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Michael Stewart is the blogs coordinator for rabble.ca and a doctoral candidate in English at the University of British Columbia. BMWAP is a blog about culture and capitalism. Damn right, it's confusing; it's a gas, baby, you dig. Follow him on twitter: @blindmanspistol

I don't want to talk about gun control

| December 15, 2012
I don't want to talk about gun control

As nearly everyone in the Western world knows by now, a 24-year-old man took two guns into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and murdered 27 people, 20 of them children between the ages of five and ten years old.

The conversations which will feature in the news in the coming weeks are as predictable as they are futile. "Evil visited this community today," said Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy. The killer will be declared a psychopath with a grudge against his mother. His various pathologies will be diagnosed, anatomized, second-guessed and fetishized. Many will demand tougher gun laws and just as many will decry such demands as misguided overreaction. Jon Stewart will mock the gun nuts and Fox News will taunt handwringing liberals. God will feature prominently. And 20 children, shot dead in their classroom, will still be gone. 

The popular NRA refrain maintains that the aftermath of a violent gun crime is no time to talk about gun control. And for once, I agree with them. Not that I don’t believe the U.S., and even Canada, need much more stringent firearm policies -- I can see no justification for handguns in urban centres at all, for example -- but because our society has once again proved its compulsion to produce men who go into our most sheltered spaces and kill indiscriminately those who most need our protection. And that compulsion can’t be cured by a handgun ban.

Already there is a comparison with the Chengping attack in which a man wielding a knife injured 23 children in a primary school. Advocates for tougher gun laws will point out that each of these children lived -- and they’re right. But if the only lesson we take from these incidents is to form some sort of harm reduction strategy before the next rampage attack we all know is imminent, we are failing our children and ourselves.

I don’t want to talk about gun control. The truth is that society failed these children, their parents, their teachers -- indeed, all of us -- catastrophically. I don’t want to participate in the guffawing circus we will see on the Colbert Report and elsewhere in the coming days, mocking NRA advocates for clinging to their assault rifles in the face of such horror. I don’t want to take pleasure in the righteousness of my logic as I demolish the absurd claims of conservative pundits on social media. I don’t want the satisfaction of being right, of not being wrong, of being able to say I-told-you-so.

Someone took two guns into a school and murdered 20 children. Someone took two guns into a school and murdered 20 children. We can’t compute the number of times this has already happened. We all know we need only wait before it will happen again and we all know no amount of gun control will stop it, not completely. Diagnosing this killer as insane, telling ourselves that better laws would have stopped it, only abrogates responsibility and denys our culpability. We might as well agree with Governor Malloy and call it evil. This isn’t Cain offing Abel out of jealousy; this is an assembly line of killers going into our safest spaces and taking our most vulnerable away from us.

I hope we get over our addiction with firearms. I hope we drastically improve our treatment of the mentally ill, the borderline, the marginalized. But if we fall into the same old discursive patterns after each successive mass killing (isn’t it depressing that one can say such a thing at all?) we will never fix this blight.

Evil, despite Governor Malloy’s assertion, is not responsible. Lax gun laws didn’t kill 20 children. Neither did, I believe, untreated mental illness; nor God, poor security or bad luck. A combination of some of these things doubtless contributed, but the usual socioeconomic index of causes are almost too easy: alienation, compulsive precarity, state-sanctioned violence, impossible masculinity and so on. What we do know from events like Newtown is that our society is gravely, violently flawed -- and that ultimately, we are responsible. Until we confront that fact, we will be doomed to repeat the same staged debates for cheap thrills about gun control, security, even health policy, again and again.

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Comments

Call it what you will, all outbursts from the normal everyday existence still requires a source.  The traditional terrorist is a fundamentalist manifestation of a broader community.  The sub-manifestation is representative of a community in its own right, a peer support network if you will.  The terrorist in this instance acts in conformity with the expectations and values of his community.  In this there is certainly an alienation from the broader human context, which is more than compensated for however by the solidarity and structure found within the sub-group.  At any rate, it seems that in every instance of religious or political terrorism, ideologies are present and in competition. 

School shootings and the like seem to be of a different category, as terrifying as they are.  They represent a vicious rejection of any known sense of community, an attack on all of the elements that make up society in fact, such as the family, community, schools, religion, authority in general, the police etc.  Their only commonality with anything else is in the duplication of acts here and there.  People will bring race, patriarchy, and economic status into the equation as well, and be completely satisfied with the explanations because the packaging fits so well in many cases.  And their points are undeniable there's no doubt about it, because after all it's generally not women going around shooting up theatres and schools.  But how does a 20 something beneficiary of the system, in every possible way, reach such a drastic conclusion that their status as a member of the patriarchy, of a social and economic class, of a race, is under such threat by the community at large, that the community itself must be made to suffer so horribly? 

