Posts Tagged ‘Guns’

So we’re back at it: bombing places halfway around the world for having the indignity to be at war and fighting it the wrong way. While a legitimate argument exists regarding a human rights violation requiring a response, that is not AFAIK the principal concern or interpretation of events. Rather, it’s about 45 being “presidential” for having ordered missile strikes. It must have been irresistible, with all the flashy metaphorical buttons demanding to be pushed at the first opportunity. I’m disappointed that his pacifist rhetoric prior to the election was merely oppositional, seeking only to score points against Obama. Although I haven’t absorbed a great deal of the media coverage, what I’ve seen squarely refuses to let a crisis go to waste. Indeed, as geopolitics and military escapades goes, we’re like moths to the flame. The most reprehensible media response was MSNBC anchor Brian Williams waxing rhapsodic about the beauty of the missiles as they lit up the air. How many screw-ups does this guy get?

Lessons learned during the 20th century that warfare is not just a messy, unfortunate affair but downright ugly, destructive, pointless, and self-defeating are unjustifiably forgotten. I guess it can’t be helped: it’s nympho-warmaking. We can’t stop ourselves; gotta have it. Consequences be damned. How many screw-ups do we get?

At least Keith Olbermann, the current king of righteous media indignation, had the good sense to put things in their proper context and condemn our actions (as I do). He also accused the military strike of being a stunt, which calls into question whether the provocation was a false flag operation. That’s what Putin is reported as saying. Personally, I cannot take a position on the matter, being at the mercy of the media and unable to gather any first-hand information. Doubts and disillusionment over what’s transpired and the endless spin cycle plague me. There will never be closure.

I already updated my original post from 2009 once based on Tom Engelhardt’s analysis, adding a few of my own thoughts. I want to revisit the original, provide an addendum to my review of Oliver Stone’s Untold History, and draw attention to Andrew Bacevich’s alternative narrative titled “American Imperium.” This is about geopolitics and military history, which fall outside my usual areas of interest and blogging focus (excepting the disgrace of torture), but they’re nonetheless pretty central to what’s going on the world.

Having now watched the remainder of Untold History, it’s clear that every administration since WWII was neck deep in military adventurism. I had thought at least one or two would be unlike the others, and maybe Gerald Ford only waded in up to his knees, but the rest deployed the U.S. military regularly and forcefully enough to beggar the imagination: what on earth were they doing? The answer is both simple and complex, no doubt. I prefer the simple one: they were pursuing global American hegemony — frequently with overweening force against essentially medieval cultures. It’s a remarkably sad history, really, often undertaken with bland justifications such as “American interests” or “national security,” neither of which rings true. I’ve likened the U.S. before to the playground bully who torments others but can never be psychologically satisfied and so suffers his own private torments on the way to becoming a sociopath. Why does every American president resemble that profile (war criminals all), so afraid to look weak that he (thus far in U.S. history, always a he) must flex those muscles at the expense of ordinary people everywhere? Women in positions of authority (e.g., Sec. of State, National Security Advisor), by the way, exhibit the same behavior: advising striking at weaklings to prove they can wear pants, too.

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I had a disheartening private (now public) e-mail exchange with a friend, who surely doesn’t read my blog, about refugees streaming out of MENA (= Middle East and North Africa). Our exchange is quoted below. I wrote:

I’ve been saying for some time that we’re facing a diaspora away from ecologically and economically ravaged locations. Europe is currently on the front lines, but we’re been dealing with our own slow, steady influx from all points around the globe. The Central American refugee crisis in Texas (lots of children) is a good case in point. I figure, too, that people will soon enough (hard to predict precisely when) be streaming out of California and Florida as they face different water woes.

