Saturday, April 17, 2010

From My Cold Dead Hand
Part I

I've been thinking about this post for awhile now. Normally I do that and a post might gestate as a draft for quite awhile until I finish it off and clean it up, hence multiple postings in a cluster. Though normally as I go I clean it up a little (emphasis on a little) and clarify things as best I can. But the more I think and the longer I wait for this post to come to fruition it becomes more elusive and more muddled in my head. But I've got a cold union made beer by my side and my Jeannie C. Riley collection freshly updated from original vinyl to iTunes so there'll never be a better time than now to start this thing.

As usual amongst the liberal clientele I found myself vocally supporting the right to bear arms. Indeed I went further than the normal sportsmen line and acknowledged the fact that I own politically incorrect firearms that have no legitimate use in normal hunting. But shortly after this debate (relatively speaking) I read a story from politico that made me reflect and still leaves me searching for an answer. Even as I sit down to write this there's another story in which a man murdered his whole family before taking his own life. This in and of itself is lamentable but a few things have stuck with me from the previous debates which then fell into line and made me reflect more than I might otherwise have. First was the ending of the politico column in which Roger Simons asks,

"How can you have a crisis when hardly anybody seems to care?"

Secondly, was the emphasis which I placed in commenting on another post by Malcolm, which didn't become apparent to me until well after I posted it. I shall return to that emphasis in due time.

Finally, I was the recipient of a forwarded email with the usual pro second amendment email filled with what I would normally write off as the normal cliches, but this time it rubbed me the wrong way. The same way in which all of those usual emails which encourage homespun faith in Jesus or country mean well and usually just end up being deleted but just occasionally pique us enough to actually respond and never in the way intended by the sender.


So let me cite Matthew 20:16 and begin from the end. The forwarded email consisted of a number of points such as, "an armed man is a citizen. An unarmed man is a subject". Or nuggets of wisdom such as "gun control is not about guns, it's about control" and one of my personal favorites, "The United States Constitution (c) 1791. All Rights Reserved". And that last one was what really set me off, because I wondered about how much of the constitution was important to these people, because most people who will go off about constitutional rights couldn't name five of the 27 amendments to our constitution and that does piss me off. In the politico column Simons notes about Richard Poplawski who shot and killed three police officers that according to his mother, “[Richard] only liked police when they were not curtailing his constitutional rights (my emphasis), which he was determined to protect”. These are the same people who cite Stalin and Hitler in gun control debates and really believe that Obama represents some socialist conspiracy. They must be in overdrive after he shook Hugo's hand.

My wife once got me an Olivia O'Leary book called Politicians and Other Animals. Not a bad book, but nothing really memorable from other than two paragraphs at the end of one of her pieces on the Labour Party, but the words were far more universally applicable than she intended,

"it is perhaps worth asking what the people themselves are concerned about. One of the things they are concerned about is the loss of solidarity in communities. ...I know this notion of voluntarism or commutarianism has been picked up by right-wingers. But it can easily be a revival of vigorous voluntary commitment to local communities...It means asking people of all backgrounds to contribute to their society, not to act as merely individuals. The French Revolution had a word for such people and no, it was not 'comrades' if you remember. It was 'citizens'".

That always stuck with me and if anything Obama is injecting much needed energy into the idea of government as a two way street and engaging everyday citizens in a way that we haven't seen for quote awhile (if ever). That's not socialism, that's a republicanism. Remember, "government of the people, by the people, for the people" entails a far more thorough commitment to our articles of governance than a an obsession with 1/27th of the Constitution.

I am still a firm believer in the armed citizenry as the last line of defense against a tyrannical government, but they must actually be acquainted civil and civic engagement, not just a gun safe. I can't tell you how disheartening it is when handling firearms with others and hearing them say, "for when the revolution comes". It is a dystopic, schizophrenic Bakuninesque vision of society. Perhaps I should take a moment to clarify that one. It is commonly held belief that modern society is built upon the social contract. We all individually give up some rights for a greater social good which would not exist within a state of nature. Bakunin disagreed (as he should've) as he felt that at no point within our history has there ever been lone individuals who knowing full well their rights and liberties decided to come together voluntary and free of outside coercion to form a social contract. Or as Gerald Brenan explain Bakunin's views,

"It was not individual men who by coming together voluntarily together created society: on the contrary, since men are by nature social animals, it has always been society that created them. The concept of liberty is therefor unthinkable outside a community. Man cannot be free when he is alone. He can only be free when he lives in community with other free humans...thus the chief cause of evil of bourgeois society is that man has need of other men materially, but does not need them morally"

Unfortunately today those who preach revolution the loudest use the community as a lowest common denominator in terms of civil liberties and rights. Take Gay marriage for example. Many courts have found it to be legal and just only to have the citizenry of that state make it illegal. What we are seeing is the "community" being used to strips rights away and stifle debate. It is quickly becoming obvious that in this sense the community is essentially little more than the mob with little or no interest in actually debating and exploring ideas. My concern is not that a revolution will come, but what kind of revolution will it be. This failure is doubly damning when coupled with the belief in American individualism as it feeds into the myth that everyman is an island which obviously feeds back into the failure of needing one another in a moral sense.

As I noted in my commentson Malcolm's first post (yes from over a year ago!) the problems that accompany gun violence are far more complicated and nuanced than either side would give credit for. Before pronouncing predetermined verdicts we must actually ask honest questions with and actually listen to the answers we get back. This is also an opportunity which will probably the only time ever that I quote Bill Clinton and cite him for something reasonable when he stated the obvious, "words matter".

up next, From My Cold Hand (Part II) A Family Matter