The great sociologist Max Weber, known for naming and describing the “Protestant work ethic”, had an insight into this classism that has origins in our nation’s puritan background. He examined the pervasive belief in predestination that was central to his own Calvinist upbringing and found powerful threads running from it into capitalism and classism. The idea that our fates are decided beforehand and some of our names are “written in the book of God” became, for early capitalism, an organizing principle.
After suffering repeated school shootings we have arrived at a point where the students themselves have taken the lead. They are showing how it’s done. They are confronting their elders with their impotency. They know the score. The adults are too scared, or too complacent, or just too burnt out to do anything about it. The future belongs to those with vision and energy. The future belongs to those who are oblivious to the fact that it can’t be done.
Our state governor (Bevin) gets a mike in front of him and makes his case for how this is a cultural problem, not a gun problem. He wants to isolate guns away from any discussion of the problem and shift the focus to the influence of video games, movies and music. In his view these influences are the major culprits. He has his personal reasons for doing that I’m sure. But his political reasons are also transparent. He says we wouldn’t have these impressionable youths gunning down their peers if they weren’t crucially swayed by the entertainment industry (hint: full of elite liberals). The breakdown in family structure and the general lack of moral tone gets the hammer next (hint #2: Godless liberalism causes that too). But not guns (hint #3: gun control is political anathema to his party). Because this is not a gun problem. Give him points for not budging from the party line.
But guns are involved here in some manner, right? His general point about cultural issues is valid but by refusing to talk about guns themselves he loses the plot. Yes, it is a culture problem. But no, the main element in that culture problem is not something like a gory video game. I’ll put this in caps here to make this clear: We Have a Gun Culture Problem. The argument “it’s not a gun problem” is the go-to rebuttal. The gun is inanimate. The gun has been with us for many years. Gun are part of our American identity. Guns need to be out there so that guns can be in the hands of the good guys.
Yes to all of that. But here is what his behavioral counter argument is missing: We Have a Gun Culture Problem.
To discuss the cultural issues mentioned above while keeping guns in some bubble of isolation is comforting if you own guns and if your worry is that they will be taken away. But it is also being willfully blind to what America is. We are a gun loving nation. All of the other things including these horrific killings draw their power this basic fact.
We sanction guns. We glorify guns. We worship guns. We fetishize guns.
We allow this pervasive and unquestioned identification with gun culture to win the day. In the face of an apparent pattern of killings in schools, instead of looking at the elements of this pattern; with the same type of weapon, by someone who forms an identity and sense of power through gun culture, because of a lack of community outreach that recognizes inordinate gun fascination, or because he can easily obtain the gun he shouldn’t have due to lack of uniform regulation, we shift the focus away. We minimize the part that guns themselves play in this pattern and compartmentalize them. We say: “It’s not a gun problem.”
As if any aberrant behavior was not bound up with either objects or other living beings. If you have a drinking problem and you say “it’s not the liquor” you have hit on a corner of the truth without exercising true comprehension of the entire dynamic. Let’s try a general equation: Object + Person = Problem. We don’t say “it’s not a liquor problem” to the alcoholic. We tell them that they have a disease and part of the cure is keeping liquor away from their lips. It’s liquor and them, To say it’s not a gun problem is to ignore the entire dynamic. In the case of a would-be criminal it is: Gun + Person = Problem.
The “Person” part of this equation is where all this discussion of societal and family dynamics plays a part. I am not arguing against any of that. By all means, limit exposure to violent media in young people, work to support healthy family and community life, look out for each other, be aware of who is being bullied or ostracized.
But next, let’s take another look at how a love of guns that sometimes resembles a sublimated sexual obsession works in this way to damage society. And not just among criminals but also in the law abiding gun community. How can we allow easy access to guns to the frustrated, isolated, and powerless among us by making an argument that guns should be universally accessible? Because of our blithe attitude towards gun culture, we give our tacit permission to use guns to solve these problems. Our love of guns and our lack of control with this obsession sends the wrong message: “We don’t care, so why should you?” Our blindness to this simple fact leads to tragedy. And it leads inevitably to doubling down with the following logic; when a problem of gun violence inevitably occurs, throw more guns at it (e.g.: arming teachers).
We have reached the insanity of a gun culture without limits. The way to demonstrate that we as a nation can control this problem is to actually exercise control. Over ourselves and over guns.
Until we look deeply into our individual souls, and our soul as a nation, and begin to see gun culture as a pathology (and yes, it is about guns too), one that needs to be examined and rationalized and tamed, we will move along into a future unchanged.
Bless those high school kids. They are guiding us to a new future.
I really think the NFL could solve this problem right now. The owners and players would just agree to go back to the way it was and have the players stay in their locker rooms until after the Anthem is played. The fans can stand and sing, or stand reverently if they can’t sing, or stand or sit distractedly, or do whatever the heck they want just like before all this started and get back to not thinking about what they would rather not think about on their weekend of diversion. The players could stand or kneel or (see above), while they watch it on the monitors.