My friend replied:

I believe you…pretty violent protests in Germany…they are a product of their own guilt from 1935…I doubt they are refugees, they look pretty buff to me like ISIS terrorists…just another example of obama’s failed foreign policy in Syria…I expect my man, Putin to take care of business especially after the airline bombing…I could really careless about loss of Muslim life, the more the better they are all the enemy as far as I am concerned…

I replied:

Gotta disagree with you here. You sound like a right-wing Tea Party supporter. Germany has addressed its guilt over WWII, as has Japan. We can’t continue to throw that in their faces. The Islamic faith has over 4 billion adherents. They’re not all terrorists, though the small sliver of Islamofascists make the most noise and news and thus represent the entire 4 billion plus in the popular mind. Serious mistake. People are people all the world over, and most are constrained culturally (including religious affiliation) by the accident of birth location. We got lucky, sorta, being born in the U.S. I don’t expect anyone, including you, to go “kum bah ya — all men are brothers” with so many pundits and media organs banging the drum about “them.” But with a little circumspection, the differences between us are not so great that one can blithely consign an entire continent to oblivion because someone put the idea of the bogeyman in your head.

His final reply, to which I did not respond:

I guess I sound like a right wing Tea Party Supporter because I share a lot of their views…I do not consider islam to be a faith, I consider it to be a violent cult, I don’t buy the small sliver either, I can give you hard numbers to support this if you want…I do agree with your statement about being constrained culturally but that’s not my problem. History has show[n] us to be a culture of conquest…the strong conquering the weak…. a conquest ethic…we’ll see if your position changes over time as Chicago transitions, in the mean time I continue to prepare for the race war…no one put the idea of a bogeyman in my head, I was born in condition yellow…where ever there is a strong muslim population in the world there is violence and chaos, you can’t reason with their people…

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As wants go, many are conventional and seemingly innocuous, at least on an individual level. If within reach, most of us will pull in what we want without much compunction regarding costs and effects downstream. Short-term satisfaction overrides forward planning. The most ubiquitous example may be sugar, which provides an immediate boost to brain chemistry, not dissimilar from that of cocaine, but is not a large part of the diet to which our Neolithic biology is evolved. Yet sugar is a large part of the typical American diet for a number of reasons beyond mere palatability. Indeed, food manufacturers have refined their recipes to create irresistible appeal by loading processed foods with fat, sugar, and salt. (As the saying goes, can’t eat just one!) Portion sizes don’t help: the typical tub of popcorn and 32 oz drink that for many accompany a typical movie showing (viewers squirming in their seats desperate to escape to the restrooms as soon as the credits roll) are a complete overload of all three. Little wonder that an obesity epidemic in the U.S. exists, along with diabetes appearing earlier and more regularly in the population.

Another typical indulgence is the automobile, indispensable in most American households as a frankly irreplaceable means of transport. We’re forced into our cars by virtue of the dearth of alternatives, but we want them anyway because of their obvious utility and the freedom they represent — a highly successful part of the marketing. No one tells you at the time of purchase, first vehicle or any thereafter, that you have also signed on to clog the atmosphere and streets alongside all the other drivers. Those who complain about the traffic are often oblivious to the fact that they are the traffic. Just be glad not to be part of this crazy 50-lane traffic jam in China:

Everything is bigger in Texas? I’d say China’s got the Lone Star state beat on this score.

Perhaps the most egregious example is arms, to use the term from the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Although the 2nd Amendment is over 200 years old and conceived for a society quite different from the one we now have (well-regulated militias being notably absent from today’s society), the recognized right may have outlived its usefulness now that citizens are increasingly at risk of violence at each other’s hand in the home, workplace, church, and school. Maybe the shooter is an aggrieved postal worker (see the original provocation for the term going postal), a downsized factory worker, an abused spouse, a jilted boy- or girlfriend, a religious or political zealot, a social misfit, or an honest-to-goodness terrorist (a few exist, though the actual numbers are IMO grossly exaggerated to keep everyone on edge and to justify our ridiculously out-of-proportion security apparatus), easy availability of the gun amplifies the force an individual can bring to bear on his or her targets.

