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Do We Need Guns? Individualism on Steroids
Submitted by Ethan Nichtern on Sun, 7/22/2012, 10:33am
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I am thinking of Aurora, Colorado today. I am guessing, as Roger Ebert suggested in his Op-Ed piece in the New York Times, that some people will call for a reduction in movie violence. Ebert seems to think this issue is a complete sidetrack from the real issue, given that gunman James Holmes hadn't even seen The Dark Knight Rises yet, and was looking for a public event to exploit more than anything related to the topic of the film at hand. This argument isn't totally convincing: Holmes probably saw the previous Christopher Nolan Batman movies, which were both intensely violent themselves, especially the part of Heath Ledger's insanely psychopathic portrayal of the Joker, whom the gunman claimed to be. While I do believe that the creators of culture do carry at least some responsibility for the culture they help create, violent movie narratives are clearly not the main issue.
The main issue is very simple: In one year, GUNS murdered 35 people in Australia, 39 in England and Wales, 194 in Germany, 200 in Canada, and 9,484 in the United States. The Dark Knight Rises will play on screens in all these countries, as will almost all global blockbuster films with violent plots. Yet the USA is apparently (by per capita population) about 48 times as prone to gun murders than the UK. 48 Times! What else could be causing this disparity, except for the greater ease with which Americans can find guns, especially the crazy assault weapons used in this massacre? All else seems like a distraction from the crisis at hand.
I know some people claim that guns are used for sport. We have the old "Guns don't kill people, people kill people," claim. But that's not true in terms of cause and effect. For sure, all the causes that determine any one event or trend are complex and interwoven. Yet without guns, people would have to either A) punch people, or B) re-examine the source of their aggression before acting on it. I vote for option B but would also live with option A. Guns are the primary enabler of murder's rampant presence in American society. People are the primary cause of anger, but the secondary cause of murder.
Is this "sporting" argument really enough of a reason to override public safety concerns? Of course there are many hunters. But for a moment, let's say there was an alternate universe where I liked playing basketball (I do), but I found out that basketballs were often deadly weapons and were being used to commit thousands of murders, facilitate wars, and produce slaughters everywhere. I simply cannot imagine a scenario where I wouldn't choose to find another sport to play, out of concern for the Greater Good. I can't imagine that I would get righteous and claim that the Government was trying to steal my basketball from me. It might be annoying, but I would stop playing basketball and find something else to play. Wouldn't you? For the Greater Good.
And that's the real heart of the matter, which transcends even this issue, which runs way deeper in the United States. For. The. Greater. Good. Do we even believe these four words matter?
The United States may just be the most psychologically libertarian and individualistic society that has ever existed on Earth. Of course, the karma with which this country was founded was the karma of rugged, violent individualism, so it makes sense that we currently face an intensification of these shared habitual patterns.
Our current political season seems to implicitly demonstrate this deeper, darker view of human nature which underlies all of our more superficial policy debates, but we don't spend much breath on the darkness under the issues. In dialogues on wealth and taxation, health care, climate change, the role of government, and other issues, the question is not so much "how do we help each other?" The sad proposition on display in our societal conversation seems to be: "Why would you give up anything for anyone else? Anyone who asks you to think of others is either a con artist or a socialist. What matters is ME." In this growing climate of 'individualism on steroids,' which passes itself off as a more palatable word called freedom, we seem to be considering a new leader who has furthered primarily his own economic ambitions at the expense of others' welfare. This fits perfectly into the ME mentality that has gained so much power in our cultural sphere.
Once you start to feel the truth of interdependence as a core organizing principle — that we affect, and are affected by, many more beings than we can see with our eyes —you start to accept a simple truth, embedded in the Buddhist teachings. We could call this a simple truth of human maturity, and there's nothing really that Buddhist about it: There are many times that we have to restrain our selfishness, not because there is anything inherently wrong with our selves, but because the larger impact of acting on self-centered wishes causes too much harm to others.
Any individual desire we have to own and use assault weapons seems to satisfy these concerns. Guns do kill people, and they simply don't have to.
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