Wednesday, January 16, 2013
It's Not a Static Situation
A friend of mine was watching the movie "Motorcycle Diaries" the other day, and said that one of its central points was that the destruction of the aboriginal culture of South America (if you want to really say that the Incas were "aboriginal" in any sense) can be laid primarily to the fact that the Spanish had guns. Thus Che finds his way to Mao's Dictum. It is of course appropriate that it is known as "Mao's Dictum" given that the Chinese invented gunpowder.
So we might start in a Wittgensteinian fashion with numbered prima facies if we like, for clarity. One of which is surely that the complex fact that it is the interaction of the remarkable machine of death with the human primate's will which should be the point of focus for our President and legislative bodies, in this moment. Otherwise we simply circle this patent confusion which the NRA delivers daily and on purpose to confuse: on the one hand we have a pile of steel bits, and on the other hand a pile of slaughtered, rendered children.
The NRA says, over and over, we need good guys with guns to counter the bad guys with guns. (As I noted in my last post, Mr. Reagan said this, and was later shot amidst the most elite weapon-carrying Praetorian Guard on the planet.) As someone said yesterday on line, Lanza transformed himself from a "bad guy" into a "good guy" at the last moment of his life, when he shot himself. This may seem like a joke. It is in fact the sort of moral paradox which surfaces constantly from the sea of muddle when we don't look directly at the plan fact that the "weapons problem" we have is not a static situation.
How many people carry within themselves some quotient of rage? Surely it must be a very significant portion of the adults alive today on the planet (generally), and in America in particular. Life is after all fraught with frustration. Whole religions are grounded in the dealing with the unacceptable which confronts most humans sooner or later. Whole psychologies undertake the same task. The plain fact is that in the complex moment when a fine piece of cold steel warms to the human hand's touch, these same unutterable griefs and rages are addressed. The weapon confers power. Nevermind, for the moment, that this power comes without a necessary reflection--the lack of which can lead almost instantly to disaster for any and all within the weapon's range. We all know another plain fact, that we humans at least now and then do not reflect.
Does the NRA, then, propose to determine, in advance and so to speak a priori, who possesses some reliably called upon quotient of reflective ability? Is there some test, some MMPI, which will tell the folks who sign or deny the registration forms, whether each human is capable of dealing in each moment with the fact that, weapon loaded and in hand, frustration and rage may be at last immediately assuaged? It is the weapon that confers--that is the dynamic situation. What's the test, Mr. LaPierre? Application of poison ivey? Last night on Hannity's teevee show some New York State legislator talked of needing more powerful weapons than those now allowed by the new New York State law on guns when it comes to--his example--divorced or single women. Again the paradox bobs up. Mrs. Lanza had those weapons at the ready. Her son killed her with them.
There is a general principle to be seen in this: that the more guns sprinkled in a given population of people, the more gun violence and death will eventually ensue. For one particular, domestic gun violence occurs when guns are present in the domestic situation. Some of that violence is murder, some suicide. These are details.
It is not particularly surprising that the power of the gun has caused us to create an actual religion of guns. The NRA officials dress like priests (have you noticed?)--their black suits gleam like the odd a-kilter look of Mormon Missionary boys on bicycles, or Taliban diplomats making rare visits to the outside world. Press too firmly against this brittle faith and defense is swift and intense, the shadow side of the ledger. "You're a one-eyed Jack, Dad, but I've seen the other side of your face." Yesterday the NRA brought the President's children into the conversation. Like gangsters, they didn't have to say anything explicit. "How's your kids these days?" The question has already been withdrawn I understand. This is a lot like the paradox of Limbaugh: "Is he a racist, or does he just play one on the radio?" Can the act of "withdrawing" actually apply.
Johnny Cash, late in his life, sang a hell of a song about a kid with a rifle, who shoots at long distance a stranger. That's the "godlike" power that arrives when the cold steel falls in the grip of the warm hand. Part of that power is transformative. Lanza can become at the last moment a "good guy" by shooting himself. Or--much much more likely and to the point--rage can be assuaged, or even mere primate curiosity. What if I sight that guy off there, on a bicycle. What if I squeeze the trigger just a little.
Ever see the movie "Gun Crazy." Oh, it's a classic of noir, it is. But the director, back then in 1950, was showing us something true, and just as true now. Yesterday was Martin Luther King's birthday. A damn good day for our President to address the great American gun problem. Today is not too late either. It's not something simple, something one thing or another will repair. Thousands more will surely die. But when I was a kid there were no seat belts, never mind air bags and all the other safety stuff.
We all need to recognize the cultists when we see them. Those black suits are a tell.
We all need to remember that love is just a kiss away.
Thursday Update: I find I must at least take brief note of Mr. Limbaugh's response to yesterday's modest efforts, on the part of Mr. Obama, to address America's gun problem. At the moment we have the plain fact that there are 20 slaughtered children in Newtown, Connecticut. (And some 900 gun deaths since December 14, 2012.) Mr. Limbaugh yesterday suggested that Mr. Obama was using those murdered children as "human shields" for his effort to modify America's absurdly weak gun regulation system. In doing so, Mr. Limbaugh makes fun of these murdered children, and of their grieving parents. In doing so, Mr. Limbaugh derides empathy and human feeling, and diminishes (or tries to) the obvious plain facts. One can only hope that the Right's absurd and disgusting reaction to any effort, no matter how limited, to address America's gun problem, will have some politically negative consequences. If there is any such thing as an "American value," it is surely that we do care when children are slaughtered, that we do believe some efforts towards a better world where less children are slaughtered can be devised. What else does a belief in "progress" entail?