In the wake of yet another school shooting — yes, senseless and deplorable like so many others, both past and future (there’s bound to be more) — beyond the condemnation of the shooter and by-the-numbers characterization of the “lone, crazed gunman” no one could see coming, wouldn’t it be interesting to describe wanting a gun in the first place as having the collateral effect that others, too, would have guns and that a background level of (increasing?) violence and mayhem would simply have to be considered part of the package, part of the right as equally applied? The consequence of too much sugar is getting fat and/or being unhealthy. Lots of people have already made that deal. The consequence of driving an automobile is contributing to pollution and congestion. Few of us have realistic alternatives given how society is structured. The consequence of gun ownership is that people will have to die, not by one’s own hand necessarily, but as an inevitable part of the right of gun ownership made available to most anyone who wants one. This isn’t to say that there aren’t legitimate reasons for law-abiding citizens to want guns. I acknowledge that fully. But illegitimate uses are stowed away in the baggage hold.

No politician will describe the current state of American society as violent and arbitrary, where one’s fellow citizens could snap at any moment and rampage through one’s own workplace or neighborhood. Frankly, I’m surprised that Wild West shootouts depicted in cops-and-robbers movies have not yet become commonplace. Rather, the lone shooter in most scenarios tends to proceed unhindered until the event is played to its conclusion, typically with the shooter taking his or her own life. Blaze of glory, etc. Will we reach a point at which everyday violence becomes so intolerable that American citizens will relinquish their right to bear arms in the hopes of gaining peace and tranquility? No, I’m pretty confident that we will instead go out in a blaze of glory — cold, dead hands and all that.

Among numerous elephants in the room, trampling everything in sight and leaving behind giant, steaming piles of shit, the one that galls me the most is the time, effort, expense, and lives we Americans sacrifice to the Dept. of Defense, Dept. of Homeland Security, and various other government agencies. The gargantuan corporate-military-industrial complex they have grown into over the past 65 years diverts our attention away from other honorable and worthwhile endeavors we might undertake if we weren’t instead so consumed with blowing people up and taking their stuff while playing bully-as-victim. I’m a little too young to have been scarred they way many of my elders were, ducking, covering, and cowering under schoolroom desks, so I never formed a worldview based on bogeymen. Yet that is the prevailing view, and we currently have the capacity to interfere and cause mischief globally. Impunity for doing so cannot be expected to last. Indeed, many of the current crop of clown presidential candidates see use of force to redistribute their (furriners) resources to us (Murricans) as the best option as eroding wealth and increasing scarcity threaten difficulty maintaining the vaunted American way of life. Blowhard candidate Donald Trump is probably most honest about it, promising that as president he would basically forgo diplomacy in favor of smash-and-grab escalation. Pretty fucking scary, if you ask me.

One of my favorite films is The Hunt for Red October, a taut thriller balancing on the edge of nuclear Armageddon. That clever analysts might assess situations for what they truly are and steer geopolitics away from unnecessary bombing (and concomitant self-annihilation) is especially appealing to me. However, if those people exist beyond fiction, they are below my radar. Instead, in the marketplace of ideas, we have unsubtle thinkers committed to the same useless conventions (bombing didn’t work? then we need more bombing!) as Robert McNamara famously finally(!) recognized and admitted to late in life and as described in the documentary film The Fog of War. Yet as much as unconventional thinking is admired (some bloggers have made themselves into clichés with their predictable topsy-turvy argumentation), operationally, we’re stuck with Cold War strategizing, not least because minor powers threaten to become irrational, world-ending demons should any acquire a nuclear bomb. Current negotiations with Iran to limit its nuclear ambitions are of just that sort, and America never fails to rise to the bait. However, as attractive as nuclear capability must seem to those not yet in the club, weaponized versions offer little or no practical utility, even as deterrents, in an age of mutually assured destruction (a MAD world, quite literally) should that genie be let back out of the bottle. Any analyst can recognize that.

