I sense no soul in this rabble
just fearful alchemy
a hum of devilish trouble
’tis no people’s celebration
this fascist akelarre
just a rueful abnegation
of what we’re fighting for
a ghastly chill is in the air—
Her smile inspires her fellow partisans and her community
She throws caution to the wind
so as to watch their spirits soar
When Fascists questioned her commitment
she let her carbine counterclaim
She looks out over Barcelona
From the top of the highest tower
survaying a land riven by
passions and politics
But beyond this tumultuous horizon
there is a glint of light
beginning to peak through
the gathered clouds
and so she smiles
and goes about her revolution
The characters in the book seem almost an afterthought but they are more remarkable and believable for their wealth and privilege. These men who hold positions of power and moral authority in society are the very men who are the most debauched and the most violent towards that conventional morality that defines the border between humanity and animal urge. As Santayana famously said, power corrupts, and Sade understands this as a (relatively) rich and powerful figure in his own right. He knows that the outmost limits of human potential and morality, for ill in this case, are best expressed by those who have the power and the authority to push these limits and to legitimize through their power and authority the very debauchery that they are supposed to be a hedge against. With the 120 Days Sade admits what we all suspected to be true: it takes wealth and power to be able to push the limits of consumption, morality, and convention beyond the pale. The more power we have the more potential for abuse we have within our reach. Again though, this is admitted, but there is no apology for this fact. The manuscript is better for this fact. Evil does not need an apology, it begs for comprehension, even if this is not possible.
Sade introduces his characters with brief biological sketches. Each featured player is described, but there is no deep analysis of disposition nor is there any real explanation for why these people have gathered together. The only explanation given is that they are men seeking to gratify their personal fantasies and are content to use each other and their victims in order to achieve this aim. Character is in fact all but irrelevant in this story beyond what is useful to advancing a philosophical point, and otherwise Sade gives us no more information about these people than is absolutely necessary for the advancement of the narrative. They are archetypes, stand-ins for men. They are merely the instruments in a grand experiment in inflicting agony for the sake of pleasure. It is no surprise that each of these men represents a facet of society: civil government, the Church, the law, and finance. These are the temples devoted to debauchery and to torment; these are the bastions of iniquity within society. Sade sneers at these revered institutions that are supposed to represent the civilizing impulse of society. He exposes the truth: those who rise to the heights of power and influence are not the best of our world, but the very often the worst. It is a pessimistic view but the view of a man who is cruel and cynical enough to know hypocrisy when he sees it. These men, and the equally cruel albeit poor women who entertain them and aid them in their hideous plans, are nothing but id. Sade is pure superego, a role this man who loved to torment and to in turn to be tormented by others only ever played when taking the form of narrator in his various books. He is a passive conscience, a pragmatic conscience even, but a conscience that guides us through this reverse-morality play just the same.
“Feeble, enfettered creatures destined solely for our pleasures, I trust you have not deluded yourselves into supposing that the equally absolute and ridiculous ascendancy given you in the outside world would be accorded you in this place [.]”
Sade puts this speech, which seem to be an accurate representation of his own sentiments when it came to how he understood society, into the mouth of his creation the Duc, the aristocrat mentioned earlier. This man is marginally the leader of this den of villains, and he outlines the rules agreed upon by all of the empowered parties. By that I mean all of those who are meant to derive pleasure from the arrangements they have painstakingly made and carried out. In a delicious bit of irony these men, and their creator, who in real life have no scruples when it comes to ignoring and flouting the laws of “civilized” society, have decided to establish an almost comically arbitrary set of rules governing the protagonists’ sexual conquests. There are to be no vaginal “de-flowerings” or anal penetration until pre-set dates. These dates are marked by the pairing of one of the young men with one of the young women in a “marriage” ceremony. This ceremony is a rather hilarious lampoon of the morality of sexual conquest in “normal” society: the man may not have his sexual desserts until he has satisfied the laws and customs set down by his peers.
