Monday, January 10, 2011

Our Culture of Violence

The following letter to the Editor appeared in the editorial page of the San Francisco Chronicle on April 10, 2010:
Dangerous hardware abroad in the land
The current discussions around the Second Amendment are disturbing and crude. Think about a natural human response to frustration: anger. Natural, but also irrational.
Next, think about road rage, the most common daily occurrence of a natural but irrational response. Is it logical to suppose that gun-toting road-ragers will have enough self-control to not draw their weapons? Such a scenario is not far-fetched and in fact happens now with frightening regularity among people who are illegally armed. The United States is not a wild frontier society but a modern, urban, civil society.
Giving every citizen the opportunity to own and carry a loaded gun is an invitation to divest society of civility, reducing it to something more brutish, base and irrationally deadly. People who want to carry guns must also want to intimidate and have power over others; why else feel the need?
We should be very worried about people like that. They say it is for self-protection; I say they and their hardware are a danger to us all.
Elisabeth Eliassen
I wrote that letter in response to the local news accounts reporting that NRA members and other pro-gun activists were showing up at local coffee dispensaries wearing holstered (and unloaded) hand-guns, in support of open-carry legislation.

Times have not changed much since April of 2010. Certain kinds of people want to be wed to fire arms. Is this about mystique? (Are guns the latest fashion accessory? Has it become as hip to sport a gun as it is to wear a Bluetooth or MP3 player earbuds?) Or is this purely about displaying power and intimidation? It cannot be about personal protection; if we look at the statistics regarding accidental deaths due to the unintentional discharging of firearms, I wonder how people can feel safe with even an unloaded gun in the home.

There are many people who have a professional reason to use or own handguns. Most of these people work in the service of our communities, as security, law enforcement or military officers. Woe to us that we need to have such security, but I am grateful for the service of these individuals.

I bet that most of the rest of us should not ever need a handgun to do what we do in our day-to-day lives. Who needs a gun to work in industry, to shop, cook, nurture children, do laundry, tend the garden, take out the garbage or even have a cup of coffee at the local café?

Guns should be an anachronism in civil society. Instead, guns seem to have become part of, along with notions of might, power and violence, an inescapable rhetoric.

There are so many films, television programs, electronic games and books that portray violence in a glorified manner that it would be impossible to list them all. Think about it: the only way the comic book good guy superheroes can vanquish the bad guys is by means of violence.

Even philosophy is not free of violence: Nietzsche posited that humanity could only bring about change in the world by means of violent revolution, and that the remaining human beings would be called superman, overman, or perhaps man, the next generation. (Would this be a positive evolution of humankind? I think not. I think it would be a movement to the next kind of oppression. But that is for another discussion.)

Overcoming is frequently described as violent change, not as a calm resolution by means of a conversation over coffee, much less courtroom advocacy or philosophical dialogue.

Winning is frequently described as beating, killing, crushing, smashing, destroying, eliminating or annihilating.

The truth is, we, as a society, have never been properly taught how to have civil discussion. What we have been taught (by television programs, electronic gaming and films that titillate by means of gratuitous violence, brutality and gore) is that we can say whatever we want, whenever we want, to whomever we want. You hear it in grocery stores, in coffee shops—it doesn’t matter where you are, you hear people speaking with anger and violence in their tone of voice.

Basically, our culture has taught us that venting rage is okay. But this is violence, too. Verbal abuse, it is called in some situations, can be as wounding as a gunshot. And people who suffer verbal abuse are frequently left with the gaping wounds of trauma and post-traumatic stress.

As a society, today we are no longer taught the value of silence. We are not learning to accept, to listen, to consider, or to discuss. We are not learning to manage our anger or find productive solutions to our problems. “The System” is blamed, but the darkness is within us. If we don’t get what we want now, we have a license to complain, at the least, or at the most, to yell. Discretion? What is that? I want, I, I, me, me… A culture of narcissism, solipsism and rage is what we are experiencing in the Twenty-First Century, and the universal symbol of the rage portion of that cultural program is a loaded gun.

Rage like this is irrational. Of course, it is more irrational to move from having a license to yell to taking license to shoot people with a handgun. People are not rationally moved to yell at someone, or beat someone, so how could it ever be that a person could rationally be moved to fire a gun at another person?

So the next question is this: why are average people, who don’t need these items professionally, allowed to purchase handguns, much less automatic rifles and other weapons?

The answer is simple:  we live in an insane society.

Let us pray that someone, somewhere, will wake up from this ragemare of insanity and remember that life is sacred, and spread that notion like an infection upon the lands. Let us all be infected with the love of life that wills cooperation. Let us learn to slow down and talk, without yelling. Let us think before we speak, lest our words be misdirected or misunderstood. Let the sayings from an old book echo throughout the world:
They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. — Isaiah 2:4 & Micah 4:3
Until that day, what we have is a culture of violence, and it is raging a war of us upon us, and the death toll of the innocents continues to mount.


[image: Swords into Ploughshares,]

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