Once striking act of unconventional thinking is Pres. Obama’s recent step toward ending the U.S. embargo of Cuba. Thus far, economic sanctions are still in place, and travel restrictions have been relaxed only in the case of missionary or educational work. Still, even minor revisions to this Cold War relic suggest further changes may be in store. I’m of mixed opinion about it; I expect Cuba to be ruined if overrun by American tourists and capital. It would be a different kind of bomb exploded on foreign soil but no less destructive.

Lastly, Greece is the current trial balloon (one that bursts) for exit from the European Union and its currency. The trope about the historical seat of modern democracy being the first to fail is a red herring; pay it no attention. We’re all failing in this best of all possible worlds. Thus far, events have been relatively orderly, at least so far as media reports portray. Who can know just how disruptive, violent, and ghastly things will get when the gears of industrial machinery seize up and stop providing everything we have come to expect as normal. Some countries are better equipped psychologically to handle such setbacks. Least among them is the U.S. Having just passed Bastille Day on the calendar, it occurred to me that it has been many generations since the U.S. has seen blood flowing in the streets (not counting a spate of massacres and police murders of civilians, which show no signs of abating), but considering how we are armed to the teeth and have the impulse control of a typical three-year-old, going positively apeshit is pretty much guaranteed when, say, food supplies dwindle. I’m hardly alone in saying such things, and it seems equally obvious that over the past decade or more, the federal government has been not-so-quietly preparing for that eventuality. How the mob is managed will be ugly, and one has to pause and wonder how far things will go before a complete crack-up occurs.

I’m not quite yet done with the idea behind this post, namely, that certain insidious ideas permit problems that more wizened thinking might avoid. If I were less judicious, I might say that lousy ideas generate many of our problems, but cause-and-effect and correlation links are too subtle to draw unambiguous conclusions. Along those lines, I’ve been puzzling the last few weeks over the Middle East, including (of course) Israel and North Africa. Everyone seems to have a pet theory how to put an end to endless violence and mayhem in the region. Most theories call for (further) bombing, strategic or otherwise, of one faction or another. Clearly, that’s not really a solution, since wreaking even more havoc and violence solves nothing, and it’s equally obvious that no pat solution exists. The situation has become a multigenerational, multinational conflict that perpetuates itself, the original provocation(s) having been long forgotten or subsumed into more recent events. Such events include no small amount of meddling and destabilization by the United States and its allies, plus economic difficulties that have people in the streets agitating for a reasonable share of what’s available, which is diminishing rapidly as overpopulation and industrial collapse ramp up in the region.

Reasons why conflict arises are many, but let’s not lose sight of our response. Statesmen of an earlier era might have been predisposed toward diplomatic and economic responses. Indeed, foreign aid and restructuring plans such as those that followed WWII might be examples of a better way to deploy our resources now to achieve desirable results for everyone (here and there). So why do today’s government policy- and decision-makers with their fingers on the buttons — those holding the presumed monopoly on the use of force — now so frequently resort to bombing and decades-long armed response, entailing boots on the ground, air strikes from carriers positioned in the region, and now drone warfare? Destroying people, infrastructure, industrial capacity, and with them means of living peaceably does not make us safer at home, unless there is something they know that I don’t. Rather, considering the apparently unlimited availability of arms to various factions (in high contrast with, um, er, well, food and jobs), it seems obvious that we’re seeding revolution while radicalizing populations that might prefer to be left alone to work out their own problems, which frankly would probably involve armed conflict. So in effect, we’re painting the bullseye on our own backs (and have been for a long time as the self-appointed World Police with strategic interests extending quite literally across the globe), uniting disparate factions against a common enemy — us.

