Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Most Effective Way to Control People

A few days ago, the region was witness to a horrible crime-spree, in which three women residing across the rural precincts of the western Ottawa Valley were shot to death by a man who had dated each of the victims in the past. 

Unsurprisingly perhaps, the suspect had not long ago been released from prison for assaulting one of the women he is now accused of murdering. The expectation is that such a person would have no redeeming characteristics whatever. Yet, a news story in which his friends and acquaintances were interviewed, paints a more complex picture. 

Courtroom sketch of triple-murder accused.
Ottawa Citizen.

One man described how he was provided space for a small-engine repair business, virtually rent-free, in a building owned by the alleged murderer. A neighbour of the suspect said that just recently that he borrowed her car, and upon returning it, left a hundred-dollar bill on her dashboard, “for gas.” Others spoke of him as an amiable man who, after drinking alcohol, became belligerent. 

Yet, the brother of the accused — whose family is spread throughout the Valley — told a reporter between sobs and sighs that he hadn’t spoken with his sibling in seven years, and seem to reserve all his sadness for the victims and their families. 

I wonder, though, how much in contradiction was this extreme generosity, with the accused’s overarching need to control the women (and presumably others) with whom he was intimate. 

To give implies a very subtle kind of interpersonal control, especially when there is a large imbalance between the benefactor and the recipient of charity. This was evident in the triple-murder accused, when he gave over space to the individual who simply couldn’t otherwise afford to open a repair-business. 

Murder victims, from left: Anastasia Kuzyk, Nathalie Warmerdam and Carol Culleton.
CTV News.

Following his release from jail, the alleged killer was not able to be so munificent, as his residence had been a public-housing apartment-house run by the county of Renfrew. Yet, he still the left the hundred dollars in compensation for the fuel he had used with the car he had borrowed from his neighbour. 

I have no doubt that, when he was involved with the three women he killed (and anyone else, for that matter), the accused was the model of selflessness, perhaps alternating with a pose of helplessness. 

In either case, he was able to provoke a sympathetic instinct in his partners, until something set him off, in which case his urge to control switched from the benevolent to the belligerent. This is a pattern amongst abusive husbands — or abusive wives, for that matter. 

Usually, this doesn’t end in murder, but the homicidal behaviour manifest in the Ottawa Valley the other day, is the ultimate expression of this need to control, and it isn’t restricted to intimate relationships, either. 

A few years ago, I was acquainted with a gentleman who (just because I was listening to R.E.M. when I wrote this) I will refer to as “Kenneth.” Knowing him at first as an amiable family man, I soon enough learned that Kenneth had frequent outbursts of bullying rage toward his wife and children.  He wasn’t even particularly covert about this, either, as I witnessed more than once Kenneth’s ill-temper directed toward them. 

I thought at the time, though, that this came in wondrous contrast to the generous actions he was capable of. Not long after we met, for example, Kenneth came over with his family for a special occasion. I was surprised, though, when he arrived with two cases of beer, when I had earlier assured our guests that beverages were available on premises. 

Predictably, too, the evening concluded with the celebrants having none of the beer that Kenneth bought with him. When I moved to return the cases, he responded brusquely, “Don’t be ridiculous.” 

An another occasion, I was at brunch with Kenneth for a club with which we were both associated. There must have been at least two-dozen others in attendance, and to the astonishment of everyone, Kenneth declared that he would pick up the bill for the entire party. 

The head of the club, perhaps sensing the manipulative essence of the gesture, stoutly refused the offer and paid for her own meal (something which provoked bewilderment in Kenneth). 

Though this was scarcely evident from his appearance, Kenneth came from a privileged background. From incidental descriptions of his own family life, I came to some understanding as to why he possessed such inchoate anger. 

Perhaps the generosity I described in Kenneth, came from remorse as to his more aggressive behaviour at other times. But naturally, his marriage did not last, and one of his children, now almost grown, refuses to have anything to do with Kenneth on account of his treatment of his ex-wife. 

From what I have gathered since his separation and divorce, Kenneth is unwavering in his own self-righteousness: his rage is always someone else’s fault, and in consequence, he has not been in much contact with one of his offspring for several years. Kenneth wasn’t, so far as I know, physically abusive to his family, as was the suspect in the triple murder days ago. I think the most likely explanation for his munificent actions was, as I have proposed, as a disguised effort at controlling others, especially those with whom he was intimate. 

Tyrannous Rex.

A different example of this type behaviour comes from a rather more famous personage: Elvis Presley. The “king of rock’n’roll” was well-known for his generosity, giving away expensive automobiles and other luxuries to associates (known as the “Memphis mafia”, after Presley’s hometown). 

It became public knowledge not long after his death, however, that Elvis was subject to arbitrary and vindictive rages, resulting in the summary dismissal or humiliation for Memphis-mafia cronies and others in the Presley organization. While some of these (such as Robert “Red” West, who knew Elvis from high school) got fed up and quit, most stayed on until Presley’s death in August, 1977. 

In real way, though, the choices available to the Memphis mafia were quite delimited. Being part of the entourage of Elvis, they could live in the lap of luxury, and travel across the U.S. and around world, too — as well as receiving expensive gifts that they could not otherwise have afforded. From what I understand, being as part of the Memphis-mafia was hardly labour-intensive work. And really, what does working as a crony for Elvis Presley, or any other entertainer, qualify a person to do otherwise? 

They could stick with their boss, mercurial as he was, or face the prospect of employment in a job with far less pay, satisfaction and leisure than they would have remaining as part of the “mafia.” Or they may not have been able to find work at all: especially during the 1970s, an unskilled worker could expect to face lengthy periods of joblessness, that combined with significant year over year increases in the cost of staple goods, to say nothing of the luxuries. 

In a way, the situation of Presley’s entourage was not unlike that typical of the abused housewife of times past, who couldn’t leave the relationship because of a lack of resources and opportunity outside the marriage. In the case of Elvis Presley, a power imbalance was manifest whether he was firing one of his people for a perceived slight or insignificant mistake, or handing the operative the keys to a brand-new Cadillac. It brings forward, too, a hidden meaning to his title, The King. Absolute monarchs are known not only for their arbitrary rule, but also their noblesse oblige.

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