Gun Control and the Price of America's Manifest Destiny
The other day I came across this in my Facebook newsfeed.
Obviously, as the Bible tells us that Adam was made from the dust of the ground and Eve from Adam’s rib, neither one of them should have a belly button. Unless of course, God, having fashioned man from his own image, actually has a belly button himself, but that would necessitate that God had a mother, and people just don’t seem to be willing to stretch their imagination that far.
Every depiction I’ve seen of Adam and Eve has them sporting belly buttons presumably because that’s what looks most natural to the beholding audience. It’s one of those instances of cognitive dissonance, I think, a situation where what one believes is so alien to the culture they inhabit, that the person is obliged to compartmentalize and hold two mutually exclusive truths at the same time— just making sure to keep them in separate boxes. And so, Adam and Eve can have belly buttons in spite of their divine manifestation.
As a Canadian outsider — where religion really isn’t a part of the national conversation — the manner in which both American discourse and culture are bound to religion has always struck me as kind of weird.
It’s not really all that surprising that religion is the fulcrum upon which the nation was built, given that America was settled by Pilgrims who had to flee religious persecution. As a concept, America was a place where you could let your freak flag fly, and an individual’s public expression of their divine beliefs was a central part of this. “Here, in America, we don’t need to be scared, we can practice our religion openly and proudly.” Being religious, and being publicly religious, was deeply embedded in the very idea of being American, and now, centuries later, this vestigial sense of identity remains burned into the collective psyche. Religious convictions, like tracer bullets flashing through the sky, illuminate all that takes place on the ground, and as commerce is the engine that drives the country, religion has gotten uncomfortably mashed up in the politics that govern it, with supernatural explanations for policy carrying as much weight as those that are mortally reasoned.
Recently, a friend of mine who was in the midst of a crisis, retreated into prayer to seek divine guidance. He would “know” when God spoke to him. If he saw a bird looking at him and then flying off a post, he would know that God was telling him to take the job and move to a different city. However, if I came to him as an informed friend and explained to him all the reasons why moving might be a bad idea, it wouldn’t have any purchase for him. In his mind, God would never use me as a vessel through which his words might be manifest, but would only use a mystical tool—the communication had to be supernatural and it had to serve his interest.
This sort of obdurate commitment to a principle that lives beyond reason is the spine that gives body to the gun control debate in America, too. People pore over The Constitution as if it was an immaculate document, carefully parsing the Second Amendment in an attempt to decipher the message. Did the forefathers mean that only the militia — who at the time would have been comprised of farmers with slow-loading muskets rising out of misty fields to take on the King — have the right to bear arms? Or did they mean the entire nation should be an armed and waiting militia? People treat the constitution as if it was an oracle sent from the future rather than the past, and try to shake the truth free of it as if it was a Magic-8-Ball.
How 18th century thinking about gun control relates to the 21st century is beyond my understanding, and with the massacre in Aurora, we are once again forced to ask the question, “Why aren’t there stricter gun control laws in America?”
James Holmes, the young man responsible for the carnage at The Dark Knight Rises screening, entered the movie theatre clad in body armor and armed with four legally purchased guns. We all know what he did. He’d been planning it for months and had purchased more than 6000 rounds of ammunition as well as countless other items designed to aid in the elimination of humans. When Holmes began to execute his plan, the people in the theatre were thrown into the kind of nightmare they’d paid to see, not live—and for those who believe that guns serve as a necessary protection against such violent intrusions, it should be noted that not one person in the crowd fired back in self-defense.
The End Times come in many forms, I suppose. For some it came in the pitiless form of James Holmes, for others who wait for a specifically Biblical unfurling, they hope to see a fiery conflagration that will herald the second coming of Jesus Christ. Many welcome this idea, and they want to have their guns with them when Armageddon looms. This supernatural mentality has people all over the country hoarding weapons and constructing bunkers, and so when a man like James Holmes buys an obscene amount of weapons and artillery, it seems unremarkable— he’s just another self-reliant survivalist. Public safety, public sense, even, takes a back seat to personal liberty, and religious freedom and the right to protect one’s religious freedom, becomes the right to own all manner of paramilitary weaponry.
That our popular culture has an effect on our behavior seems so self-evident as to be beyond debate. In this situation, the murderer was literally posing as a character from the movie’s narrative. He called himself The Joker and he dyed his hair orange.
The connection is plain to see. This doesn’t mean the movie caused the shooting, but it does draw a straight line linking how what we see can influence how we behave. When a crazy person tried to kill Arizona Senator Gabrielle Giffords, it was after Sarah Palin had placed her on a “target list” and exalted her supporters, “Don’t retreat, instead- RELOAD!”
These cues, taken by people looking for an excuse to act on their burgeoning madness, lead to tragedy. It’s human nature that we’re inspired by the world around us, as it creates us just as we create it.
Just the other day my wife showed me this video:
The first thing I thought after seeing it was that if I was 12 years-old I would immediately go out and try to recreate the prank. On a much darker scale, when Canadian psycho Luka Magnotti’s video of murder and desecration was posted on the web site Best Gore (a site that was to serve the artistic needs of amateur horror film makers) my morbid curiosity was such that I went to have a look.
Obviously, it’s a mighty big step from watching violence to committing atrocities, but my point is that we’re vulnerable. I would never for a second condone censoring art in any of its forms, but we have to accept the obvious fact that the more we’re exposed to violent culture, the more apt we are to be caught up in a violent culture.
Any attempt to limit the free market through which art, religion and guns flow is seen as an affront to the sacrosanct principle of American individualism. The individual rises and falls based on merit, the American myth goes, and there’s nobody to blame or praise but the individual. It’s opportunity that America offers, and people are given as much space as possible to be the person they’re destined to become. But this form of Manifest Destiny comes at a price, and often that price is paid in blood, as mass shootings— now as American as football and Levis— show us again and again and again.
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