This is a rejection of everything, of life as it exists, which has somehow failed to develop a connection with power as represented by race, gender, status, even though these things may have been impressed upon him from birth, but who sees the whole structure as embodying powerlessness.  Power is then appropriated in the form of a weapon, a gun, a knife, toxic substances like on the Tokyo subways, tampering with store bought medications, putting needles in Halloween candy, throwing bricks from overpasses, etc.  Anti-social behaviour in other words.  The traditional terrorist acts from a position within a given social construct, while the young, white surburban male seems to act primarily in the name of effect, from the examples and means at his disposal.

In all of these cases it seems as if a re-appropriation of individual sovereignty occurs, only to be monstrously re-purposed from the expectations and unaccounted for failures of the commodity society.

Quote:
Spread out all around us is a petrified world, a world of things where we ourselves, with our "I," our gestures, and even our feelings figure in as things.  Nothing can belong to us as truly our own in such a landscape of death.  We are more and more like exiles, never sure of understanding what's happening all around.  

In spite of this gigantic relinquishment, in spite of the inexplicable suspended-animation that now strikes everything that exists, the overall mechanism continues to function like it was nothing, processing our isolation.

In this perpetually renovated empire of ruins, there's nowhere for us to take refuge, and we don't even have the ability to desert it all by withdrawing into ourselves.  We've been delivered up, without appeal, to a finiteness with no landmarks to orient us, totally exposed across the whole surface of our being.    

Bloom is thus that man whom nothing can save from the triviality of the world.  A reasonable mind might conclude: "Well, then, in fact, Bloom is alienated man."  But no, Bloom is man so completely mixed up with his own alienation that it would be absurd to try to separate him out from it. 

Empty angels, creatures without a creator, mediums without a message, we wander among the abysses.  Our path, which could easily have come to an end yesterday or years back, has no reason and no necessity outside of that of its own contingency.  It’s a wandering path, one that carries us from the same to the same on the road of the Identical; and wherever we go we carry within ourselves the desert that we're the hermits in.  And if some days we might swear that we are the "whole universe," like Agrippa de Nettesheim did, or more ingenuously that we are "all things, all men and all animals," like Cravan, it's just that all we see in everything is the Nothing which we ourselves so totally are.  But that Nothingness is the absolutely real, in the light of which everything that exists becomes somehow ghostly.

  

This is a case of alienation.  To me, there is little difference between the young man in America who shoots a lot of people then commits suicide and the suicide bombers that we label as terrorists.  In both cases the perpetrator sees no point in living, sees more worth in dying in a blaze of 'glory'.  The enemy may be different but the roots are the same.  I'm sure that these suicidal shooters believe they are justified in their goal to inflict as much hurt on their victims as possible.  They hurt and this is their only recourse.  This is terrorism, plain and simple.

I say it's time to be kind to our friends, neighbours and especially those weird types that we want to shy away from.  Say something genuinely nice to someone today.  This is not Pollyanna-ish, it's real life.  People are hurting and often a kind word is all it takes to make things a little better for a short time.

I didn't take it seriously either, and unconvinced too, by the suggestion to off myself.  Even Camus made more sense than that.

I've deleted about nine comments which, ironically, were about gun control. The point of this post was to encourage allies to forbear the usual exchanges which follow events like these and cease to be about the crime and its antecedents, but about the argument itself. About being right, about defeating, in this case, an unmaginative gun advocate. I won't take the bait, because there's more at stake than winning an argument. I say this in the spirit of solidarity with my allies whose motivations I respect and admire, and in the understanding that I, too, have been complicit in such a dynamic too many times before.

@Sumberjack, that's a great comment. I like your articulation of a kind of double-binded or exponential alienation--as if we are alienated from even approaching the forces which alienate us. Exchanges like the one I remove seem to prove this point: they talk around the heart of the issue and in the process obscure it.

It's seems rather pointless to diagnose something when the problem is already evident.  And all sides never cease offering up their pointless remedies for a terminal condition.  I posted this at enmasse in response to an observation about Obama's reaction, and a question about the mounds of children's bodies created by the war on terror.

