By lambert strether. Originally published at Corrente.
I don’t agree with Josh Marshall very often and I’d want to think a long time before buying into his title for this piece (“Speaking for My Tribe”). But as far as the feelings and the policy outcomes?
[L]et me introduce myself. I’m a non-gun person. And I think I’m speaking for a lot of people. …
It’s customary and very understandable that people often introduce themselves in the gun debate by saying, ‘Let me be clear: I’m a gun owner.’ …
Well, I want to be part of this debate too. I’m not a gun owner and, as I think as is the case for the more than half the people in the country who also aren’t gun owners, that means that for me guns are alien. And I have my own set of rights not to have gun culture run roughshod over me. …
[...] I come from a culture where guns are not so much feared as alien, as I said. I don’t own one. I don’t think many people I know have one. It would scare me to have one in my home for a lot of reasons. Not least of which because I have two wonderful beyond belief little boys and accidents happen and I know that firearms in the home are most likely to kill their owners or their families. People have accidents. They get depressed. They get angry. …
In the current rhetorical climate people seem not to want to say: I think guns are kind of scary and don’t want to be around them. …
I don’t want to have those in my home. I don’t particularly want to be around people who are carrying. Cops, I don’t mind. They’re trained, under an organized system and supposed to use them for a specific purpose. But do I want to have people carrying firearms out and about where I live my life — at the store, the restaurant, at my kid’s playground? No, the whole idea is alien and frankly scary. Because remember, guns are extremely efficient tools for killing people and people get weird and do stupid things. …
[A] huge amount of the current gun debate, the argument for the gun-owning tribe, amounts to the gun culture invading my area, my culture, my part of the country. So we’re upset about massacres so the answer is more guns. Arming everybody.
Je repete: “The answer to any problem with guns is always more guns.”
There’s a lot of bogus research (widely discredited) purporting to show that if we were all armed we’d all be safer through a sort of mutually assured destruction, pervasive deterrence. As I said, the research appears to be bogus. But even if it was possible that we could be just as safe with everyone armed as no one armed, I’d still want no one armed. Not at my coffee shop or on the highway or wherever. Because I don’t want to carry a gun. And I don’t want to be around armed people. [...]
[There is] a mentality that does seem pervasive among many more determined gun rights advocates — basically that us non-gun people need to be held down as it were and made to learn that it’s okay being around people carrying loaded weapons.
So, to the non-crazy gun owners (who I know make up the vast majority of gun owners), I’ve put out my experience and my take. Now I’m ready to talk.
So, a few reactions; a cri de couer, really. To begin, Marshall’s piece seems to be part of a disturbance in the zeitgeist I’d label “Enough is enough.” I see examples of this all across the spectrum; one might think of Romney’s 47% comment as an example (“Why should I keep paying for these moochers? Enough is enough!”). Or Jenson’s classic “Am I getting through to you, Mr. Beale?” speech. One might put the reaction on the left to Aaron Swartz’s death in the same category. And one might throw the banksters views’ on debt — stupid and/or evil though they are — into the same bucket.
“Enough is enough” emerges, I think, when systems built for exponential growth reach limits; in this case, given that capitalism demands “endless accumulation” (Wallerstein), it should not be surprising to anybody that (1) gun manufacturers would be happy with ideologies that promote endless consumption of their product, or that (2) endless consumption of that product would create externalities, leading to an “enough is enough” moment by those who bear those externalities.
I know that “Enough is enough” on gun culture kicked in for me with the Sandy Hook Massacre — not so much for the massacre itself, since after all we’re inured by this time to young men with unfettered access to powerful weaponry going nuts and slaughtering people, often children — but for the shape of the discourse that followed. The NRA waited a few days, and then — surprise! — doubled down in favor of militarizing the schools. Sure, sure, and where does it end? Columbine had guards, so guards aren’t enough — will not ever be enough. So, what next? Barbed wire and watchtowers? Arming all the teachers? Arming all the children? Conscripting the parents? And none of that will be enough (as we already know, under the heading of “determined adversary”), so what next? After one reading of the Second Amendment, we get — from the deeply corrupt Antonin Scalia* — another, so what next? After concealed carry, we get open carry. So what next?
On Marshall’s “I don’t want to be around them,” an extended and absurd metaphor may help (and to those who find it offensive, and I can think of two communities this will offend, I’ll get to that in a moment). Let’s imagine that a “dark fantasy” fetish special interest group (SIG) has decided to “come out,” as they call it, into public spaces: Public transportation, movie theatres, coffee shops, restaurants, shopping malls, bookstores, etc. And grant — this discussion is not that discussion — that these fantasies are about all trust, and not violence, or pain, or suffering, so there’s no question of ill intent. And let’s imagine further that the fetish objects, the endlessly and successfully marketed consumer goods, are edged weapons, whips, chains, and so forth, rather like The Society for Creative Anachronism, except… edgier. Well and good; one seeks to be tolerant; and whoever said there was too much trust in the world? And let’s assume further that “open carry” for the fetish object SIG graduates (under a First Amendment interpretation, say**) into “open play,” and so enacted scenarios, complete with fetish objects, become an increasingly normalized or at least prevalent part of the texture of daily public life.***
So now let’s talk about the externalities. First, because people are people, and the “dark fantasy” SIG has turned out to be numerous, the public landscape gets littered with whips, chains, and edged weapons. (“Oh, I forgot mine on the subway!”) Children, because they are children, pick up the edged weapons and injure themselves, sometimes, if they’re small enough, fatally. Elders, because they are elders, trip on the chains, fall, and disappear into nursing homes. Whips get wrapped round the axles of cars; some go off the road; a few burst into flames. Suicides increase, as motive meets opportunity. And it’s not that the fetish objects caused all these effects — swords don’t slash children, children do — and it’s not even that there’s ill intent involved (except, perhaps, in the endless expansion of capital by fetish object manufacturers). But if the fetish objects did not cause these effects, they most certainly catalyzed them; they precipitated or intensified reactions. And those reactions are the externalities.