As these laws are totally arbitrary and meant only to delay sexual gratification, it seems we are meant to reflect upon the meaning of such rules of sexual morality in polite society. If the world is a place of evil mitigated only on occasion by good, then why must we subject ourselves to rules that govern our urges and appetites? Surely some experiencing pleasure, even at the expense of others, must be better than no one experiencing it at all? The masses will suffer needlessly, so why not let them suffer for the pleasure of those daring enough to try to achieve some measure of pleasure? Sade believes in hedonism as a right for those willing to reach out and experience it and his philosophy of human morality is at its most coherent when understood through this point of view. He sets down the facts, the realpolitik of moral life on earth, and he comes to the conclusion that something must be done with this fickle thing we call “existence”. He truly believes he is correct about the nature of things. Yet he does not seem to be content with this fact, or satisfied with his own diagnosis; there is a real undercurrent of disappointment, or, boredom with the world
“One grows tired of the commonplace, the imagination becomes vexed, and the slenderness of our means, the weakness of our faculties, the corruption of our souls lead us to these abominations.”
These words, but into the mouth of the pasty little banker Durcet, speak volumes about the predisposition of the most debauched of all artists. These are the words of a human being disgusted and humiliated by the fact that he is, in fact, only human and not capable of experiencing the unhindered heights of elation and pleasure that his imagination is able to conjure up. We are limited, mortal creatures inhabiting this all to imperfect world, a world that is so obviously what it is (“nasty, brutish and short” to quote Hobbes). Something, anything must be done in order for it to remain interesting and worth living for. It seems such a simple, even facile reason for such delicious villainy, but it is in fact a thoroughly human reason. The heart (and mind and loins and senses) wants what it wants. The creature may always be frustrated in the pursuit of eternal pleasure, but that does not mean it will stop pursuing that pleasure. As the Banker, Durcet, puts it: “I must declare that my imagination has always outdistanced my faculties[.]”
Perhaps because of this fact there is a real current of frustration that flows throughout the book; frustration at the world as it is, frustration with those who would stymie or stifle the impulse towards unlimited hedonism, and above all frustration with oneself for being born into a world where unlimited elation and pleasure is not possible. At the same time the ability to fully conceive of the possibility of such pleasure and power is entirely possible, and it is this dichotomy that fuels the violent frustrations of these men. Sometimes this frustration erupts forth from the protagonists in appalling acts of cruelty perpetrated against those whom they have power over, as I will discuss soon enough, but at other times this frustration takes the form of rants and declarations that are quite exquisite for their pure unrestrained and exultant fury:
“’There are’, said [the Judge] Curval, ‘but two or three crimes to perform in this world, and they, once done, there’s no more to be said; all the rest is inferior, you cease any longer to feel. Ah, how many times, by God, have I not longed to be able to assail the sun, snatch it out of the universe, make a general darkness, or use that start to burn the world! Oh, that would be a crime, oh yes, and not a little misdemeanor such as are all the ones we perform who are limited in a whole year’s time to metamorphosing a dozen creatures into lumps of clay.’”
The impulse towards pleasuring ones’ self thus goes so far as to suborn the wholesale destruction of the Universe itself. Annihilation becomes the only real outlet for this unyielding passion the libertine always has inside of him/herself. But is it really the world that this apocalyptic minded libertine aches to destroy? Simone de Beauvoir in her classic essay on Sade’s morality “Must We Burn Sade?” quotes another Sadean “Monster”, the Count of Bressac:
“The man who can become callous to the pains of others becomes insensitive to his own.”
So does that make The 120 Days a work of extreme catharsis or pure escapism? Is the cruelty contained within its pages meant to be taken as guide for libertines, a warning, or as a sly joke at our expense? The answer, of course, to all of these questions is “yes”. But where does that leave Sade’s morality? If there is no one limit to the moral message of the book does that mean that there is no moral meaning to the work at all? Is this then an irrelevant exercise in pure pornographic frivolity?
Well of course not. No matter how much Sade wants to confuse or frustrate our attempts at a moral analysis of his work, the moral message is there, but not as a guide to action or as plan for an ideal society. Sade is simply showing us what it is within the capabilities of human to do to another human , in this case in the pursuit of pleasure. Just because Sade or any other man may want to achieve ecstasy through universal destruction, such power is, mercifully, outside of the ability of any one man. So we must look beyond the declarations and the rants and on towards the acts and impulses Sade chooses to illustrate and explore in the text. And while not burning the world to a crisp, these crimes are no less heinous for their feasibility or their horrifying ease of execution.
