19 December 2012

The Time to Talk About Gun Control Is After The Voice Is Over

In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, everyone is being totally cool and avoiding politicizing the tragedy by saying things like, "It's time to have a conversation about gun control", or "If we hadn't kicked God out of schools, this wouldn't have happened".

I realize it's controversial and edgy and dangerous and full of bad-boy charm to start a debate so soon after an indisputably horrific and sad event. It might seem opportunistic but I'm going to come right out and say it: I'm against people killing other people.

Now, OF COURSE, I mean that I'm against American people killing American people, and OF COURSE it's totally cool if American people kill people from other countries, as long as the people from those other countries have it coming or are inconveniently in the way or we just sort of feel like it. This debate is a domestic one. Like, the motherfucking Cleavers domestic.

We're familiar with the good ol' NRA slogan, "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." And they're not wrong! Forget gun regulation— we need people regulation. That seems clear and straightforward to me, so like a good pundit, I'll leave it be. I'm sure there's no way to construe negatively the suggestion that deciding who gets to be a person and who doesn't should be done by lawmakers, or anyone.

So, people regulation aside, we need to talk about the causes of all violence— not just gun violence. Let's look at some options:
  1. Everyone who does violence must be mentally ill.
  2. Everyone who does violence must be evil.
  3. Everyone who does violence must be mentally ill and evil.
  4. Sometimes a non-evil, mentally healthy person does violence.
Ha! Obviously, that last one is a joke. Just trying to lighten the mood with a little levity.

ANYWAY, if it's the first option, let's just fix mental health care, which I had no idea was a thing. And since it's mental health, I'm sure we can just give folks some sugar pills and light psychological jargon and send them on their way.

The only problem is if someone doesn't want treatment, or to even be screened and potentially diagnosed. Obviously, it's the responsibility of someone who cares for them to judge that they're not in their right mind and force them into treatment. At gunpoint if you have to. And once everyone's normal, we won't have any more violence!

BUT, what if the real cause is the second one? I mean, fucking hell, how'd we get so much evil around here? Probably because we won't let an omnipotent God who's unconcerned with human laws and human rulers into our most sacred, most underfunded institutions. I bet God showed up late (because he drives the posted speed limit) and then was forced, or coerced, to wait outside while the shooting happened, utterly incapable of intervening.

We need to start teaching the Bible again. People need to learn the examples of the heroes of our Judeo-Christian heritage. Like Moses, who murdered a dude, or David, who murdered a whole bunch of dudes, and had one dude killed just so David could bang that dude's wife, even though she wasn't totally into it. Oh, that reminds me, there's way too much sex around, and sex is connected to violence, for reasons that are too disgusting to discuss the details of here. But I guess regulating sex is all part of regulating people, right? PROBLEM SOLVED.

The point is, let's put an ever-present God where he belongs: everywhere. Once everyone follows the same arbitrary social norms, i.e. handed-down-from-heaven morality that we're conveniently calling "God", we'll have gotten rid of violence. Because Christians are never violent, so everyone should just be Christian. There are probably no problems in implementing this plan, not from the First Amendment, and especially not from how well it always works making people do what you want them to do! Seriously, though, if they give you trouble, put a gun to their head.

And if we're talking option 3? Seems like a pretty slim chance to me, since you'd have to get Democrats and Republicans to agree on it, but whatever, you bleary-eyed idealist. I guess if it's option 3, just line 'em up against a wall, because that's hopeless.

What's important, more important even than what the underlying causes of violent tragedies might be, is that we don't let this sort of horrific event divide us. It doesn't matter if you believe there are too many crazies, or too many devilsies, or both, or the fourth option— that even normal people can do unspeakable things— HAHAHA, oh I couldn't keep it together, that joke's just too good. Seriously, normal people doing unspeakable things?! HAHAHAHA, ah, it feels good to laugh again.

ANYWAY, what I was saying is that we shouldn't let tragedies divide us. What we can agree on is that  the best way to cope with mass shootings is to create a separate category, be it "mentally ill" or "evil", to put people in so that they're not like us. We'd never want to think of ourselves as violent— it's just the mentally ill or the evil who are. As long as we're not mentally ill or evil, it's totally safe for us to have all the guns we want— which is, by the way, all the guns— because we're not the violent ones.

You remember when I said what we needed was not more gun regulation, but more people regulation? Good news! As soon as you relegate "people" to categories like "mentally ill" or "evil" so that you don't have to face the violence you yourself perpetrate, you're already doing the work of people regulation. That's why we can't be divided. That's what makes America great!*

One last thought, on the role of the media: give these guys a break, OK? They're not overhyping and overplaying the tragedy. They're focusing only on high-profile tragedies so that we normal people don't have to think about the fact that the United States has a firearm homicide rate at least 20 times higher per capita than other countries who are similar economically and politically. The media, in this instance, are helping us define the categories of "mentally ill" and "evil" by allowing us to avoid situations which would suggest gray areas exist, or that so-called normal people commit heinous acts.

HA! Sorry, I couldn't resist getting one more in there. ANYWAY, sleep well tonight, knowing that only the mentally ill, or the evil, or both, are the ones who commit violent acts. Also, sleep well because you've got guns under your pillows.**

*After completing that sentence, I fired off a couple rounds in the air, Yosemite Sam-style.
**Which is your God-given right, and why I just fired off a couple more rounds in the air. Hang on, there's some police here. I bet they want to celebrate, too.


Marvin said...

I'll throw this into the mix whilst we are here jawin' at the Interweb fence: Let's assume that "normal" is defined as a standard (or set) of behaviors to which the majority of folks in society are expected to adhere by their fellow majority of folks in society.