The fans would miss out on seeing the players perform the ritual of unity before the contest begins. And give up on insisting they perform like automatons.
The players would give up the opportunity to make a public demonstration of their convictions, having now a made point of their sense of emergency. But they would gain something too. Their protest could very well change how we view, and what we demand of patriotism. It would show us that we must set aside this weird thing of requiring ritual behavior. It would once again insist on the maxim, “Without free choice there is no virtue.”
We have a unique American identity that is tied in many ways to “You can’t tell me what to do.” If our founders went to such great lengths to build this notion into our Constitution when facing religious imperatives in colonial America, why can’t we also see the problem with requiring these other things today, those that abjectly force us to behave a certain way. They are just another kind of imperative; a patriotic one.
I realize the ritual of unity that takes place before the great contest is important. But the rule requiring players to stand on the sideline during the Anthem only started in the NFL in 2009, after the trauma of the Gulf War. College teams largely have their players sit in the locker room only to emerge with great fanfare after. It works pretty well for them.
The post game gathering of opposing teams is much more significant for me anyway. A word of congratulations or encouragement, a bro-hug that re-unites the adversaries, and the picture they provide for us of seeing them as adversaries and not enemies.
There are two power centers in our American culture, business and government. But before we can proceed with an analysis, let’s look at what we think of when we hear the term “government.” We imagine “government” as being out there somewhere; corrupt, ineffectual, and against our interests. But this is a manufactured image of externalized government which is presented as real by the other power center. We have largely accepted this definition and fall prey to the perception that we are its victim.
Unless we are on board with the attempt to reclaim the term ‘government’ as representing all of us, unless we are focused with putting “We the People” back in the position of power, none of the following will make any sense.
This gives birth to the premise that “government is the problem”. Again, if you operate from this premise then business interests have won their fight. I hear a lot about how “government should get out of the way”. A very important principle in how society is structured is; There is no such thing as a vacuum. When you hear phrases like these remember that government never disappears. Even narrow interests of the existing power structure require an arbitrator. The goal of this ideology is not some libertarian or anarchist Eden. The goal is to diminish or even remove the power of the voting public.
It seems that life is tougher now. Certainly more complex. On drives through the beautiful countryside around our home here in western Kentucky I often joke about “Going Amish.” We could write our families and tell them that we wanted to simplify our lives and make beautiful furniture. I could wear that cool looking broad-brimmed black hat and skip shaving. Stefanie could sport the bonnet and her elegantly tailored frock. We’d still drive around in our little screaming yellow Ford Focus of course. Wave to people as we drove by. Give the larger Amish community a bad name when people see an Amish couple cruise by in a yellow hatchback. Endure taunts of “Hypocrites!” and “Why don’t you get a therapist like the rest of us!!”
But is life really all that tough? I don’t mean to make light of anyone’s sense of deprivation since these are tough economic times. But it is relative. And a quick look back at the history of mere survival would suggest that it has been worse. Maybe tougher in some ways like finding something good to watch on TV. It certainly is tougher to remain thoughtful and sensible with our brains infested with all manner of perceived threats to the continuity of the world as we know it. And with major problems looming, it would seem like the right time to sit down and think of ways to make a change. But then any plan of change we come up with begins to seem more scary than where we are right now. So we react. We pull back. We get riled up and demand simple solutions. We demand that our leaders reflect our “core values” as if that alone would somehow make it all clear, in black and white. We forget the preponderance of gray which requires a political process that wends its way through complex issues towards imperfect solutions.
We know change is coming. When it comes to change our brains get into a little scrap where our intellect says “go” and our emotions say “no.” No surprise then that we tend to shut it down and get cozy with the devil that we know. And what works better when faced with daunting change than a good old political platitude, or the balm of soothing escapist entertainment. But what happens to old fashioned thinking and to reasoned discussion then? Where are those spaces between our “events” where we can just sit and reflect? And what ever happened to all those chunks of silence when there was, for whatever weird reason, no entertainment?
Priorities change. Today its not so important to know things like which philosopher best represents a particular school of philosophy. Even a fan of philosophy like me has trouble bringing those details to mind. On the other hand, I have more luck recalling the featured menu item at some fast food restaurant. So why does “Hand-Breaded Chicken Fingers” spring with clarity to mind when I think of “Hardee’s” and “Existential someone-or-other” emerge through the fog when I think “Heidegger.”
I remember now. One’s easy and one is hard. One involves issues of life and death, being and non-being, and painstakingly scrutinized methods of thinking and speaking. And the other is just plain delicious! Its a no-brainer! (what did I say?). It wasn’t always like this, was it? Am I just imagining a time not so long ago when discussions lasted long into the night about personal interpretations of reality? Seems like silly pseudo-intellectual bloviating now maybe but at least our brains and passions were fully engaged. Like Greece during the first millennium when there were basically two armed camps fighting in the streets because they disagreed about whether Christ was “of one substance” with God, or merely “of like substance.” That all changed of course when we discovered that Life is an enigma, wrapped in a riddle, smothered in secret sauce.