So let me ask again: what makes this possible? In an era of psychotic knowledge and managed perception (and to a far lesser extent, managed consent), many leaders have developed bunker mentality, where everyone is a threat (even from within) and they (whoever they are, it hardly matters) all always poised to come for us and take away our vaunted freedoms (rhetoric alert). Never mind that the reverse is actually more true. I’ve argued before that bunker mentality goes hand-in-hand with Cold War paranoia drummed into the heads of folks who were children in the 1950s and 60s. Too many duck-and-cover air raid drills during primary school left indelible marks on their souls. Younger G-men and -women are undoubtedly infected by the meme now, too, by frequent security briefings that make the world look far more dangerous (to us) than it actually is, not unlike so many police shows on TV that overstate by a large margin the frequency of, say, street shootouts. (Fatalities from automobile accidents and obesity far outstrip losses from terrorism and other existential threats. Go look it up.) Fruit of that propaganda is our current fight-or-flight response: always, always fight; never, ever take flight. The mouth-breathing public is on board with this, too, always ready to throw down with reckless, half-wit commentary such as “bomb them back to the Stone Age!” Yet a few noisy pundits are beginning to suggest that the U.S. transition back to a more isolationist policy, perhaps sitting out a conflict or two rather than engaging reflexively, thoughtlessly, and pointlessly. Isolationism was our stance prior to WWII, having learned in the American Civil War and WWI that warfare absolutely sucks and should be avoided instead of relished. Living memory of those conflagrations is now gone, and we’re left instead with bullshit jingoism about the Greatest Generation having won WWII, quietly skipping over wars we lost gave up on in Korea and Vietnam.

For a long time, people have tried to draw connections between TV and videogame violence and actual crime. The same is true of pornography and rape. No direct links have been demonstrated convincingly using the tools of psychometrics, much to the chagrin of crusaders and moralists everywhere. Yet the commonsense connection has never really been dispelled: if the culture is positively saturated with images of violence and sexuality (as it is), whether actual, fabricated, or fictional (for the purpose of dramatic license and entertainment), then why wouldn’t vulnerable thinkers’ attitudes be shaped by irrational fear and lust? That’s nearly everyone, considering how few can truly think for themselves, resisting the dominant paradigm. Imagery and rhetoric deployed against us throughout the mainstream media is undoubtedly hyperviolent and hypersexual, but we’re smarter as a people than to succumb to such lures and lies? Sorry, even without peer-reviewed studies to show direct causation, that just doesn’t pass the straight-face test.

Yes, we’re always still at war. With whom or what exactly, in the absence of formal declarations of war, is still up for grabs. While nominally a Global War on Terror or terrorism (shades of other not-really-wars on Drugs and Poverty — each made more important by using caps), our objective remains poorly defined beyond blanket justification for an expanded national security state operating both domestically and abroad, as well as the recognition that departure of U.S. forces from foreign theaters of war would almost certainly lead to even worse civil wars and power struggles among competing warlords and emerging nation-states. So the U.S. military continues to strike against diverse targets and still has boots on the ground in the Middle East and Afghanistan. Although Pres. Obama, the Commander in Chief, inherited our military escapades from his predecessor (as do most chief executives) and campaigned on promises to, among other things, close the U.S. torture site military base in Guantanamo Bay and end the wars, the U.S. has not yet abandoned its misadventures even after numerous timetables for withdrawal have been set and surpassed.

After more than a decade, the U.S. public has grown tired of news reports on wars on multiple fronts and the mainstream media no longer reports on U.S. operations with the same diligence or breathless excitement. We have all succumbed to war fatigue. I, too, no longer track or pay attention to such old news. The same inattention is characteristic of the Fukushima nuclear disaster, truly a gift that keeps giving (and giving and giving for a thousand years). Updates on Fukushima can be found here, though I hesitate to believe fully what is presented because the truth is normally spun before being released or simply withheld. Updates and news on current operations relating to war can be found here and here, but the same caveat applies.