I mean, we could also go with the definition of "perpendicular," but I feel that would add a lot of unnecessary confusion. Plus, my geometry is a little rusty and I don't know that we should be discussing things that might be related to "trajectories" in such close proximity to your Yosemite firearm discharge.

In any case, let's assume for a moment that we can work with the first option. Folks that do not act in accordance with the aforementioned group standards are, by the power of that definition and the duly appointed and deputized rules of logic,"not normal."

Although you are of course correct that everyone has some capacity to commit violent acts, I think that we might be safe in suggesting that there are at least some small observable differences between "capacity" and "behavior" (or even between behavior of magnitude 1 and behavior of magnitude 300, which involves gratuitous cinematic violence).

From a purely scientific perspective then (we need it, because: precision!), there is quantifiable behavior that distinguishes the majority of folks from the (relative) few that elect to participate in acts of mass violence.

Silly as it may be, this leads some scientists (predominantly, I would imagine, sociologists, psychologists, neurologists, and possibly packaging experts) to imagine that there might be some common factors that drive the behaviors of those who are, "not normal" that differ in some way from the factors that drive the "normal" folks.

Of course, we cannot begin to know or understand the complexities of the human mind, which is why advertising never works and people still barter for goods and services. Also of course (of courses? of coursi?), defining these people as somehow different because of their active behavior without a full and complete understanding of their motivations would be terribly immoral, ethically unsound, and possibly silly.

Oops, there I go categorizing people who categorize people! Now I think I'm recursively bad, which is probably the worst kind of bad (if we believed in magnitude). It's probably just late and I might be tired. Alternatively, I might be exercising my latent sociopathic tendencies, one never knows.

"But, Marv" you might politely interject, as you place your gun safely back under your pillow, "the majority does not determine what's ethical and/or moral! That could lead to oppression and other unpleasantnesses (unpleasanti?)!"

And by George, you could be right! It could very well lead to that exact thing! Unfortunately, in the absence of some sort of objective standard, that seems to be the only option available to us. I'm pretty sure that "objective" as a term-of-art has been outlawed due to the difficulties inherent in finding an appropriate subject from whence to provide the object.

In fact, a representative of some vaguely defined law enforcement agency may be on his/her way here right now to inflict some entirely normative violence on me for even suggesting such a thing.

As always, looking forward to your thoughts!


Tyler Gagnon said...

Moderation in satire is unbecoming. Misunderstanding can't be helped; it might sometimes be a goal.

I say this because I found it difficult to write about violence, especially when connected to mental illness and morality. It's a amazingly complex subject, and an important enough subject for me to drop my satirical persona and try to be as straightforward as possible about a few things:

1) Mental illness is a real thing, and it's not a significant cause of homicides. I mention this because you bring up psychologists and the distinction between normal and not normal behavior, even though, as you noted, I was talking more about capacity. While I don't think you were necessarily wrong in what you said, I think you were missing my point, which is that I notice a tendency, whether latently, subtly, openly, ignorantly, or otherwise, for both the media and people I talk to every day to demonize mental illness and those who suffer mental illness by associating it with violent acts. What I notice, in other terms, is a tendency to conflate observed violent behaviors with an uninformed presumption regarding mental illness drastically increasing an individual's capacity to behave violently.

At least one local expert makes a similar point, namely that most murders aren't committed by people with mental illness. Do we need better health care for mental illness? Certainly. What we don't need is to demonize those suffering mental illness simply because thinking of someone who commits murder as "mentally ill" makes us feel better. It's as absurd as saying, "Well, OF COURSE that guy killed all those people. He's got shingles!"

2) Ditto evil. I'm setting aside the question of objective vs. subjective morality for the moment. On a basic level— and I'm drawing from my knowledge and experience of specifically Christian theology and morality here— if evil exists, we also want to be able to say how exactly it exists. For Manichaeans, it's easy: Spirit, good. Flesh, bad. Not so for Christianity, and after Pelagius, most of Western Christianity has largely followed the Augustinian position that the capacity for evil exists in every person. But to imply that there's a category of "evil" people, as opposed to "good" people, based solely on behavior puts you at odds with the theological tradition. I'm OK if you're OK with that being the case, but I do think it's functionally the same as the mental illness misunderstanding stated above. Categorizing people as evil based only on behavior (even were it objectively evil behavior) makes us feel better about considering ourselves "good", and prevents any reflection on the possibility that we all might be a bit of both, and that our behavior is not necessarily determined by our capacity.


Tyler Gagnon said...

(continued from above)

3) That said, I'm not sure objective vs. subjective morality is particularly relevant here. I'd be satisfied if we agreed on some kind of practical morality. Here's an analogy: the international date line is an arbitrary (well, with good reasons) point at which the "day" begins. In nature, that doesn't really exist, it's just a spinning oblate spheroid getting bombarded with photons. But for humans, it's practical and useful to have a start and end for a particular date and for pretty much everyone to agree on that. I think we could have a morality that isn't objective, that at it's fundamental level is really subjective, but is still practical and useful if carried out as if it were objective. This is an idea I'm still thinking through, but the part that's relevant is that, objective or subjective, we can agree that murdering people is wrong.

4) On another practical note, my comment in the post had more to do with the efficacy and Constitutionality of religion in schools. Even if I caved and agreed that there's an objective morality (I'm not going to do that), I'm not sure teaching that morality in schools is going to have any guarantee of seeing that morality expressed in behavior. Furthermore, if that morality contains any sort of obedience to civic authority, there's a conflict between that obedience, which includes respecting the first amendment, and the desire to teach a uniform religion-based morality, however objective, in every school. Plus, no real small government anti-federalist would want government so involved in education. Wink.

Thanks for your comment, and thanks for reading.