It occurred to me the other day that the way many conservatives and Republicans are reacting to President Obama the same way Southern Whites reacted to reconstruction era policies and politicians. This is not a direct correlation but more a reemergence of societal and political rage that often goes unexpressed in the public dialogue. Let me explain, and it does warrant at least a cursory explanation of the Reconstruction Period. After the Civil War the Federal Government allowed for the political and economic reconstruction of the defeated south. This was meant to be achieved through Federal Government programs and spending and through Military enforcement of these policies. We must remember that what the United States government was faced with was a hostile region that had just been beaten into submission and wrecked socially and economically and structurally. I for one believe that the US government had every right to treat the southern states as conquered territories and to impose top down reformations of inherently flawed systems. This was a feudal economy based around paternalistic government, chattel slavery and a misogynistic and anti-worker social structure. The North was of course guilty of profiting from this backwards region and its inhumane systems, but they had at least allowed for a constructive conversation on how to eliminate ties with this abomination and eventually went to war to eradicate it from the national and political landscape. The South would have gone on for as long as possible keeping slaves and abusing the rights of blacks, workers and women. As long as the system was profitable and kept rich white planters and their business partners in power it would have continued.
The US government and Military overthrew the governments of the rebellious regions, abolished their unconstitutional state constitutions, and called for immediate reform and free elections. Combined with (often faltering and under-funded) attempted education of newly freed slaves and poor blacks this system of reconstruction was meant to drag the south kicking and screaming into the modern era. This approach worked for a while: state constitutions were purged of institutional protections for chattel slavery and discrimination against black citizens, black politicians were elected to statewide and federal office for the first time, black men were given the full franchise, Civil Rights Bills were passed at the federal level, and Amendments to the Federal Constitution were passed to enshrine and ensure these laws forever. We cannot overstate the revolutionary nature of these changes and the ideas that went behind them. This proved to be the final vindication of black and white abolitionists and their philosophies. The “radical” Liberal Republicans, so called by southerners and entrenched racists who had an interest in the status quo, did more than any other congress to achieve true equality for all citizens. The fact that these efforts survived for the 20 years they did in the South is amazing on its face and should be celebrated as more of a victory than it currently is in our history tomes and textbooks.
“There was one thing that the white South feared more than negro dishonesty, ignorance, and incompetency, and that was negro honesty, knowledge, and efficiency.” W.E.B. Du Bois said this over a hundred years ago and it is as true now as it was then. Replace “negro” with “anything liberal and non-white” and you have an exact explanation of the political fears of the White Christian Male power structure that still exists throughout the south to this day. In direct contradiction of what many southern authored, edited, and published history textbooks [See “Lies My Teacher Told Me” by James Loewen for more on this scholarly travesty perpetrated against American students] real scholars and firsthand accounts of history show that the Reconstruction era black and liberal legislators/legislatures were elected democratically, overwhelmingly, and were entrusted by a more diverse voting population to rebuild the southern states as a more egalitarian society. According to Mississippi legislature and former slave John Roy Lynch
The [Radical Republican Reconstruction] campaign was aggressive from beginning to end… the election resulted in a sweeping Republican victory. That party not only elected the state ticket by a majority of about thirty thousand, but also had a large majority in both branches of the state legislature.1
Men (and they were all men unfortunately; civil rights for women of all races had yet to reach critical mass at this point in the Republic’s history) who had only a few years before been considered sub-human were now entrusted with rebuilding a region devastated by a war it had brought upon itself through intransigence and widespread inhumanity towards its own residents. Lynch goes on to talk about just some of the challenge facing the new legislatures
It was also necessary to reorganize, reconstruct, and in many instances, rebuild some of the penal, charitable, and other public institutions of the state. A new code of laws also had to be adopted to take the place of the old one, and thus wipe out the black laws […] That this great and important work was splendidly, creditably, and economically done, no fair-minded person who is familiar with the facts will question or dispute.2
Though of course this was disputed and still is in many corners of the country where it is impossible on its face for a liberal government to make any positive change. We see this same sort of intellectual intransigence today in Tea Party and Conservative Republicans circles. They condemn the “socialist” evils of a national Federal government that is making an attempt to structure a more equitable system for more Americans. As the Southern Poverty Law Center has pointed out the levels of participation in hate groups and anti-government militias has exploded since the election of the first American President with African heritage3. This hate and irrationality has only increased with the attempt by the Obama administration and its allies to craft meaningful firearms regulation reform in the face of the many recent mass shooting tragedies in communities throughout the nation.