It’s not an innocent or passive question: why do these wars on multiple fronts continue to be prosecuted? Unlike Fukushima, they can be turned off, right? Well, in a word (or three), no, they can’t. The reason is that way, way, way too much money is made off war profiteering. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) consumes 22% ($496 billion) of the Federal budget for FY 2015:

This factoid is only the base budget for defense, however. Costs of foreign wars are kept on separate ledgers, such as Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO), which for FY 2015 is an additional $64 billion. Like the DoD base budget, the actual amount depends on where one seeks information and varies considerably between proposed, asked for, granted, and actual (not yet known). This link actually dares the reader to “Guess How Much America Spends on Defense” with its subtitle. Exactitude is not especially important, but trying to obtain a clear and mostly accurate picture is certainly a trip down the rabbit hole. See, for instance, this graphic based on data collected from various sources, which adds the interesting category non-DoD defense spending:

All this is our tax dollars at work. If we spent these dollars on building a stable, equitable society instead of basically blowing up other people people’s shit, I wonder what the U.S. would now look like? Of course, that hypothetical is absurd, because other countries that have been content to allow the U.S. to almost single-handedly police the world and shoulder the costs, keeping their own security costs minimal, have not fared a whole lot better. Apparently, it is not necessary for a country to operate as a full-blown military-industrial complex to own its share of corruption and inequity.

One of the arguments I never see trotted out in the debate over gun control is that guns represent an unwholesome extension of power that ought to be relinquished. This brings to mind how the Japan Shogunate restricted guns and swords in 1587 to samurais because of the recognition that arms destabilize society, granting undue power to better-armed factions. (This lesson was completely lost on the architects of the Cold War.) Even today, Japanese legal restrictions on gun ownership make it so that almost no one owns one. What Japanese society has instead might be interpreted as a level playing field, where everyone is limited to whatever harm they can do through small-scale violence and force. No doubt Japan is better equipped to enforce and accept such restriction because it’s a homogeneous society, whereas most of the rest of the world is heterogeneous and thrives on power imbalance.

If one adopts a slightly different lens, the ability to accomplish work through the focused application of energy (power) provides considerable advantages in productivity and efficiency, such as moving more earth to plant and harvest crops. Large structures can now be built with less manpower and with far greater speed than, say, medieval castles and cathedrals that took generations to complete. Mining can now be done above ground and across huge swaths of land compared to the past, though damaging overburden has grown exponentially. And commercial fishing is now characterized by quite literally vacuuming up the ocean floor without regard for bycatch or ecological degradation.

Over time, all of humanity’s collective effort at increased production and efficiency has proven to be a boon in terms of standard of living and sheer population growth. Pockets of difficulty may have slowed this trend but have not altered its basic trajectory. Now that we possess so much power to engineer and transform the world to suit our singular demands, however, we are caught in a trap: the power tools we created will be the instruments of our own destruction. It’s as if the Frankenstein monster (Mary Shelley’s warning of the peril of science run amok) became Icarus (the mythological admonition against hubris), acquiring too much power and flying too near the sun (mythologically becoming gods ourselves). But for a time, dull Frankarus did soar awfully high, and maybe gloriously, too, before being foiled.

It takes considerable restraint to forswear power-granting tools such as guns or nuclear energy. If only the Japanese (and the rest of us) had been so prescient with regard to the latter. The U.S. and Russia suffered their own nuclear catastrophes before Fukushima blew two years ago, but they were limited in comparison. Fukushima has not yet been contained and faces extremely dangerous clean-up later this month. I cannot referee the veracity of alarmist reports, but credible claims that the Pacific Ocean and West Coast of North America are slowly being fried have me spooked that we may have killed ourselves even sooner than thought. It may not even require things to go badly in the clean-up effort if we’re already the proverbial frog being boiled alive. Yet the mainstream media distracts us with frivolous reports of the early kick-off of the Xmas shopping season because, ya know, Thanksgiving comes late this year and we hardly have time to fit in our annual engorgement.

