Sunday, June 26, 2011

Who Was Thomas Ball?

Thomas Ball was a father, a husband, a Vietnam vet, and, apparently, a Men’s Rights activist..

Having once slapped his two year old daughter, drawing blood, he was arrested and jailed. He then attempted to recover his good name and to have the right to see his children. His fought “City Hall” until Wednesday June 15 in Keene New Hampshire when he walked up the steps of the local courthouse, doused himself with gasoline and lit a match.

Unemployed and destitute, he was about to be jailed for failing to pay child support. A proud man, he preferred martyrdom to imprisonment. He wanted his death to highlight what he saw as the marked bias of the family court system toward men.

If he had killed himself to protest capitalist oppression, he would have been hailed as a heroic martyr. Since he died to protest the anti-male bias in our court system, more than a few people are dismissing him as a deranged crank.

Ball offered a long, detailed manifesto about the problems he had faced trying to see his children. The tract is 10,000 words long. I have read it and I agree with Dr. Helen Smith, who has more professional experience in such matters than I do. It does not read like the ravings of a maniac or a madman.

As she put it: “His statement is not the ramblings of a madman, it is the mission of a warrior in some sense.“

In a way, that is part of the problem. Ball was clear and rational, but he was also calling for an insurrection against the family court system. He included instructions for making Molotov Cocktails in his treatise, and, for many people, that makes him sound like he has passed a line.

Of course, it is fair to mention that during the Vietnam War the New York Review of Books offered instructions for the manufacture of Molotov Cocktails. Naturally, it was vigorously defended for practicing freedom of the press-- if we don't allow the press to promote insurrection, the terrorists win. At the time, no one accused the editors of that august publication with being deranged maniacs.

As some of the commenters on Dr. Helen’s site point out, Ball just left his children fatherless. He has failed in the task of providing for them, and always will. It is not a trivial point.

I will mention here that we do not know whether Ball had life insurance,and I do not know whether or not it will pay a suicide.

But, is the system as bad as Ball says it is? Is it so infected with anti-male bias that a man cannot get a fair shake? Are the laws and regulations set up so that no judge or administrator has the discretion to rule one way or the other? Is every aggressive action committed by a male against a woman or child grounds for severe sanction? Does the system distinguish between those men who are chronic batterers and those men who lose control once?

Here there is a difference of opinion.

Blogger Assistant Village Idiot wrote to Instapundit to defend the family court system. He explains that he has had dealings with the agency, but not with the children’s welfare section, and insists that it goes out of its way to be fair and judicious. He does not see it shackled by legalistic interpretations of bureaucratic regulations..

Since he sees courts accommodate difficult parents all the time, he concludes that Ball brought it all on himself for failing to cooperate.

In reply, Dr. Helen reports her experience: “I have seen men denied custody, charged for domestic violence for the ‘crime’ of spanking or slapping a child, and denied child support enforcement. “

To her mind the political implications of Ball’s act supersede the person, psychological aspects. She is not inclined to diagnose him or to accept Assistant Village Idiot’s dismissal of him as “prissy.”

The best we can say is that what Ball denounces does happen. I cannot ascertain how often or how consistently it happens.

Surely, we can agree that the court system, with its adversarial bent, is no place to be resolving intrafamilial disputes.  

I also think it fair to say that the Violence Against Women Act does presupposes that women need to be protected from violent men, and that the best way to do it is through the criminal justice system.

I find it strange that so many people are so willing to dismiss Thomas Ball as deranged or crazy. They assert that someone who would self-immolate to bring awareness to a political cause must be completely out of his mind.

And yet, one savvy commenter on Dr. Helen’s blog, named Golddigger, offers the following important perspective: “...  but given the tone and content of Ball's Statement and the fact that self-immolation is traditionally practiced as an extreme form of political protest, I'm not so sure. After all, he's not getting much media coverage, but the internet sure is paying attention - even people who've never considered the case for men's rights in family court. His martyrdom for the cause will live forever on the internet, if nowhere else, as he knew it would. Even though he fought the System in Keene NH with substantial success, he's made himself a symbol of justice denied. A heroic figure.

“Ball would have been about 58 when he died. That means one of his formative memories is the famous image of the Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc's 1963 self-immolation in protest of the Diem regime's persecution of Buddhists. Photos of the monk's martyrdom ran on front pages everywhere and shocked the conscience of the world. The photographer won the Pulitzer Prize. Duc's act undermined US support for the regime and precipitated its collapse. And it's still famous today - I studied it in school. Kennedy later said that ‘no news picture in history has generated so much emotion around the world as that one.’

“And then there's the Tunisian vegetable seller whose self-immolation in protest of unemployment and the regime's confiscation of his vegetables sparked the revolution that brought down the government and provided the catalyst for the Arab Spring. Nobody thought he was crazy.

“So if you view it in that light, don't you think Ball's self-immolation could have been the act of a rational man searching for immortality?”

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