Archive for category: Commentary
I’ve sat facing my computer a few times since those school children were massacred, attempting on each pass to write something that expresses anything honest about the slaughter, about this horror show that we call modern, post-millenial America. Elsewhere, I have read the words of people who are so devastated by this event that they cannot think of what to say, or who to blame, or how to bring our country to some better place. As if words or ideas are no longer sufficient or useful against something as elemental to our society and culture as firearms.
For me, this isn’t the problem. For me, the struggle goes to an opposite extreme. Each time I start to write about this tragedy, my head begins to hurt. And too soon, I sense that all of the contempt and bile I feel for America’s continuing worship of the gun will pour out onto the digital page, that any meaningful argument I hope to express will be lost in my low regard for those in my country — leaders and followers alike — who demonstrate such cowardice in the face of the continued bloodletting.
It is all of a piece: The mass murders by damaged citizens allowed easy access to lethal weapons. The absurdist argument that more guns carried everywhere — into schools and malls and theaters and restaurants — will produce safety. The pretense that weapons in the classroom — handguns within reach of children; teachers armed and ready for firefights — is some sort of insightful, plausible solution, rather than evidence of moral bankruptcy and a nation in decline. The stand-your-ground laws adopted in state after state, and a gun lobby that no longer even has the need to hold to its empty credo that guns don’t kill, people do. Now, we are excusing the people as well, eschewing even the personal responsibility that conservatives so often exalt. Now, guns don’t kill and neither do people. Now, shit just happens, with our freshest legalisms simply rationalizing our preference for pride and property over human life.
On television the other evening, I caught a glimpse of a drama in which some future America was overrun by zombies, a thrilling narrative in which survivors could only rely on force of arms to keep the unthinking, unfeeling hordes at bay. And I realized: This isn’t mere entertainment, it’s national consensus. More than that, it’s a well-executed and starkly visual rendering of the collective fear that governs us. We know that they’re out there: The less human. The poor. The godless. The frightening other. And they want what we have, they are going to take what we have, and they understand nothing save for a well-placed bullet. It’s my understanding that the show I encountered is quite popular; in this America, it may even be called populist in its argument — a morality tale that speaks to why we must arm ourselves, and carry those guns with us, and stand our fucking ground; it declares that we can’t rely on collective, utilitarian will to achieve a safe and viable society, that government by the people and for the people is, at this point, an empty catchphrase for fools and weaklings. No, our future is every man for himself, and a gun in every outstretched hand, and if a classroom of six and seven year olds is the requisite cost every now and then, so be it.
The president asked for the flag to fly at half-staff, a symbol of mourning reserved for extraordinary events, for the deaths of heroes and grievous national tragedies. I understand the worthy sentiment, but something in the act itself makes me want to call bullshit: What happened at that elementary school is no longer extraordinary at all. Yes, it is horrifying and, by standards, even remarkable within the context of a daily, or even weekly news cycle. But extraordinary? The national flag is usually brought to half staff for ten days of mourning. Does anyone firmly believe that the United States can, in its current pathology, go anywhere near that long anymore without someone using a gun to take lives of innocents on a wholesale basis? Somewhere, a shopping mall is about to be shot apart. And another school. And then a sporting event or street parade. And somewhere in Florida or any number of other states that now devalue the act of homicide, another young black kid is playing his radio too loud or walking in the wrong subdivision ready to be confronted. Admit it: If the interval for national mourning is a week and a half, America has no business raising its flags ever again.
I know. Too much anger and despair. I should have walked away from the computer, and left this to folks more measured and thoughtful. There are better voices, to be sure. In fact, here’s the best: If you read just one thing more about what kind of society accepts the slaughter of its children as a political and cultural inevitability, let it be Gary Wills. What follows from Mr. Wills is real clarity, and an honest verdict on what has become of the American experiment:
In regard to the senseless shooting death of another young black male in the state of Florida, I think that there is little that hasn’t been said already. How many different ways can we describe the Kafkaesque upending of American jurisprudence through stand-your-ground laws nationwide? Who has to die before those responsible for this horror show have a moment of self-reflection? Certainly, someone other than a black teenager. It’s bad enough that we have become a culture that now codifies its respect for property, or real estate, or human pride above a fundamental and once-paramount respect for human life. Now, it seems, with the death of Mr. Davis at the hands of Mr. Dunn, we have defenders of the assailant actually suggesting that the right to end an argument about loud music with lethal force has a place under these vile statutes.
To that end, let’s simply repost an earlier essay written for the Miami Herald and archived elsewhere on this website. The argument still plays properly. Nothing has changed. All the same logic — or appalling lack of logic — inherent in stand-your-ground legislation still applies, of course. And the Florida state legislature, which is directly responsible for the continued increase in such slayings statewide, remains just as inert and content with the bloodletting. Nothing is different since I filed this op-ed save for the fact that another Floridian is dead, and more lawyers are now getting paid to argue on behalf of another frightened, angry and untethered fool who believed himself legally and morally justified to have taken human life rather than yield to the tyranny of a too-loud stereo. Don’t tread on him. And if you’re young and black and living in Florida, don’t tread at all.
That too many of the men and women who govern us continue to defend this transformational revolution in American criminal law is both sad and astounding. That there will be more such shootings to come is entirely certain, and, no, this won’t be the last time that I’ll be tempted to dig this piece out of the archives:
Anyone who has stumbled here before knows that the emissions are only occasional, that weeks can pass between all of us venting and frothing and arguing over a post such as the previous few, after which the entire site seems to go into sleep mode.
Apologies. As I explain elsewhere on the site, this is not the day job.
What follows is lifted from the comments to my previous post on this issue. I’m reposting it simply because as I was engaged in responding to this particular comment, I realized — even to my own surprise — how close the Petraeus imbroglio corresponds to the the tragic story of my old friend and source, John O’Neill. It’s worth posting on its own, I think.