I’m about ready to boycott Facebook. I suppose I could marvel at the diversity of my friends’ political views, but it’s mostly just draining. Half of them are stockpiling weapons. The other half are champing at the bit for some sort of action, any action, from legislators. Why they feel the need to share their views in impersonal snippets bound to piss off half of their “friends” is beyond me.
Personally, I’ve avoided posting anything about last week’s tragedy because it has seemed far too soon for me to know what lessons I should be taking away from it, if there are any at all. It’s also far easier to make sense of other people’s reactions than it is to make sense of what happened.
What does it take for a society to be sickened by its own behavior and to change its attitudes? That can be asked about questions of power and political repression—and also about distinctive national pathologies. When did a majority of South African Boers realize that Apartheid was reprehensible? How about whites in the American South? When will the Japanese force their whalers to stop, finally realizing that their persistence has caused widespread international revulsion and opprobrium? When will the British realize that public drunkenness—a practice now internationally associated with them as a nation—is something to be embarrassed about? When will we Americans realize that our society is an unacceptably violent one, that this is how the rest of the world sees us, and that much of that violence is associated with guns? Will it be the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School? Where is our threshold for self-awareness?
Like countless other articles published during the past few days, it’s a call for gun control, though a slightly more thoughtful and decently written one as far as moment-after calls to action go. Based on the first sentence alone, however, I had hoped for more. Much more. It almost seemed like its author was going to touch on something far deeper than the mere instruments of death.
The article asks what it would take for a society to be sickened by its own behavior and to change its attitudes, but it addresses a solution concerned only with the tools that enable the most marginalized people in society to publicly exhibit the symptoms of a country-wide disease. It acknowledges that our society is an unacceptably violent one and wonders what it will take to achieve self-awareness, but its very conclusion fuels my fear that awareness alone is worthless.
Thoreau never fails to say things better than I ever could:
There are a thousand hacking at the branches of evil to one who is striking at the root.
By this point, you can probably figure out that this post doesn’t really have anything to do with The Simpsons. It’s actually more about South Park, which had an episode a while back with the same name as this post. Just like poor Butters, who couldn’t find a scheme to take over the world that hadn’t already been performed on The Simpsons, I’m finding it difficult to articulate a thought that hasn’t already been expressed elsewhere. By Thoreau, sure, but also in countless articles and blog entries over the past several days. Jeff Gamso got to the heart of it, but perhaps Eric Mayer said it best:
One immutable truth in American society is that any tragedy, no matter the size, allows all of us the chance to blame everything on anything. Zealously.
The Simpsons didn’t do it this time, but countless other writers have. For every self-aware and measured response, however, there exist thousands of hateful or fearful responses wrestling with the branches and doing more harm to each other than to the root of the problem. Tragedy seems like little more than an excellent opportunity for many people to assure themselves that whatever they thought before was correct.
Even Norm Pattis jumped on one side of the bandwagon, letting his fears take hold and calling for a drastic and oppressive band-aid to treat a mortal wound:
It’s time to restrike the social compact. You may want a right to bear arms. But I am less fearful of the state than I am of an unhinged or angry man shooting at random just because he can. At a minimum, it’s time to treat gun manufacturers like tobacco producers. Guns make it too easy for people to kill people. It’s time not for communism, but for communalism — there are limits on what individuals living in a group should be able to do.
Norm must practice law someplace very different from where I practice law. Here, our lawmen show up at holiday family events in a tank. They bulldoze homes and terrorize citizens with a tank. They subject their fellow men to deplorable conditions and inflict death as effectively with their negligence as they do when they probably meant to do it. Neighborhoods of law-abiding Hispanic citizens live in fear of profiling, yet our fair sheriff and his tough-on-crime mantra couldn’t fail to get elected if he tried. Maybe it would be a lot easier for Norm to see the real danger if he lived here in Arizona. When someone as smart as Norm with all his experience seemingly worries only about the superficial, what hope is there for the rest of us?
In the end, this blog post isn’t against gun control. It isn’t for it. It’s too soon to know what the lesson is, though I do know that drug prohibition hasn’t stopped drug addicts any better than alcohol prohibition stopped alcoholics. Guns are different, without a doubt, but the efficacy of a solution that demands a result rather than addressing the cause is the same no matter what the problem. If you’re scared of guns or if you think their elimination would benefit society, then great. That may well be part of the solution, but by itself, it’s worthless.
We are not a society of big babies who must only be told what we can or cannot do in order to conform. A scolding mother’s approach to social engineering will only further ensure we all act like children. It will only perpetuate the culture of violence because a ban is nothing more than violence. It’s the forcible imprisonment of those who violate it. When our reaction as a culture to every person who does something wrong is nothing more than to threaten and coerce each other and go whining to the people who do get to have guns when that doesn’t work, why on earth would we ever be so stupid to think we’re going to suddenly become a peaceful and non-violent society?
This has all been said before, of course, but it’s important. Really important. Who cares if The Simpsons already did it? It’s worth saying again. There is a real problem, and it isn’t the sort of thing we can just will away. It certainly isn’t the sort of thing we’re going to solve by pushing our pre-existing agendas on each other less than a week later. Simply looking at the result and violently attacking only the means instead of the cause is never going to fix anything. We should be smarter than that.
Like that article said, we need self-awareness. Banning certain objects and punishing their possessors reflects anything but that. People need to understand there is something more to this. We do need a solution, but we aren’t going to find it in a week or two weeks or even a month. We can’t just take the easy route any more. Our lives depend on it.
Filed under: Government Rants · Tags: assault rifle, ban, biden, coercion, firearms, force, government, guns, lights, maricopa, newtown, obama, sheriff joe, shooting, society, tank, task force, tempe, violence