Monday, January 10, 2011

Slouching from Tucson


I’m thinking I can no longer call myself a liberal, or progressive. Perhaps I never was, anyway. Liberals tend to believe that people can learn to live peacefully with one another. They believe the human race can make progress towards justice and equality. They think we can learn from our mistakes.

I used to think that way, even as late as 2008, maybe 2009. Not any more.

It’s not the madman’s mayhem in Tucson that brings me to this conclusion. Whether—and to what extent--that sick individual was influenced by the rabid right into attempting to murder Democratic Rep. Gabriel Gifford is something we’ll find out in time. Certainly, the American culture of violence was culpable.

No, what gets me is the hope that liberals profess that maybe this time, we’ll all change for the better, we’ll all put the muffler on runaway rhetoric, we’ll get Congress and state legislatures to pass rational gun control.

Don’t hold your breath.

We live in a plutocracy now, a country where money doesn’t merely talk, but swears (my apologies to Dylan). And those with money are telling us to go fuck ourselves, because nothing’s going to change.

Sure it’s a damn shame that Jared Lee Loughner, by all accounts so psychotic that he scared the bejesus out of his teachers and fellow students, was able to buy a Glock and kill six people, including a nine-year old girl. But as the NRA says, guns don’t kill people, people kill people. He could just as easily have beheaded all those people, and diced up a bag of carrots to boot, with a sharp samurai sword. He could have converted an old hash pipe into a blow gun and strafed them with curare-tipped darts. He could have strapped dynamite around his body and…nah, that’s not the American way.

And as for any other means of killing people, not very likely either. Nothing kills like a high-capacity 33-round hand gun. Unless, maybe, it’s an AK-47.

A sensible thing to do would be to ban assault weapons. Another sensible thing would be to require background checks at gun shows. But none of these proposals will get through any state or federal legislative body because the NRA opposes them. The NRA cites the Second Amendment, but really, it’s policies are based on unfettered free enterprise. Any law that hinders the purchase of firearms cuts down on the profits of gun manufacturers and dealers. That’s what it’s all about, making another buck, or another billion.

Far more people have been killed in our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but then, there’s been far more money to be made by the American war industry. After all, we gotta keep the economy rolling.

I have a fantasy—and just an abstract fantasy, please—that some day, some guy who’s hearing voices coming through the fillings in his teeth will start firing a gun-show-bought semi-automatic weapon at someone like this guy:

Nice, friendly looking fellow, isn’t he? His name is Ron Schmeits and he’s a small-town banker in New Mexico. Was a mayor of a small town in Minnesota years ago. Today, he’s the president of the NRA. Not quite as studly as Charlton Heston, but just as gun crazy. Just like the premature death of anyone, it would be a shame if someone capped him…but also, deliciously ironic.

By the way, most of the political leaders assassinated in the past 50 years have been Democrats.

So short of evening the score, what can we do? First, recognize that this kind of tragedy is just a more dramatic rendition of the collateral damage wreaked daily by our economic system and the vast inequality of wealth and income in our country. Death just is another externalized cost of doing business in the U.S. The solution isn’t state socialism, but simply the kind of strong regulation found in Europe and most of the rest of the developed world.

Second, people have to put their lives on the line. That means way, way more than starting a Facebook issue page and getting a million people to put some slogan in their status update. Even more than volunteering at the food co-op or homeless shelter, as worthy as those deeds are.

No, it will take active resistance and pro-active organizing. Massing thousands of people at the next NRA convention, for a start. Or organizing a boycott of companies that contribute to the NRA. Perhaps moling inside a large nefarious organization or corporation and causing all sorts of havoc. I don’t think it requires violence, but it does require personal risk.

And that’s the catch. Even as we get picked off one-by-one by the economy, by the housing crisis, by unaffordable health care, by hazardous working conditions, by deadly pharmaceuticals, by random gunfire, we remain all too comfortable, so long as we have our I-Diversions. In a few days, we’ll still be talking about the Auburn-Oregon football game and barely remember who Gabriel Giffords is.

I have to admit, I’m pretty comfortable, too. I haven’t found a cause that I would die for. But if the right cause came along under the right circumstances, I might kill for one.

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