Wednesday, April 18, 2007

On violence and civil society

Teju Cole writes well this morning (he always writes well, actually, but today's post spurred me to action):
Yesterday was Patriots' Day. If you didn't hear about it, it's because it isn't a well-known holiday... Another thing you perhaps did not hear about was yesterday's carnage: thirteen Iraqi servicemen shot to death in an ambush, another three accidentally killed by American soldiers, a university professor assassinated in his house in Mosul, and three people tortured and shot just north of Baghdad.

These items are, in my mind, related to yesterday's mass murder in Virginia. For me, the question has almost nothing to do with gun control. The Swiss are far more heavily armed than we are. It has to do with the story America tells itself about itself...

There are American qualities that are worth being patriotic about. I can't help but think that, were our leaders, and the people they represent, to pay closer attention to those qualities, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in today. We need to hear more from those among us who can help us stop entertaining ourselves into a stupor. We need to stop torturing people, so that we can rightly decry it when it happens in other countries. We need to stop making humiliation a national sport. We have a good thing going here, a deeply flawed but good thing, a heavy historical burden that, with mindfulness and patience, we might work our way out of. But now we're on the cusp of fucking it up. Our present is absurd: a country full of wise and thoughtful people run by idiots.
Indeed. Go read.

The example of the peaceful, heavily-armed Swiss is apposite; Canada has just as many guns per capita but a twentieth of the murder rate. I think gun control is a very good idea and should be implemented: there is no reason at all why a sane person should have an assault rifle at home, and every reason why insane people should be forbidden to; but gun control on its own will not solve the root problem.

The issue at root is why so many Americans are apparently filled with an uncontrollable, undirected violent rage.

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Blogger Pacian said...

I'd link it to the way so many Americans are at odds with both reality and compassionate morality, while being completely convinced that they have the one true way of life.

Surely that's got to get a person seething with rage at every hint of bi/homosexuality, every piece of scientific evidence, every perceived malignment of one's all important masculinity/patriotism?

Or, as I thought when I first heard about this, 'religion makes you crazy'.

April 18, 2007 at 2:46:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger zhoen said...

Not to mention a deep, daily, pervasive sense of injustice and frustration, in what is trumpeted as a just society, rich and full of opportunity. The hard friction of hypocrisy.

April 19, 2007 at 12:31:00 a.m. GMT+2  
Blogger Dale said...

A very isolated, atomized society, of course. And, as Zhoen says, extravagant expectations. Many Americans feel deeply bitter, deeply cheated. (I know -- they're so privileged, so well-off. But they don't *feel* that they are.)

I still think Philip Slater's "Pursuit of Loneliness" is a great analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of American culture.

I don't think the sort of cowboy masculinity Pacian is referring to has much to do with Columbine / Virginia Tech style violence, though of course they're tangentially related. It's emptiness, rootlessness, gnawing hunger, and a constant sense of humiliation.

April 19, 2007 at 2:26:00 a.m. GMT+2  
Blogger sirbarrett said...

The media was quick to blame loose gun control on the Virginia Tech massacres. I definitely think it is a large part of the problem because, as one of the groups said "guns are for killing people". On the other hand, groups like the NRA (surprisingly) make a good point that gun control has it's gaps and people will find a way to get a gun when "murder is in their hearts". In that way it has to do more with the society you live in and how much fear you are surrounded by. I definitely think America is a very paranoid country and their politicians work hard to make this true.

In Canada, we have guns but way less handguns than in the States. It's also a lot more difficult to get a gun and you are subject to routine checks by authorities. Our guns are mostly rifles and shotguns. Therefore, our guns aren't very concealable. What we're shooting is mostly deers and geese.

I think a huge problem about the States is simply how their patriotic rhetoric often relates to their sense of "defending" which is largely link to their wars abroad and their international exhibition of violence.

The micro reflects the macro and I don't think anyone is such a 'genius' that they can escape the ills of the society they live in.

April 19, 2007 at 10:07:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger Udge said...

Good comments, everyone. Thank you! "The hard friction of hypocrisy" is a fine phrase which I shall doubtless use in future.

April 20, 2007 at 12:47:00 p.m. GMT+2  
Blogger Late Edition said...

you are spot on, Udge. Thank you so much for the link. I'm going to post the article and point to your post as well.

April 21, 2007 at 5:27:00 p.m. GMT+2  

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