Power Outtage

Posted: April 5, 2013 in Corporatism, Culture, Economics, Politics
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The news is about a lot of things, not least of which is constructing a passably coherent narrative of modern life out of so many disjunct and disparate bits and pieces. But news is probably foremost about two things: business (money) and death (destruction). When the two are combined in, say, war profiteering, the preoccupation of Western oligarchs for some decades now, well, even better. The news media has/have been called out for their conjuring of fantasies continuously since Eisenhower introduced the term military-industrial complex in 1961, but no matter. The proper outrage of the masses has been bought off by commodities and entertainments — bread and circuses, if you will. This is especially true with handheld electronics, which are a bit of both and the equivalent of information IVs (always jacked in, constant drip). The so-called Information Superhighway (a term no one uses anymore) is superior to drugs, though we have plenty of them, too, because information is virtual, inviting us to conjure our own fantasies if they’re not already whipped up for us by marketers and entertainers. It’s basically a version of Huxley’s soma, which we consume willingly by never looking away.

In the past few weeks, news media buzzed then fell suspiciously silent then buzzed again and are now again mostly silent about events in Cyprus relating to its banking and government crises. That the two are so intertwined is an indication how the military-industrial complex, especially in countries without standing militaries or much industry, has now added -corporate, -finance, or -banking to the mix. Take your pick; they all amount to the same thing. I don’t especially consider it a watershed event that the Cypriot (gawd, how everyone loves that previously unknown modifier!) government decided to confiscate bank deposits, partial though that confiscation may be, to prop itself up, since baby steps toward that eventuality have been piling up throughout the international finance sector for more than a decade., This latest activity is perhaps more honest brazen, but it’s not without precedent. To the public, however, only slightly less flummoxed by the labyrinthine elaborations of government, finance, and media sectors, the idea may have actually crystallized that deposits are no longer safe. Those who have blithely ignored the world stumbling inexorably toward financial collapse may be surprised by this change of sea or canary in the coal mine (metaphors abound — again, take your pick), but anyone wizened and brave enough to recognize truth staring him or her in the face may observe with some equanimity the desperation of dying regimes, even those the size of Mediterranean islands. Ultimately, we’re all riding this ship down together, though there will be a few unrefusable offers made of the “you first” variety.

In other news, the North Korean government is lining up to attack the United States and/or South Korea, surely a suicidal act or suicide pact, doesn’t matter which. It’s difficult to imagine the motivation or what positive outcome could possibly result from N. Koreans throwing themselves at us, which I find tantamount to throwing themselves on their own swords, since they likely have no bullets and possession of WMDs isn’t altogether clear. Reminds me that more than one regime throughout history has willingly wasted its men in pointless battle. It also calls to mind an extended battle scene in the final film of the Matrix trilogy, where the machines swarm into Zion only to be cut down en masse by overweening firepower yet continue to swarm until eventually overwhelming all defenses. It’s an instructive bit, though I doubt the filmmakers intended it as such. For entertainment purposes, it was just more-is-more idiocy, “more” in this case being CGI effects — the easy, virtual equivalent of more power. But the scene didn’t offer visual richness or narrative depth, just meaningless, forceful overkill. It did depict the willingness of both the characters in the film and the filmmakers to waste themselves on false glory. Sometimes, there is no winning in winning.

And that may well be the crux of it: the nihilistic application of more and more power (lies, money, arms, lives, etc.) in a futile attempt to mask the fact that we’re really suffering a power outtage, an inability to rein ourselves in or halt the trends our decisions have delivered as a final trajectory. That trajectory may rise for some while longer, like a plane approaching stall, but we surely end in a deadspin. So we can no longer pretend that deposited money will stay there anymore (shades of the NDAA, which asserts that, in a pinch, your financial and material assets can be seized by the government, just like Cyprus), that geopolitical stresses are even remotely manageable (when the players, us no less than them, have gone suicidally or genocidally insane), and that life at twilight can offer much hope or meaning when instead so many catastrophes and cascade power failures stand poised to manifest. Indeed, since world events demonstrate that we’re reacting quite literally to a new sort of survival pressure, those with and without power will undoubtedly spend the last of what they’ve got to eke out a few more graceless breaths.

