Posts Tagged ‘Weaponry’

In an earlier blog post, I mentioned how killing from a distance is one way among many that humans differentiate from other animals. The practical advantage of weaponry that distances one combatant from another should be obvious. Spears and swords extend one’s reach yet keep fighting hand-to-hand. Projectiles (bullets, arrows, catapults, artillery, etc.) allow killing from increasingly long distances, with weapons launched into low orbit before raining down ruin being the far extreme. The latest technology is drones (and drone swarms), which remove those who wield them from danger except perhaps psychological torment accruing gradually on remote operators. Humans are unique among animals for having devised such clever ways of destroying each other, and in the process, themselves.

I finally got around to seeing the film Black Panther. Beyond the parade of clichés and mostly forgettable punchfest action (interchangeable with any other Marvel film), one particular remark stuck with me. When the warrior general of fictional Wakanda went into battle, a female as it happens, she dismissed the use of guns as “primitive.” Much is made of Wakanda’s advanced technology, some of it frankly indistinguishable from magic (e.g., the panther elixir). Wakanda’s possession of weaponry not shared with the rest of the world (e.g., invisible planes) is the MacGuffin the villain seeks to control so as exact revenge on the world and rule over it. Yet the film resorts predictably to punching and acrobatics as the principal mode of combat. Some of that strategic nonsense is attributable to visual storytelling found in both comic books and cinema. Bullets fly too fast to be seen and tracking airborne bombs never really works, either. Plus, a punch thrown by a villain or superhero arguably has some individual character to it, at least until one recognizes that punching leaves no lasting effect on anyone.

As it happens, a similar remark about “primitive” weapons (a blaster) was spat out by Obi-Wan Kenobi in one of the Star Wars prequels (dunno which one). For all the amazing technology at the disposal of those characters long ago in a galaxy far, far away, it’s curious that the weapon of choice for a Jedi knight is a light saber. Again, up close and personal (color coded, even), including actual peril, as opposed to, say, an infinity gauntlet capable of dispatching half a universe with a finger snap. Infinite power clearly drains the stakes out of conflict. Credit goes to George Lucas for recognizing the awesome visual storytelling the light saber offers. He also made blaster shots — the equivalent of flying bullets — visible to the viewer. Laser beams and other lighted projectiles had been done in cinema before Star Wars but never so well.

Any given species has its unique behaviors and preferred habitat, inevitably overlapping with others that are predator or prey. The human species has spread geographically to make nearly the entire world its habitat and every species its prey (sometimes unintentionally). But it’s a Pyrrhic success, because for the ecosystem to work as our habitat as well as theirs, diversity and abundance is needed. As our numbers have expanded to over 7 billion, nonhuman populations have often declined precipitously (when we don’t farm them for food). When we humans are not otherwise busy hunting, harvesting, and exterminating, we harass them and claim their habitats as uniquely our own. Our unwillingness to share space and/or tolerate their presence except on our own terms is audacious, to say the least.

To take just one example, we have developed many devices to discourage birds from roosting and nesting where we don’t want them. A list of top ten ways to deter “pest” birds is found here:

  1. Reflective Foil/Flash Tape and Balloons.
  2. Bird Spiders.
  3. Bird Spikes.
  4. Bird Slopes.
  5. Bird Netting.
  6. Bird Gel.
  7. Electric-Tracks.
  8. Misters.
  9. Sonic Repellers.
  10. Solar Powered Bird Repellers.

The devices are billed as humane, and perhaps they are. A somewhat nastier list is found here, though the remarks about “none listed” under Repellants, and Toxicants and “not allowed” under Trapping ring false. (How is Trapping so different from Live Capture? Does one specifically avoid injury?) Yet another list is found here. I will admit that in some instances, such as proximity to airports, windmill farms, or toxic waste dumps (of human origin), keeping birds from harm makes sense, except that they are still displaced from their habitats, which we have claimed and ruined for them.

Our overreach is now so great, however, that we have turned on ourselves. Undesired, unsavory, and untouchable populations are harassed like animals and told, essentially, go be undesirable somewhere else. Apparently, the homeless can’t even go live under a bridge anymore.


This is happening in my neighborhood, too. Public outcry against such measures appears to be vehement in some instances. Harassment of notorious park bench sleepers started out less egregious, perhaps, with slanted benches, leaning benches, and divided benches. But wait, it got worse. Now we have spikes built into park benches that are (get this!) coin-operated and rigged to deploy when one’s paid-for interval runs out:

Outcry over such innovations appears to be nearly universal, but frankly, I expect to see these and other NIMBY devices with greater frequency. They clearly don’t aim to address homelessness or minister to the homeless. Instead, they harass and displace. This website, despite a few preliminary flourishes, appears to approach homelessness in much the same way, namely, as a pest infestation to be eradicated.

It would be a legitimate function of government to provide a safety net troubled populations could not fall through, but alas, our government functions instead to reward the wealthy and powerful with more wealth and power rather than serve the health and wellbeing of society as a whole, including the problems of the most vulnerable and disenfranchised among us. That’s hardly a lobby that will get anyone elected.

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.