The Drudge Report has trotted out (false) equivalencies to the Hitler and Stalin regimes and their firearms policies. Radio hosts like Rush Limbaugh and Alex Jones have literally screamed about coming assaults on liberty and mass death camps being used against gun owners and white conservative Christians throughout the nation. Private citizens are getting in on the irrationality by posting videos about how “the killing” will start of the government “takes away” the guns of citizens (see the spectacle of the video posted by a TN gun rights fanatic)4. With apologies to the Four Tops, this is “The same old song/But with a different meaning/Since” Jim Crow was forced out of the political scene. Just look at what was said about the black legislatures of the Reconstruction era South by contemporaries and their later “academic” apologists
“The southern people literally were put to the torture…[by] rugged conspirators…[who] assumed the pose of philanthropists and patriots.”— Claude G. Bowers, The Tragic Era: The Revolution After Lincoln
“I here declare my unmitigated hatred to Yankee rule–to all political, social and business connections with the Yankees and the Yankee race.”—Edmund Ruffin, Confederate Sympathizer
Republicanism or democracy has nothing to do with it; it is from the fact that these people believe they have been plundered by him [Reconstruction Era Northern Republican representative of black political rights], and their property has been attempted to be confiscated by him; that he has undertaken his way to make a serfdom of this country. — B. W. Marston, white Louisiana Planter5
We see this sort if insane refusal to see the truth in many of the GOP and Tea Party attacks on President Obama and liberal government officials in general. Gun sales are through the roof, hate groups are expanding, and conservative white males are seeing themselves as an “oppressed minority”. This echoes the (albeit much more extreme) reaction of white southerners to reconstruction policies. The Klan rose, militias formed, and violent and paranoid screeds were written by white southerners who saw the expansion of political rights to an oppressed people as an attack on their inherent supremacy. Equality is servitude to a person or a group used to institutional and cultural hegemony. There is even a rise in people who insist that Federal debt makes “everyone” a slave…and by “everyone” we should read “white people”. Because it is one thing to have blacks and women in servitude…but when white MEN are put upon, well then there is tyranny afoot!
The white south has not really ever gotten over Reconstruction, The Civil War, or the Civil Rights era of the mid-20th century. The election of a black President who dared to continue left of center solutions to problems brought about largely by right of center-mistakes is a bridge too far for many conservative whites who feel like they have “suffered” enough equality and diversity. The big change is that now the southern white male mentality has been scattered across the country like a seed pod smashes open in the midst of a gust of wind. How else do you explain Confederate flags on bumpers in Dekalb, Illinois and hung from the porch in Allentown, Pennsylvania? Now every white man (and the deluded women who support them) can buy into the “lost cause” of the late Confederacy; the south will rise again all over the nation but this time it will come through SEC football, gay-bashing, and eliminating the minimum wage and welfare. One of the popular prophets of the new post-geographical South is Glenn Beck and he sees neo-reconstructionism behind every bush and in every law
“The health care bill is reparations. It’s the beginning of reparations.”6
What can be more terrifying to a conservative white man then the idea that his hard earned money will go to pay for the sins (and they were not that terrible, those sins, anyway) of their forefathers? Everything is reconstruction program today: food-stamps, welfare, unemployment insurance, even Medicaid, Medicare, and Social Security. Never mind that the vast majority of these services go to poor whites; there may be a black person taking advantage of “our” money somewhere! The money “we” gave them! Because everything that black Americans have is the result of white largess apparently. Remember, it was the slave owners who taught black a “work ethic” and “clothed and fed them” during slavery, at least according to the men and women desperately clinging to respectability in the reconstruction era and today on the revisionist history sites and pro-south “cultural” groups and even in the state legislature of a “modern” southern state
“So, also, as society advanced and the human race multiplied in the earth, the idleness of some, the incapacity of others, and the vices of a still greater number, would lead to greater inequalities.”– George W. Freeman, pro-slavery orator7
“…the institution of slavery that the black race has long believed to be an abomination upon its people may actually have been a blessing in disguise. The blacks who could endure those conditions and circumstances would someday be rewarded with citizenship in the greatest nation ever established upon the face of the Earth.”—Rep. Jon Hubbard, Alabama legislature and author of Letters to the Editor, Confessions of a Frustrated Conservative8
If I didn’t make it clear would anyone be able to guess that which speaker lived in the 19th century and which the 21st? During reconstruction society was treated to dozens, hundreds of political cartoon lampooning black legislators and voters, and degrading black men and women in general. They are shown as chimpanzees, drunkards, and corrupt. The modern day “Tea Party” movement supplies us with surprisingly familiar racially charged and outright racist sentiments mostly consisting of, but not limited to, attacks on our first (half-black) president