For me — in this imagined, absurd world so much unlike our own — the worst externality of all is this: The participants in “open play” have consented; they have shared their safe words. And there would be no release of trust had there been no tension of danger, right? But those in public space are not participants, and are not spectators; they have no safe words; they’re simply citizens forced to endure a spectacle whose only purpose is the arousing of strong emotions in others. So maybe I don’t want to be around those emotions, and maybe I don’t want to be around that danger. Fetish object advocate: What’s wrong with you? Nobody’s forcing you to watch; you can just leave. Nobody’s stopping you! Which is true, assuming that the space where the scenario is being enacted is not small and enclosed, like a subway car; but isn’t it more than a little ironic that a chain of events beginning with trust ends with dismissal? That a scenario beginning with freedom for some ends with no freedom for others?
So, what to do?
Well, policy change that would return dark fantasy “open play,” with its litter of mislaid or abandoned fetish objects, to the private sphere, is ruled out a priori on First Amendment grounds. No regulation!**** That leaves cultural remediation, hence conversation. And the conversation doesn’t go well. As I come to understand, only those who have expert knowledge in the field have standing. (“You’ve confused a cutlass with a machete! Order some fetish object catalogs and study them carefully before speaking of public policy in this matter!”) And as I come to understand, the answer to problems with edged weapons is more edged weapons (“You would not have sensed danger in that subway car if you had carried a sword yourself! Let us go to a sword show and buy one tomorrow! Better yet, several!”). And as I come to understand, there is no excess that can be criticized or even remarked upon. (“So what if that guy ordered a shipping container of daggers delivered to his home; you want to invade my dungeon and take away my chains!”). Nor am I allowed to forget that “Fetish objects are a defense against tyranny!” even if, on reflection, that sounds an awful lot like an incipient protection racket.
But for me — still in this absurd world — the worst conversations include lines like: “Honor requires that I carry a katana!” which translates into, whoopsie, I just ticked somebody off who’s carrying a lethal weapon that I don’t carry; or “Respect me, respect my rapier!” where the required response is on the order of “Sir, yes sir!”; or “Without my scimitar, I am useless!” where there’s nothing at all to say except “Seek help!” and that’s exactly what’s too dangerous to say. The common thread being: All these conversations are inherently coercive, as any conversation between the armed and the unarmed must always be in danger of becoming, people being people. And that to me is the most bitter externality of all: I’m trapped in a coercive space, with no “safe word” at all.
* * *
Because — now in our world — you may feel offended, but you’re the one with the gun. You won your culture war. Own it. And the externalities.
So shoot me.
* * *
And now to the two communities this extended metaphor may have offended:
1. “Dark fantasy fetishist” and the fetish community: See above at “trust” and “safe word.” (Also, for me, “fetishism” connotes Marx’s concept of commodity fetishism, “the thingification of social relations.” This is a vast field even if limited only to Marx, and I’m less than knowledgeable in any of it. Still, a layperson must carry on!
2. Gun people: If your identity***** isn’t bound up with having purchased a consumer good, then I don’t see the offense. If it is, then I’d ask why and whether your identity is to be privileged over mine, and if there is some balance to be struck that doesn’t make this conflict necessary. Since you, as a gun person, now have a more clear understanding of what I, not a gun person, consider my rights, perhaps that will now be possible.
NOTE * To be fair, as stated this an example of the Genetic Fallacy.
NOTE ** After Scalia attends a trade conference in Vegas.
NOTE *** One might argue that this is what July 4 does. I’m not sure if this conversation is that conversation or not.
NOTE **** Measures that would make edged weapons less lethal, like mandatory scabbards, weight, size, and shape limits, and regulating the sale of whetstones, oil, and emery paper, are justly ridiculed on all sides, with representatives of the rapidly expanding armor industry being particularly vociferous.
NOTE **** Although as an advocate of strategic non-violence who views “fear the government that fears your gun” as a proven rationalization, I don’t think so.
NOTE ***** Shit. “Identity.” I guess it was about tribalism after all. My reaction, too! Which is a topic for another post. Maybe I have to take all this back!
NOTE Adding, Gun Appreciation Day. I’m sorry. Anyhow, I can well see how “gun control” is an apple of discord that Obama has cheerfully tossed among us proles; and I can also see how Marshall would be more than happy to enable him to do that. And also, liberals might as well be given something to so, while the really important work of gutting the New Deal continues. On the other hand, at least to me, gun culture and whatever society we would like to pre-figure are antithetical, if only because endless expansion of consumer goods, especially lethal ones, is something we should collectively think twice about. So I am not sure what to do here, except to express my views with such clarity as is at my command.