Quote:
The falsity surrounding public displays for certain children is only one aspect of a general falsity that certain individuals can no longer register with, or find a connection to. One after another it seems as if people are becoming estranged from the broader alienation produced by a familiar society that crumbles around them a little more with each passing day. No refuge presents itself from within the common, obviously because they've already become estranged from their surroundings for ill-defined reasons, and no relief is to be found with insularity, because the self had long ago been hollowed out and backfilled with a deluge of everyday incomprehensions and distractions, that make it impossible to tidy them all away into neat, manageable compartments. Exactly the same mountain of shit being observed from the inside out.

Patriarchy, class warfare in which one might find a niche, racism, religion, etc, have all been replaced with little in the way of fanfare to note their passing, because everything has been mobilized into the production/consumption processes, while at the same time people will either deny the event of this passing because many of their residual effects linger on, or they will say that if they ever existed, today it has zero place in a society that has fewer and fewer uses for such things. Everyone must be brought aboard under the same generic artifices, such as rights, laws, equality - all in the service of work more than anything else.

The Leopold Blooms and the Bartlebys, the Kip Kinkles, and the Joe Stacks of the world are not accessorised in their production with self-diagnostic tools. They have no way of determining the source of the problem, and the existing alienation prevents them from asking. For the usual non-answers, everyone is instead referred to the succession of experts brought in to explain everything once again; the news anchors, politicians, the clergy, the police and psychiatry. Some people just snap we're told. It's an evil requiring that prayers be offered up against it. Time is set aside for tears and mourning, for official announcements, comforting, etc, until the cameras pan away to happier thoughts elsewhere. It's similar to asking pharmaceutical industry spokespersons to explain why the latest popular medication causes horrible side effects. They'll say that studies conducted by their experts show inconclusive results. It's a combination of not knowing what to look for and not wanting to look. It's never about the illness of a system so thoroughly worn out of ideas that it has to continuously recycle them, under a monotonous drone that emanates from the human beings who make up the apparatus, and who keep it functioning the way it does.

I'm not so sure it's specific to a gradual or sudden displacement of a traditional demographic either, because there appears to be no end to the various support groups that one could find solidarity within.  In this case the alienation is so complete that it turns into a further exile from the self, which has already been alienated for some time within the broader society, and which is now better positioned to strike out on behalf of the abandoned self that has become recognized as pathetic, without a single quality, devoid of content, except for a will to response in a manner that is sure to make the society suffer in the worst possible way.  I agree with the author that its not very interesting to continue arguing from the perspective of related interest groups. 

Have never been so sad about one of their (US) murder events.  Murdering children is the worst of all ... murdering the innocent who don't even know how to really sin yet.  Sad for the U.S. people to have to live with this kind of threat on a daily basis.  Nothing can save them from themselves.  This wasn't a terrorist, this wasn't some foreign student unhappy with his lot in life, this was one of their own.  Here they are using all their weaponry for and in other countries, sending drones out that kill many many many innocents and then in their own backyard their young are killing their young.  It looks like a very sick society from the outside.  How sad .. they used to be really something .... they really did but not any more.

If you're not going to talk about gun control in the days following the murder of 20 elementary school children, when are you going to talk about it? If it were any other sort of event, we would all be talking about making sure this sort of thing never happens again, rather than wringing our hands and being apologists for the owners and their lobbyists.

Okay. So society is flawed and to blame and we must take responsibilty. Excellent. What might that first step toward responsibility-taking be? Oh - maybe some sort of harm reduction thing while we work out how to fix some of them deeper flaws. I know - how about gun control?

Unless and until society decides that people come before things, I don't see much hope for the future.

So tired of the media and politicians - here, the US, pretty much all around the world - going on about the economy as if that is the only thing that matters. It's so backwards. And sick.

 

Many thanks exjimmy.

Brachina, do you think that rehearsing the same arguments over gun control -- which go exactly nowhere -- are less pointless than my rant? Obviously I have my own ideas about what we can do collectively to repair the deep scars we've inscribed on our society, but reducing this pathological tendency to this or that special interest -- even ones which deserve intense attention -- won't address the chasmic problems at the heart. On the contrary, the chortling choruses will only take pleasure from demolishing the other side's arguments. It will become a rhetorical game while the mass killings continue apace.

I don't want to take any part in that.

What a pointless column, you say the debate is pointless until we confront the that our society is violently flawed, but you niether offer to disgnose what you believe that flaw is nor a solution. You rant, bashing every side, but you end up going no where and proposing nothing. This is not contsructive.

Thank You Michael. This has need saying for sometime now........

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