Should an attack from N. Korea actually occur, despite the awful deprivations its population suffers, a fair bit of damage can probably be done before we, in turn and with characteristic imbalance, destroy them utterly. Their destruction, if it’s responsive on our part, as opposed to preemptive, will likely be without hesitation, without remorse, without compunction, without conscience, and without pity or compassion, and it will be gloriously celebrated as a demonstration of our superior power and righteousness when in actuality it will be our complete lack of introspection or power to transcend our own base nature. There is something pathetic, really, when the proverbial 90-lb weakling lands a lucky albeit fateful blow and the big, dumb, schoolyard bully can only respond by pummeling the weakling relentlessly into the dirt. Everyone knows there is an early crossover point when the bully becomes something worse, something monstrous, like a boxer who kills his opponent in the ring. Sometimes, there is no winning in winning.

Real Gun, Fake Gun, Squirt Gun

Posted: May 23, 2012 in Culture, Politics
Tags:

From the Beyond Disbelief Dept. at the Chicago Tribune comes the news (slightly late to me as always) that

Florida’s Republican Gov. Rick Scott rejected Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn’s request that firearms be banned during the Republican National Convention in August. Scott argues that all citizens, including, presumably, inebriated party-weary conventioneers and angry protesters, will be safer if everyone is packing heat.

I’ve always been of two minds about the gun debate. First, the genie’s already well out of the bottle and will never be stuffed back in again, so the idea of regulating guns any more tightly that they now are only removes them unjustly from the hands of citizens. Ne’er-do-wells, whether they be from among the military, civilian police, state militias, felons (lots of overlap in those categories), or merely everyone’s crazy Uncle Ted (Nugent, clearly), will always figger ways to possess guns. Second, the utility of guns for self-protection is questionable, as many gun owners end up injured with their own weapons (I couldn’t verify this meme, so don’t hold me to it) or simply succumb too readily to solving problems with violent force. So while I think it preposterous to restrict gun ownership too heavily, to say nothing of that niggling problem with the, um, U.S. Constitution, I don’t own one nor do I particularly want one — yet. (A decision on private ownership of flying killer robots, or DIY drones, is to be expected sometime soon.)

The insistence of the Florida Governor that everyone packing (but concealed, since that makes it safer!?) at the Rep. National Convention will make everyone safe rather than provoke a wild-west shootout just boggles the mind. It reminds me of the other doctrinaire position taken by many economists of either the armchair or professional variety, namely, that a deregulated economy will sort itself out in time. We can see just how well that’s working out, though one could reasonably argue we’ve never really, truly had a laissez-faire economy.

According to the article, the list of items banned from the convention includes clubs, spears, lumber, hatchets, gas masks, chains, and squirt guns, but apparently real guns made the cut. This put me in mind of something I read recently. I took my own advice and read Metaphors We Live By, jointly authored by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson. Lots of interesting stuff in the book, but one bit that applies here is a discussion of what it means to distinguish between categories of gun. They show that because “our conceptual system is grounded in our experiences in the world,” the very idea of defining something is based on interactional properties and can never be purely objective or outside of human experience. With respect to guns, they identifies five such interactional properties:

  1. it looks like a gun (perceptual properties)
  2. it handles like a gun (contextually relevant motor activities)
  3. it serves the purpose of a gun (purposive properties)
  4. it works like a gun (functional properties)
  5. it was built to be a gun (history of function)

People with normal cognition (not Republicans, apparently) can see how a (real) gun, a fake gun, a broken gun, or a squirt gun fulfills or falls outside these interactional properties and is therefore either a gun (no modifier necessary) or a ______ gun (modifier necessary), making it a “not-gun.” The broken gun is a very interesting case, since its history of function trumps the properties it fails because of being broken. In fact, until the doctrinal spin machine goes to work, it should be abundantly clear that to allow squirt guns at the convention and risk getting wet is far preferable than to allow real, working guns and risk getting pumped full of lead.