The second premise is that suffering should be inflicted with the aim of bringing his psyche to recognize freely some day that its infliction was just. The third premise is to be a deterrent, to the individual as well in the community where he is shown, the punishment must be made memorable. The fourth premise is that Innocent third parties should be left out.

Shaming is on the rise. Across the US, we've shifted to a mode of scrutinizing each other for purity, and punishing people for small transgressions or no real transgression at all, just to blow off steam. Donkey ears and dunce caps are back in style in schools. Online shaming is cool. Politicians call each other out in public. Surveillance is welcomed in the name of conformity. Digging up a target's personal information – name, cell number, address, SS#, family relationships, financial history –to encourage harassment from others is SOP. Recently, a judge ordered two convicted shoplifters to carry these signs in front of an Alabama Walmart, 'I am a thief. I stole from Walmart.' In Indiana, a 22-year old skipped out on jury duty, and was ordered by the court to hold a sign, 'I failed to appear for jury duty' on a public corner. There is no sign that the new call-out culture is fading away.

The psychology of public humiliation is the same wherever you go. An unpleasant emotion is brought about by feeling that one's social status or public image has decreased from peer pressure. It is shame, the opposite of pride. People experiencing public humiliation may have diminished feelings of self-worth. Humiliation is related to embarrassment, but it cuts deeper and lasts longer because others are involved. While guilt is generally associated with doing something wrong, shame is connected with feeling like a bad person because others are watching. The victim characteristically wants to escape, but cannot. The humiliated individual may develop a variety of symptoms including paranoia, apathy, anxiety, PTSD, and repressed fury that may erupt into lashing out against innocent victims, as a means of release, or suicide.

Humiliation can befall anyone at any time, and more so in Slab City. The town is a showcase of public spectacle. There is no other way because the law cannot handle the community. If you forgive the Slab fox for stealing your chickens, he will come back and take your sheep. But if you humiliate him it denies and destroys his status claims. The victim either has to find the strength and self-esteem to come to terms with his shame, or if that proves too difficult, he must abandons the life he has built here and move on to start afresh.

Public spectacle is a round-the-clock crime prevention in Slab City. Laws are sand, customs are rock here. And the shamers are elevated in status.


Comments

Name

Email

Website

Speak your mind

Archives

Resources & Links

Search