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December 14th, 2012

Cold Hearts, Bloody Streets

For a technologically advanced country as wealthy and capable as this one is, we are an astonishingly violent country. Whenever one of these mass killings happens I keep finding myself forlornly wishing we could have an honest national conversation about why. But we won’t. Already it’s instantly turning into yet another argument about guns and then it’s all just flag waving and static and nobody is listening anymore, except to themselves.

I wish we could have a conversation about violence. And in particular, about male violence. I honestly don’t think the image of the sex driven violence prone human male is accurate. I think it’s a careless stereotype. I think, like the way it can be with certain dogs, you beat it into males one way or another. You annihilate their capacity for sympathy, kill their ability to trust and love, and what is left, that all too human capacity for aggression and hate, well you just let it take root and grow, uninhibited. You beat the heart out of a boy, one way or another, and then you fill the void with hate…and it doesn’t matter who they hate, just that they hate, and that they are afraid not to hate.

From the bully culture in grade schools, to the pulpit thumpers who preach male supremacy over women, to the militaristic warrior culture that reaches from the pentagon to Wall Street, teaching a kind of human law of the jungle, dominate or be dominated, we systematically dehumanize our male citizens. Some days I look at what school kids have to go through, at the casual acceptance by our courts of male domestic violence, at the routine business-as-usual culture of predatory capitalism, at a conservative politics that claims letting working citizens to perish of sickness and disease is the highest kind of social morality, and I wonder that we aren’t even more violent than we already are.

I wish we could have this conversation. But no. We will have another bitter pointless argument about guns, and wash, rinse, repeat, until the next time some walking time bomb goes off and kills. And then we’ll do it all over again. And the bullies will still rule the school hallways, young men will still be fed the idea that their manhood depends on dominating women, predators in business suits will still raid and loot the life savings of working people and be exalted as job creators, preachers will still preach that god hates atheists, liberals and homosexuals and that god made man to rule over women, and politicians will win votes by promising to take food out of the mouths of poor people and be regarded as statesmen in their hometown newspapers. And we will go to bed some nights when the news is horrifying, wondering why oh why can’t Americans look at one another and see a neighbor whose life is worth cherishing too.

3 Responses to “Cold Hearts, Bloody Streets”

  1. Thoughts and prayers after Newtown Says:

    […] silent today. Nor tomorrow. Do more than hear our screaming. Scream with us, oh God.Bruce Garrett: “Cold Hearts, Bloody Streets”I wish we could have this conversation. But no. We will have another bitter pointless argument about […]

  2. Slow Learner Says:

    I’m sorry, this is stupid. American culture is not particularly more violent than the UK, nor is the crime rate much higher, and yet the murder rate is much much higher. So is the accidental death rate. So is the suicide rate amongst young men.
    The difference is easy availability of firearms. You don’t even have to ban them – just have uniform background checks, no exemptions at gun shows, no assault weapons, no extended magazines, maybe even require active membership in a shooting club, hunting group or militia to be allowed to buy a gun.
    Changing the culture is tricky. Changing the laws is much quicker – how many more people do you want to die while you try to change “the militaristic warrior culture that reaches from the pentagon (sic) to Wall Street”?

  3. Bruce Says:

    The miscapitalization of pentagon was deliberate.  You can figure out why.

    American culture is no more violent then the UK’s but our murder rate is higher.  And I’m stupid.  See…this is what I hate about certain conversations about…oh…religion…feminism…homosexuality…Guns…  People stop thinking and the knees just start jerking. 

    I suppose you could ask…to take just one lovely slice of American history as an example…the folks who knew fought the black civil rights struggle in the 1950s and 60s how delightfully similar our culture is to the UK’s.  All the ones who died at the hands of lynch mobs by the rope…the children who died in the 16th street church in Birmingham by the bomb…and civil rights workers like Goodman, Cheney and Schwerner, who died by the gun.  Of course, you could always come back at me with just three little words…World War Two…and I might have to admit that America isn’t actually much a more violent place than Europe after all.

    It isn’t how many people I want to die while trying to change “the militaristic warrior culture that reaches from the pentagon (sic) to Wall Street”  It’s how many people I can count on dying until people finally figure out that Guns Don’t Matter and I have no control over how long it takes humanity to get the rubbish out of it’s head about…anything…once it’s in there, let alone all its rubbish about guns.  So I reckon I’m just going to have to watch this happen over and over and over and fucking over.  Pull up a chair and watch with me if you like. You might as well.

    I was watching the Ken Burns documentary on the Dust Bowl and during one interview with a survivor who lived in the middle of it this leaped out at me:

    “We always had hope that next year was gonna be better,” says survivor Wayne Lewis. “We learned slowly, and what didn’t work, you tried it harder the next time. You didn’t try something different. You just tried harder, the same thing that didn’t work.”

    I’m sitting there in front of my TV listening to this man and chill ran through me when I watched him saying that, because it sums up so many epic passages of human history.  Let’s take a wee zoom outward shall we?  I am old enough to remember the day Kennedy was assassinated.  Back then you could order just about any gun you wanted through the mail.  You could walk into your local hardware store, your Sears and Robuck, put your money down and walk out with the shotgun, rifle or handgun of your choice. You could carry it across state lines, and in many places, fully loaded in your car, your belt or your pocket.  After the assassination of president Kennedy there were energetic calls for greater gun regulation.  Mail ordering guns was stopped.  Buying them across state lines was stopped.  Since then we have passed many more gun regulations, some of them completely sensible, some of them not, some of them just to make people feel better that Something Is Being Done. And the result? Fewer guns in private hands?  Fewer gun “accidents”?  Fewer gun crimes?  Fewer mass killings?  Yes, let’s just keep trying harder the same thing that doesn’t work.

    If I hear one more jerking knee say again that the problem with guns is they make it so much easier to kill I am going to scream.  Yes…yes…that’s Absolutely Right.  It is one-hundred percent totally completely positively absolutely right. And they are going to keep on doing that. The UK has much stricter gun control laws than we do here. You know what else they have. They have socialized heath care. They have a stronger social safety net…at least until the Tories manage to unravel it.  They, and Europe generally. have cultures that recognize, however imperfectly. their people have a mutual obligation to the welfare of one another. What we have over here is angry voters shouting “Let them die”.

    Maybe if we had that same sense of mutual obligation to the common welfare common sense about firearms would grow organically out of that.  But if you keep trying to glom tighter and tighter gun regulations onto a nation of people who feel no such obligation, who are actively encouraged even by religious and political leaders to fear and hate one another, you are going to fail. Have you seen yet how gun sales have skyrocketed, once again, since news of Sandy Hook broke? If you think that makes absolutely no sense you have not been paying attention to the last half century of gun control fights in this country. It was eminently predictable.

    I am told that when British people emigrate to the U.S. they are still much less likely to commit a gun crime even allowing for the fact that now they have plenty of access to them. If that is true it would be worth examining why.

    But we won’t.  At least not yet.  Guns not only make it easier to kill people, they make it easier to not ask why people do that. Hopefully someday they’ll start asking.

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