—from A Gallery of Ethopaths

What generates the half-assed views
That this dimwit nation spews?
Why are persons mindless lemmings?
From what source is this stuff stemming?
Collapse of character’s the cause:
A nation’s strength lies not in laws
Or money, soldiers, guns, police—
These things just maintain the peace.
The iron in each person’s spine
Keeps us stable and in line,
And if that iron’s rusted out
The country won’t survive a bout
Of warfare, trouble, bad luck, pain…
It can’t face up to stress or strain.
An army of three score battalions,
Or booted cops on panting stallions,
Or gold bars stacked in Knox’s vaults
Are useless against grave assaults
If citizens are swishy wimps
As boneless as a shoal of shrimps.
And that’s what we’ve become today:
Narcissistic dorks at play,
Obsessed with “how we think and feel”
And lacking any moral steel.
You see this best in “victimhood”—
A posture that’s now understood
To grant one privileges and rights
That trump all else. The smallest slights
Become a kind of tragic pain
That lawyers milk for easy gain.
A language I call “Victimese”
(As common now as cheddar cheese)
Is spoken by a million boobs
As mindless as dead TV tubes:
I’ve been wronged, demeaned, oppressed!
My urgent needs must be addressed!
Our age resounds in cliché prating
But of all whines, the one most grating
Comes from the self-styled bleeding “victim”
Who moans as if the world had picked him
Out for especial exploitation,
Torturing pain, and condemnation.
You see these victims everyplace
Posturing profile and full-face,
Telling how they received a blast
Of psychic trauma in their past
From evil fathers or weak mothers,
From overbearing elder brothers,
From cruel, unfeeling, hard-boiled teachers,
From straitlaced nuns or wicked preachers;
How race or gender or sex preference
Meant they got no share of deference;
How they were made to feel ashamed;
How they were mocked or teased or blamed;
How they were never praised or flattered.
As a result, their pride was shattered
And this abuse has left deep traces
Making them psychic basket cases
Who cannot function up to standard.
But they’ll consider themselves slandered
If you concede your full assent
Saying you know just what they meant.
When next you meet these sorts of whiners
Just hit them with these quick one-liners:
“Yes, you’re a poor neurotic cripple
Glued to some ethopathic nipple.
Sorry you’re such a wiped-out loser:
A nerd or whore or idle schmoozer.”
If you say this, they’ll go berserk
And shout that you’re a callous jerk
Whose outer shell’s too rough and spiky
To rub on someone’s wounded psyche.
They’ll run to their support groups screaming
And see their therapists that evening.
Such nonsense is now commonplace—
There’s no one left who has the grace
To keep pathology well hidden.
They open up to you, unbidden,
And tell you how screwed up they are,
Revealing every psychic scar,
Every flaw and moral failing,
Sicknesses from which they’re ailing,
Or their traumatized persona
Canyon-gashed like Arizona.
This age abounds in infantilish
Twits who think dysfunction’s stylish,
And they assume the world can’t wait
To hear about their parlous state.



Joseph S. Salemi has published five books of poetry, and his poems, translations and scholarly articles have appeared in over one hundred publications world-wide.  He is the editor of the literary magazine Trinacria. He teaches in the Department of Humanities at New York University and in the Department of Classical Languages at Hunter College.

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23 Responses

  1. James Sale

    This is a very fine critique indeed; each couplet packs a mighty punch. Without wishing to be too theological about it, the modern problem is the absence of any general belief in transcendence and the transcendental, for only the existence of something bigger and beyond human capacities could vouchsafe a morality that wasn’t entirely subjective. And while I think psychology is an important discipline with some revealing observations to make, nevertheless the turn ‘inward’, as it were, has meant for most people the entire rejection of that external reality that would enable them to escape from their endless solipsism which characterises their characters. A recent, quite brilliant book on this topic, which was a NYT bestseller, is The Road to Character by David Brooks, and it is full of insights as he reviews of the lives of several famous ‘characters’: Frances Perkins, Dwight Eisenhower, Dorothy Day and one of my great heroes, Dr Johnson. But thanks for a wonderful excerpt, Joseph Salemi: I especially like the couplet ending ‘Canyon-gashed like Arizona – the rhyme is unexpected, as is the metaphor!

  2. C.B. Anderson

    You nailed it, Joe. If any snowflakes drinking from sippy-cups read this, I hope they are offended. They will call you insensitive, but the truth is that you are only too damn sensible.

  3. Wilbur Dee Case

    Although his meter’s bumpier than that of Juvenal, Salemi’s message is on target and quite suitable. In this part of “A Gallery of Ethopaths”, he draws “collapsing character”, one of our nation’s greatest flaws, and points out how important character is for a land; it is that only, only that, that makes a nation grand. Iambic couplets move along in quick tetrameters, as generalities pass by in wide parameters. One can’t quite shake the feeling that Salemi is correct, and wish he wasn’t. Character’s not something to neglect.