Obama’s Plan: White Slavery
Obama Loves Taxes [sic] Bankrupts USA
Congress = Slave Owner Taxpayer = [misspelled racial slur]9
Perhaps not up to the quality of 19th century political cartoon art, but it gets the job done. Confront any Tea Party supporting person on these signs or on the persistent and revoltingly xenophobic racist meme that President Obama was born in the African nation of Kenya and you get a litany of excuses ranging from the usual “this is not representative” to “well I have never seen or heard people say these things”. Given the prevalence of these signs and the Obama as Kenya usurper myth this assertion does not pass the smell test. In fact according to a CBS news Poll 45% of Republicans and 45% of self-identified Tea Party supporters believed as recently as 2011 that President Obama was born in a country other than the US. I can bet you that most of these 45% where NOT black or liberal.10
While not exclusively southern anymore, the reaction against President Obama and his policies is has the unmistakable stench of racial animus and reactionary hatred for liberal/reconstructive policy and governance.
Another trope of reconstruction era southern prejudice has reemerged in the form of vilifying and belittling African American governmental figures in positions of power. The political spectacle involving the potential nomination of UN Ambassador Susan Rice is only the most recent example of this irrationality. With a new report now essentially confirming what was asserted by Rice and her associates at the UN and the State Department and the Obama Administration regarding the assassination of the US Ambassador to Libya, the criticism of this brilliant diplomat and policy analyst are revealed for what they are; attacks motivated by innate bigoted mistrust of black people in positions of authority
“If this select committee clears her of any wrongdoing, besides not being very bright, because it was obvious that this was not a quote ‘flash mob,’ there was no demonstration, Charlie…”—Sen. John McCain 11
Not very bright? This is a strange thing for a Senator to say about a woman who runs the American mission to the United Nations and who was also a Rhodes Scholar. There really is no other valid excuse for this slander, especially when considered upon the other baffling and often racially tinged attacks upon other black Obama administration officials such as Eric Holder, Shirley Sherrod the Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture, the first Lady Michelle Obama, and Van Jones, special Executive Branch Advisor for Green Job initiatives. Secretary Holder and Mrs. Obama in particular have been ravaged in conservative circles; the former being decried as a secret “black nationalist” and corrupt scam artist and the latter with horrid racist stereotypes of black women that have not been aired so blithely in public media and discussion since the reconstruction era. In no other administration have black appointees and officials been subject to such constant vitriolic and often un-warranted criticism.
Compare to the invective heaped upon black legislators and officials in the Reconstruction era South, with irate southern whites accusing blacks of stealing tax money, abusing their authority and even (if the political cartoons are to be believes) drinking while on the job. Of course these myths are just that; the period was no more or less corrupt than any other, and perhaps it was less so considering for the first and only time the full force of the US Government and Military stood behind local democratic processes12. The Obama administration and its policies also give conservative whites an opportunity to criticize the idea of representative democracy itself, with commentators ranging from pundits to former rock stars calling for poll taxes, poll tests, and the invalidity of elections that benefit people other than white conservative males. The sentiments expressed are reminiscent of southern apologists throughout American history
“[Southern Reconstruction] was government by the most ignorant and vicious part of the population for the benefit, the vulgar, materialistic, brutal benefit of the governing set.”— John W. Burgess, Columbia University Professor13
A black President and a liberal leaning government gives white conservatives the excuse to complain about views on things like government spending, government debt, and restriction to gun rights that have been imposed and proposed by Republican Presidents from Eisenhower to Reagan to the second President Bush. The REAL problem this time around is not debt or government spending (these problems existed to even a greater extent under Republican heroes like Reagan) but the fact that the current President dealing with these problems is a darker shade than most white conservatives are comfortable with. Why else would they complain NOW about problems that have been around for decades if not generations? Because the white south sees a black face implementing reform and new ideas, and a black face dealing with the issues that threaten society and government, it is now means that “they” are after them again, “they” will take away what “they” deserve. “They” will take away the power and authority their white skin has given them for far too long. This may not be a period of full reconstruction (we can only hope such an era returns) but it is a time when non-white, non-conservatives voices finally have a say in how we solve the problems facing this nation. That is just a bit too much to bear for the cultural and intellectual heirs of those who once fought a losing battle over a horrid atrocity.
