Saturday, December 15, 2012

Drive By Shootings: A Call to Arms

I was driving on I-84 in Portland, Oregon on Tuesday afternoon after meetings in Beaverton.  The AM radio station - for some reason the only one I could access in my Hertz rental car - broke into the talk-radio rant with the news that a shooting was taking place at the Clackamas Town Center just a dozen miles from my precise location.  In moments, Steve Forsyth and Cindy Ann Yuille were dead, Kristina Shevchenko was seriously injured before Jacob Tyler Roberts ended his own torture.  Hours later, I boarded a red-eye flight from Portland to New York's JFK via Los Angeles.  In the early morning on Wednesday, I was met by a wonderful driver who was to drive me to business meetings in Southeastern Connecticut.  A terrible accident on I-95 forced us to divert and we traveled north.  Passing young children waiting for their school buses in the early, cold morning, I reflected on the tragedy in Portland.  We turned right at an intersection which indicated that a left would take us to Newtown.  I couldn't have known that within 24 hours, on opposite sides of the country, I would be in the immediate vicinity of two horrific tragedies.   Young children and adults at the Sandy Hook Elementary School - now 26 people we'll never meet, know and love - were within range of the Christmas vacation.  Now candle-light vigils, rants on the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and myriads of blog posts across the ideological spectrum serve as the reflexive catharsis which will wax and then wane until we're 'shocked' again.

As I rode through frigid Southern Albemarle County this morning, I felt visited by those whose lives had been extinguished this week.  Young and old, they seemed to ask, "How long will we join the ranks of those who die for no reason?"  In the empty woods, up and down the hills marking the interface between the ancient Blue Ridge Mountains' edge and the James River, the empty cold, punctuated from time to time with a small flock of birds, one sentinel redheaded woodpecker and the odd squirrel seemed to reply, "Yes, how long?"  This experience wasn't new.  Since I was introduced to murder with the stabbing death of my then-best friend at the age of 6, I've been invited to ponder this question thousands of times.

The lives that were extinguished this week were sacrificed for ideology.  Ideology born of a legacy that stretches back at least 1,111 years.  Defenders of the Second Amendment merely recite the liturgy from the nadir of Europe's Dark Ages that citizens must both defend their king and be defended from tyranny defined by King Alfred around 886 A.D.  This good Christian King of the Anglo-Saxons edited the Golden Rule to state that, "What ye will that other men should not do to you, that do ye not to other men."  Rather than calling for elevated human morality, he defined the defensive posture that survives to this day.  Among his other elevated achievements, Alfred and Pope John IX also came up with the precedent for church-sanctioned sex trafficking of nuns with their brilliant scheme of fining 120 shillings those who take women with the revenue split between the King and the Bishop presiding over the convent!

"How long must we die?"

How long will we accept murder as a means to resolve ideological disputes?  How long will we promote murder - in the name of sacrifice - as a means to better social ends?  How long will religion insist that through murder comes love and life?  How long will we accept social systems which give preference to the lives like 'us' while blindly accepting the murder of those not like 'us'?  A classroom of kindergarten students, courtesy of our contempt for humanity, will never be able to ask these questions.  A small cadre of teachers will never be able to impart a more enlightened thinking.  Because our ideology adherence was more valuable then their lives.  And the lives of millions before. 

Today, we mark the 221 anniversary of the adoption of the Second Amendment which, for those of you who don't read the history you debate states:

A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.

I recite this both for the informational value it serves as well as the ideology it presumes.  The infallible canonical truth infused in this amendment is that security comes with violence and the capacity to visit the same on enemies.  But James Madison's logic for the amendment had more to do with the political points scored by assuring Anti-Federalist militias that they would not be disarmed.  Against the back-drop of a rejection of a standing army, the preservation of arms by the militias was a high-stakes bluff showing that the Federalists had nothing to fear from the conspiracy soaked Anti-Federalists who were certain that they would face tyranny equal to or worse than that which they'd just rejected from Britain.

Let's dig deeper.  The Amendment assumes:

-  force is a companion to security;
-  security is a necessity of a free State,
-  armed citizens will keep and bear arms for the benefit of a secure State, and,
-  that Evangelical Christians, who place their absolute faith in God, will protest most loudly - to the point of using violence -  if the government ever steps foot on their property which they bought with their hard-earned money that came from… well, uh oh, the government… so they need their assault rifles for hunting, abortion clinics, and terrorists!

O.K., the last one was not contemplated by Madison or Jefferson, neither of whom had much use for the dogma embraced by today's Evangelicals who insist that the founding fathers were Christians like them.

These assumptions are born of fear and dogmatic adherence to our religious narrative requiring murder.  People displease God - kill them with a flood.  People live in the place that 'chosen people' would rather live - kill them with the sword.  People promote heresy like letting women read - burn them at the stake.  People question any authority - drown them, burn them, rip their flesh… and do it publicly so that there's no question that others will learn to fall in line.  And here's the pièce de résistance:  it's either the celebrated murder of a Nazarene by the Romans or your eternal death!  Oh, and that one, we actually call an act of love!

We're still in the European Dark Ages when it comes to our engagement with humanity.  Robert K. Merton, in his 1949 publication Social Theory and Social Structures brilliantly describes: 

"…a false definition of the situation evoking a new behaviour which makes the original false conception come 'true'. This specious validity of the self-fulfilling prophecy perpetuates a reign of error. For the prophet will cite the actual course of events as proof that he was right from the very beginning."

It's not arms that secure us.  They never have and they never will.  Karl Popper's Oedipus Effect explained the social and scientific effect of expectations derived from dogmatically held perspective (derived, not tacit truth) which in fact played a role in bringing about that which was the "fulfillment of it's prophecy."  If we assume armed security from certain violence as a predicate to freedom, we'll have arms, security, violence and will never achieve lasting freedom.  Why?  Because we'll observe those conditions in which our perspective-based assumptions exist (or fail to exist) and then causal links between those conditions and the events manifest therein.  We will not contemplate an alternative to Freedom, the State, Security, or Force.

Because after all, who would want a land filled with people at Liberty?  Who would want a social order in which the citizens actually understand their interdependence oblivious to ideology, race, color, or creed?  Who would want to have a society so compellingly inclusive that the impulse to horde would be replaced with the impulse to be conduits of abundance benefiting oneself and those with whom one interacts?  Who would want the grace and mercy to be the ideal to which we are striving?  Who?  Well, for starters, twenty eight of our fellow citizens who lost their lives this week.  Use your arms - I really mean your arms - and embrace someone you don't know.  Then ask yourself if a More Perfect Union would be possible if you pointed a gun in their direction.  The truth is staring us in the face.  And 28 souls are waiting for you to show up and cast off the shackles of an ideology born three centuries before we sent 30,000 children to their death in the Children's Crusade in 1212.

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Thank you for your comment. I look forward to considering this in the expanding dialogue. Dave