"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"It is impossible for me to say in my book one word about all that music has meant in my life. How then can I hope to be understood?--Ludwig Wittgenstein

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Starting from somewhere

Start with Marilynne Robinson:

In this individual case, this young Nikolas Cruz fellow, he was clearly in some particular state of mind that was special to him. He might’ve had some general fear — he clearly was a lonely creature at that point. I think sometimes people go over the edge because they can’t imagine any sort of decent future life for themselves. He had just lost everybody. I don’t know how it would feel to be as young as he was and fear life itself.

I do pity him. Society did him harm by allowing him to destroy every good aspect of his life in such a hideous way. But the thing that bothers me is that people like him are people who nourish this idea of living in a hostile world, of collecting guns because they feel as if they are somehow at odds with American society as it has developed. They fear the socialist takeover that’s supposed to come any minute or whatever — these fantastic exaggerations of things that are fictional to begin with.

"Am I my brother's keeper?"  Hold all that in mind, and think about the two men who accosted the pastor of the church in Sutherland Springs:

[Robert] Ussery [who founded conspiracy website Side Thorn],  “continually yelled and screamed and hollered and told me he was gonna hang me from a tree, and pee on me while I’m hanging,” said Frank Pomeroy, the pastor.

Pomeroy said he was in his car by the church when the pair approached the building, and he intervened when Mann began to write in large, loopy writing on a poster left for well-wishers to sign, “The truth shall set you free.”

The pair believe the church shooting was staged by accomplices of the government, though Pomeroy, whose 14-year-old daughter was killed there, knows better.

“He said, ‘Your daughter never even existed. Show me her birth certificate. Show me anything to say she was here,’” Pomeroy said. “I just told him there was enough evidence already visible, so if he chooses not to see that, how would I know he would believe anything else?”

This is not the first time Ussery has confronted family members of victims of this shooting.  It's just the first time he's been arrested for it.

And then consider the efforts of Sen. Ted Cruz on cable news this morning:

“The places with the toughest gun control laws, cities like Chicago, Washington DC, they almost invariably have the highest crime rates, the highest murder rates,” Cruz said.

“No, that’s not true,” interjected Cuomo. “The Giffords Center analysis says that states that have the strictest gun control laws have the lowest rates of gun deaths. Just as a recent example, look at Connecticut, look how they brought the numbers down.”

Cruz objected to Cuomo’s statements and said that the Giffords Center, which advocates for stricter rules on gun ownership, was not a trustworthy source of information. Cuomo then flipped the tables on Cruz and asked him to cite his own sources.

“Where are you citing them from — the NRA?” Cuomo asked. “Where are you getting them from?”

There was a brief silence — and then Cruz quickly tried to change the subject.

Things didn't go better on "Morning Joe:"

“I don’t need you to lecture me on what the Supreme Court does and what it doesn’t do,” Scarborough said. “If the Supreme Court denies cert time and time again, and they have since 2010, and they’ve allowed Connecticut’s laws to stand in place that actually ban assault-style weapons. The court is sitting back and allowing that to stay in place, and allowing that — that is constitutional right now. There is not a constitutional right, and you know it. You can talk down to me all you want to, but you know there is no constitutional (right to own assault-style weapons).”

Cruz argued the court recognized AR-15 ownership as constitutional because they were one of the most popular weapons in the U.S., but Scarborough said the Supreme Court hadn’t agreed to hear any challenges to them being banned.

“You are talking about what you want the law to be, I’m talking about what the law is,” Scarborough said. “I give you credit for swatting away legal reality.”
Sen. Cruz is not responsible for the behavior of Robert Ussery, but it is a short step from "swatting away legal reality" to swatting away reality.

Society does bear responsibility for these things.  Ted Cruz is not a U.S. Senator because no one else wanted the job and he was offered it as a passing stranger.  Nicholas Cruz didn't decide guns would solve his problems in spite of "these fantastic exaggerations of things that are fictional to begin with."  We bear some burden for letting the fantastical become acceptable, for moving the rantings and ravings of the unserious to the center of our national discourse.  But that's altogether too vague and general, to directed at "them" and away from "us."  I think there is some truth in this:

I think sometimes people go over the edge because they can’t imagine any sort of decent future life for themselves. He had just lost everybody. I don’t know how it would feel to be as young as he was and fear life itself.

Although it's not the truth of material deprivation or simply being spited by the "in" crowd.  We are not such material creatures that possessions or even social status make us whole.  When people can't imagine "any sort of decent future life for themselves," it isn't because they can't imagine driving a Tesla or pouring expensive champagne on fashion models; it is because they have no sense of spiritual purpose.

Which, as an explanation, sounds altogether too metaphysical and abstract, especially in a world so bent on teaching us what we don't yet have will fulfill all our needs.  We have only shifted that teaching from cars or technological toys to guns, without ever once discussing the consequences of that shift:

Normalizing the idea that we should all go around capable of a lethal act at any moment is completely corrupt and crazy. I wouldn’t carry a gun. The reason I wouldn’t carry a gun is because it is an immoral act walking around imagining you’re going to kill someone. It’s a recipe for a completely deranged society. It’s grotesque.
Is life really so nasty, brutish and short we must have guns with us at all times?  Do you settle your dispute with your neighbors with pistols at dawn, or in a shootout on the street at high noon?  Do you carry a gun to the grocery store, or your job?  Would you consider it normal if others did?  But we raise guns above human life, whether we do it ourselves or allow it to be done through our lawmakers and the laws they make.  We raise guns above human life because things matter more than people, because ideas are supreme, even if those ideas are "fantastic exaggerations of things that are fictional to begin with."  This all has connection with some other things on my mind, but packing them into a blog post creates, not an explanation, but a jumbled mess.  Then again, not packing them together threatens a discontinuity that creates another mess.

I'm always talking about stringing things together and then never doing it.  Maybe I can exert myself this time, and create some kind of system out of all this randomness of observation.


Blogger The Thought Criminal said...

Excellent, post, as always.

6:12 PM  
Blogger ntodd said...

Ussery was arrested, right, not Pomeroy? Or am I drunk?

9:45 PM  
Blogger ntodd said...

Regardless, I meant to say good post (read the whole thing).

9:46 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

No, I need a better proofreader. Thanks for catching that.

10:33 PM  
Blogger rustypickup said...

There is also negative feedback. I carry a gun because I am afraid. Because I have a gun I start to see more interactions as hostile. The car that cuts me off isn't someone being inattentive or even a jerk, but someone attacking or threatening me. And so I am more afraid and feel I need to respond in kind. "It’s a recipe for a completely deranged society. It’s grotesque."

9:28 PM  
Blogger Rmj said...

I still think Sartre got that much right about ethics: the way we imagine people to be is the world we end up living in. If I imagine everyone around me wants what I have, including my life, and violence is the only protection possible, violence is how I will engage the world.

Where you start is pretty much where you end up.

10:37 AM  

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