Citations (forgive the numbers on the bottom, I had a problem with my word processor. Refer to the numbers closest to the citation)
25 years of madness dripped
From your gracious blade
You bore Napoleon
Wellington shed his tears
On the sword
Along with the crown on every
Hobgoblin monarch’s head
1 million bullets
Tore flesh from brittle
Nothing left for men to consign
To their pauper’s graves
A savage grace
Never came at such a cheap price
The bill came due to the highest bidder
Laughing as he reassessed his stake
Militant millipedes marching to the tune
Of a patriotic screams
And the cannonade
The bayonets and
The children’s fears
Of Boney man
And Gilly teens
And other such silly things
Nightmares of a generation born
From a Irish liar’s pen
Bash your head against the medieval walls
Break the siege with a wooden plank
Never keep headcheese past its date
Chew the cud and dance the pasa doble
They’ll shoot into the crowd either way
Rolling heads and cockades
Stumped on by a ingenuous King
One nation’s fury a dozen more’s
To let lose the hounds
Apres moi le deluge
Baying as the tide sweeps them away
I am not a Democrat. I consider myself an independent Democratic Socialist. I was a card-carrying member of the Socialist Party of the United States from 2007-2008 but have sense decided that party politics is not for me. Since I began voting in 2006 I have voted for Green Party candidate Rich Whitney and Democrat Pat Quinn for Governor of my home state of Illinois, Democrats Dick Durbin and Alexi Giannoulious for Senator from Illinois, Bill Foster twice for Congress from my district, and Barack Obama for President in 2008, though I voted for Hillary Clinton in the primaries (and still think she would have made a better president).
I have plenty of problems with the current President:
He has not been strong enough of an advocate for liberal principles against an obstructionist and insurgent conservative Congress
He has continued far too many of Bush II era national security strategies (targeted assassinations, staying in Afghanistan, Gitmo still open)
He has been far too friendly to corporate interests and investment bankers
He has done nothing on gun control
He can be aloof and maddeningly patient with people who do not deserve patience
On the other hand there are a few things about Obama that I really do like
He has kept his promise regarding getting out Iraq
He has not gotten us involved in any other land wars in Asia (Princess Bride for the win)
He killed Osama Bin Laden
He helped kill Gadafi and support the Libya rebels
He has crippled the Iranian nuclear program through sanctions
He is kind and understanding in his dealings with world leaders and other nations
He saved the American auto industry
He saved the economy from depression (but by using methods that did not go nearly far enough)
He has fought for LGBTQ Americans and their families, including repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell
He nominated two incredibly well qualified female justices to the US Supreme Court
He has done more than any president since LBJ to improve the Health Care system of the United States
He has shown steady and mature leadership in dealing with natural disasters
There have been no major terrorist attacks on his watch
And most important of all: He is not Mitt Romney
Weighing the pros against the cons, and taking into account the unholy terror that is GOP candidate Mitt Romney, the choice is clear for me. I will help reelection President Barack Obama
Our national obsession with violence and complete liberty has claimed and disfigured 60 more lives this weekend in Aurora, Colorado. An angry and maliciously focused young man has once more found in legal and readily available firearms the best way to express his rage and frustration, just like Cho, Loughner, Klebold, Harris, Kazmierczak and countless hundreds before and after them. As a recent book on gun rights made clear, the Second Amendment is not, and never was meant to be, a national “suicide pact”: a license to horde and use unimaginably violent weapons and ammunition whenever one feels threatened. Gun violence is a disease that corrupts and rots as it kills and maims. The American body politic is infected with this horrible affliction, and our culture is already gangrenous and fetid to its core when it comes to issues of violence and weapons. We are a gun obsessed culture. We are a nation of people who see themselves as John Wayne and as the rest of the world as some squint-eyed desperado waiting to make us into a victim.
