Saturday, January 8, 2011

"What we've got here is failure to communicate."

I'm not a real fan of 60s-era films. Cool Hand Luke is one of the few exceptions (the title quote is verbatim, incidentally.) I was once very fond of a character I created for a comic series for our studio that I named Cool Hand Luke. I always wondered if we would have been sued for copyright infringement or if I could have skirted the edge of fair use on that one, since he wouldn't have been the title character of the book.

But I'm not really talking about films or comics today. I'd rather talk about guns ("Lots of guns."), particularly the ease of access to guns like the Glock that one Jared Lee Loughner used this morning in an attempt to assassinate Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. A cursory view of Loughner's Youtube channel reveals someone obsessed with currency, the monolithic power behind it, and his belief that the vast majority of Americans lacked grammar skills in some way. He's correct about the latter, but not exactly in the fashion over which he seems so obsessed. And, yet, someone this unstable had easy access to a powerful handgun with a 30-shot clip; the use of which enabled him to kill 6 people and wound 12 others in seconds.

Am I a believer in the right to own firearms? That's a very difficult question for me. When I was with the Greens, I believed in what they state are their Four Pillars: ecological wisdom, grassroots democracy, social justice, and non-violence. Those four ideals are supposed to be the underpinning of everything that the Green Party puts forth as policy. The US Green Party, being Americans, expanded those 4 into a superfluous 10 so that they could be sure that the public would be more confused come election time while feeling self-satisfied about their own philosophical acumen. But the original four are still the bedrock for Greens around the world and, indeed, American Greens, as well. Everyone had their little shades of gray (chartreuse?) for each of them and everyone had different personal emphases. The majority of the American political audience views the Greens as "tree-huggers"; environmentalists, by and large. But there were many of us who focused more often on the "social justice" pillar. We were among those that were occasionally termed "Watermelon Greens" inside the party, because we were supposedly green on the outside but red (aka Marxist) on the inside. And then there was an even smaller segment who occasionally struggled, at least internally, with the whole "non-violence" thing.

None of us were foolish enough to believe in the idea of beginning an armed insurrection against the government (at least, not yet...) While Jim Morrison famously said: "They got the guns, but we got the numbers.", modern American society is too tightly controlled to make that a viable option, even with the best of intentions. This fact goes all the way back to Shays' Rebellion (look it up.) But is it wise to have the option at least present, however difficult, in this malfunctioning charade that we accuse of being democracy? When we look back at history, there are very few instances where violence was not necessary for significant social change. However, we see the downside of having said option left open every day: easy access to extremely powerful weapons by people who should be nowhere near such things.

People are stupid. People are also violent. Giving people an easy way to express that baser nature in the name of a 200-year-old screed referring to organized militias is an expression of philosophical stupidity that has few parallels in human history. Loughner's video screeds show someone outraged over the inability of the general public to communicate in what he considers an acceptable form. As someone who shares that belief in a less homicidal manner, it's funny (not funny like a clown) to see someone else so concerned about failure of communication in modern society. While I tend to think that it leaves people largely passive, confused, and distracted as only those who own this nation would like to see, there are times when it becomes less passive and a lot more destructive. And these are the people who have access to an arsenal that puts the armed forces of many other nations in the world to shame.

There was a great moment in a series of 1980s-90s science fiction collections known as the Man-Kzin Wars. The series itself was about man's encounter with an alien species of cat-people (the Kzinti) even more violent than himself. Dean Ing wrote a couple stories for the first two collections called "Cathouse". It was about a man who had been captured by the Kzinti and dropped onto a kind of laboratory world that contained prehistoric Kzinti and prehistoric humans; both Neanderthals and early Homo Sapiens. There's never been a clear understanding as to why the branch known as Neanderthal disappeared and the branch that eventually evolved into current humans survived. Ing's conjecture was that Neanderthals were telepathic. They could read the thoughts and emotions of those around them, which made them extremely empathetic and, consequently, passive (also, very interested in free love; a kind of early Flower Children, as it were.) Early Man lacked these abilities and, thus, denied instinctive communication, responded to situations of confusion and change with the still-current instinctive response: fear and violence. Thus, early Man exterminated the Neanderthals because the latter kept trying to understand the former, who knew only to kill what it refused to understand.

Thus, we come to Loughner. Was it because the surrounding public wasn't empathetic enough to his concerns that he responded with a shooting spree? Or was it simply because he was so off-kilter in the first place and no one would have been able to understand him, telepath or no? Regardless, is it sensible of modern society (oxymoron warning...) to allow a situation that enables apparent psychopaths to mow down people at random (and, apparently, specific in Giffords' case) before anyone can even think of stopping them? By the same token, assuming that there does come a day when the bloody revolution is needed to effect change that both Jefferson and Trotsky spoke of in different ways, do we close off the only avenue that may enable said revolution to at least get started, if not necessarily succeed? Obviously, once the violence begins, communication is over. Thus, I'm aware of the hypocrisy of complaining about the lack of effective communication and then suggesting that, at some point, that massive civilian arsenal may actually be necessary. In that way, I sound like Loughner. What separates me from him is the lack of desire to actually mow people down in the streets and my further lack of interest in listening to insipid ex-governors of Alaska.

In the end, I suppose I come down on the side of needing to get the weapons off of the streets. Tragedies like today are simply too frequent and people are, as always, too stupid to be allowed to handle weapons that are that powerful (what does that say about our armed forces? Yeah. I'll get there.) But there's that niggling little sensation at the back of my mind that says: There will come a day... I'm certainly not looking forward to it.

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