  4. David Watt

    ‘The Collapse of Character’ sums up the current lack of personal integrity evident in Western society. The message is powerful because it may equally apply to Australia, Britain, or elsewhere.

  5. Sally Cook

    I wonder if these types have any concept of what life really is about ! If we believe in something further on down the line, a thing more perfect than our own reality, then would it not be reasonable to assume that this world is a proving ground? Well, nobody likes a whiner, but going beyond that, self-absorbed whiners are dangerous to self, one’s immediate circle, and the larger society. I’m very much afraid that if we were to become involved in a world war, I shudder to think what would happen. Bottom line – how could a gaggle of little self-interest groups mount any defense, and would they even think it worth their while?

  6. Joseph S. Salemi

    Dear Sally —

    Thank you for your perceptive comments. Quite coincidentally, last week one of my colleagues at the university told me something that could be a perfect biopsy slide of the sort of whining, self-absorbed “victimhood” that I have tried to describe here.

    My colleague told me that she had a female student in her class who is a total loser — a student who has managed to find excuses to avoid doing any work, or even showing up regularly. The student fails tests, misses deadlines, and all the while claiming that she is “disabled” because of mental problems. The student has asked for an Incomplete grade in the course (the normal escape route for lazy and unproductive undergraduates), but is now arguing that she should have more time than usual to complete her missing work. When told by my colleague and by a school administrator that make-up deadlines were unalterable, the student said “Well, I’ll have to consult my therapist about all this…” Consult her therapist?!? About an objectively fixed deadline?

    To cap it all, during a recent class session dealing with Shakespeare’s Hamlet, my colleague showed a few film clips from the famous 1948 Olivier production of that play. The student in question jumped up and left the classroom in the midst of this showing. Why? Well, as she claimed later, she was “triggered” by the scene of Ophelia’s madness, and could not stay to watch it!

    You’re “triggered” by a scene from a 500-year-old Renaissance play, written in early modern English? What kind of a gutless nonentity is this student? And what the damned hell does “triggered” mean, anyway? That you can’t emotionally endure even a fictionalized reference to anything that bothers you?

    Enough is enough. I don’t care if you’re “disabled,” or a “victim,” or “emotionally challenged,” or “oversensitive.” And I’m sick of how this country bends over backwards to cater to a vast array of self-pitying losers.

    God help us when the next war comes, and we have to face an army of real men.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Well, Joe, you have triggered something in me: despair about the future of what should have remained a great nation. I don’t know which is worse, the frail pantywaist subhumans or the misguided morons that cater to them. Stop doing this, or I will have to hire a therapist of my own or file a lawsuit for inflicting extreme existential distress. Seriously, I think you are in the business of writing classics for the future, if there is a future in which anyone is left to read them. God bless.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        Many thanks, Kip. Your opinion means a great deal to me, and always has.

    • Hugh Maclean

      Machismo unhinged. Remember Jesus watched over the weak and vulnerable. The meek shall inherit the earth. Not with Salemi around they won’t.
      Run corporal Pile here comes drill sergeant Salemi.

      • Joseph S. Salemi

        The name is “Pyle,” not “Pile.” You can’t even get a sit-com character’s name straight, Hughie?

  7. Sally Cook

    Dear Joe –

    Your colleague’s stupid student has a lot more
    problems than Ophelia.! Who in blazes does she think she is? Sounds as if she is just a wavering footstep away from an exhilarating book burning! People who construct their own reality inevitably become fascists, cloaking this tendency in the sweetest of wet blankets. Know-nothing hypocrites, all.

    • C.B. Anderson

      Sally, to answer your first direct question: She doesn’t think she is anyone. She has no identity except for the pathological excuses with which contemporary society has provided her. Too bad for her and for everyone else who has to live in a world where such persons get to vote.

      • Sally Cook

        Kip, while those were rhetorical questions, I’m glad you decided to answer them.

  8. Gregory Spicer

    Well, what an extraordinary complain-a-thon this has been, let me fetch you all a box of tissues.

  9. Joseph S. Salemi

    It looks like the little schmuck has returned. He presents no discursive argument, just a snotty remark.

  10. James Sale

    I wouldn’t call this extraordinary; it is a satire, which by its nature attacks abuses, and Dr Salemi is an expert in writing them. But if we look at the wider picture of the pages of the SCP we find many other types of poetry, including those which focus on the more beautiful and lovely aspects of existence. However, Dr Salemi writes brilliant satires, that is his metier, and no-one really should be telling a poet that he should not be writing in any particular form that he or she feels drawn to. Indeed, most of the comments are not complaining, but celebrating the power of the writing – mine comment is certainly to that effect.


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