We look only to the most extreme “cures” to our society’s problems: crime is high? Do not address poverty and injustice, but do get a gun and protect yourself and property. Feel threatened and afraid? Do not seek therapeutic, medical, or community help, but do get a gun so that you feel like a powerful person again. Want to prevent gun violence in society? Arm more people so that one angry man with a gun can be stopped by another. This is madness. This is despicable. This is a disease. Some, including (amazingly) the Governor of Colorado want us to believe that banning or restricting some or all types of guns and ammunition will do little or nothing to stop violence. They say that “we cannot ban all violence so why bother”. But isn’t this like saying “we can’t stop all cases of the flu, so why create vaccines?” It is a cowardly red herring that should be called what it is. Organizations like the NRA and the Republican party (and many cowardly Democrats as well) stoke our national obsession with guns and redemptive American violence. We are told that it is our right to own any and every kind of violent tool. If we are denied that right then we are told this is a fate worse than death. Say this to the 6 year old shot on the South Side of Chicago. Say this to Trayvon Martin, or to Robert Kennedy. No other right leads to the death of 10000 people a year. No other right assumes that with great power comes no responsibility.
The fact remains that we view liberty as an excuse for our immaturity and our childish desires for power and complete security. The men who wrote the 2nd Amendment to our Constitution were men who grew up around fire arms that took some skill to handle, and that had an immediate and real potential to save and preserve life: hunting, fighting the British, holding ones’ own in a society that did not yet have a police force or an army. Today we take the right they enumerated as a free pass to create 300 million one man armies. We have grown so paranoid with fear that we think that we must arm ourselves against our own government, while it is actually we the people who kill, maim, and terrorize each other with guns each and every day. Thomas Jefferson did say that the tree of liberty must, on occasion, be watered with the blood of tyrants. But he was not foolish enough to think that tyranny was always eminent whenever one felt threatened, or that this blood meant to feed that tree of liberty must be spilt but 6000 rounds of high powered ammunition. We are not watering the tree of liberty: we are drenching it in the blood of our fellow citizens for no other reason than we are afraid.
But why are we afraid? Could it be that we are afraid of ourselves? What is more terrifying then a nervous, frustrated and driven person with a deadly weapon? And that is precisely what thousands and thousands if not millions of our fellow citizens have become. We are an unorganized and bloodthirsty private army searching desperately for an enemy. And when they inevitably cannot find that enemy worth the trouble they have put into arming themselves, they will turn on themselves, and upon a society and a government that has not supplied them with an alternative to the redemptive violence that they imagine is their only hope against…something? Someone? Whom? We live in a society that has given up on itself. If we cannot make our society perfect, then why bother? If we cannot make ourselves totally unafraid, then why not live in a state of self-justifying and self-gratifying fear? The government is no longer allowed to help us because that would mean we are “socialist” or “rewarding failure”, business cannot be bothered because that may impact their liberty to make as much money as they want however they want to, and religion is just a sickening and cynical parody of human love and decency.
We are constantly looking for a reason to explode against the apathy we force feed ourselves. We dare not actually examine the roots of our national psychosis because that might mean admitting that we cannot have it all, and that we as Americans are not god’s perfect people. So we cling to our guns and we wait for that dark, scary other to burst through the door. We dare the world to “make our day” and give us an excuse, any excuse, to do something that makes us feel powerful and important and in control, if only for one terrible moment. We lie to ourselves and say that young men like Aurora shooter James Holmes are the exception to the rule: they are “madmen”, “disturbed”, “anomalies”. Anything but “quintessentially American” and “inevitable”. I will not hazard to guess why Holmes and so many other shooters did what they did because we cannot ever know something that emerges from an individual human psyche. But I will say this: we are so afraid of the Holmes of the world because when we see them staring down the sight of that gun we can all too easily see our own finger on the trigger.