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Looking Down the Barrel

Even a tragedy as horrible as a school shooting no longer warrants civility. Absent from the national discourse regarding guns, and gun control is reasonable perspective. The internet has given rise to mediocre personalities spewing constitutional hyperbole and an utter lack of understanding of a topic in which they profess to possess an expertise.

In the minds of those awarded the privilege of speaking to the American public about socio/political propositions, it can be only all or nothing, black or white. So it is with guns. But how can we have a rational discussion about the second amendment when those whom we turn to for reason are themselves, irrational? To make matter worse, as it always does when people derive their information from biased, unreliable sources, the crazy is trickling down to the public.

Recently I made the mistake of trying to find — within my circle of influence–  a common ground for reasonable people to begin a discussion, in the hopes that somehow the margins might be brought in from the extremes. As a law abiding citizen and legal gun owner, I thought that there must be some commonality between the lunatic fringes. Certainly there had to be people whose sensibilities allowed them to fall on the gun issue somewhere between the government forcibly disarming the populace, and allowing everyone to have their own predator drone.

So I began with the premise that no matter what anybodies feelings were about guns, and gun control, that we should all agree that *ILLEGAL* guns should be addressed. I thought that would be a good way to begin a rational discussion. So I thought.

Little did I know that I — a legal gun owner– am akin to left wing loony Piers Morgan on this topic. Assailed by NRA activists for even suggesting that any guns or gun sales be scrutinized, even the topic of illegal guns seemed to be prohibitive to their second amendment rights. The Only answer that the far right gun nuts would accept, was to arm every law abiding citizen so that they can either deter, or shoot it out with their criminal gun nut counterparts.

Also unbeknownst to me was that President Obama had a secret plan to take everyone’s guns away despite the reality that this administration has made it easier to purchase, and travel with firearms. Yet despite the facts, the panic was palpable. As it turns out, the NRA makes millions from the panic they create. Dumb, camouflage wearing people buy lots of guns when you tell them that they soon won’t be able to.

You see, the NRA is a gun lobby, not an activist group for the rights of American citizens. It doesn’t  give a damn about the second amendment, or anyone’s liberties anymore than the oil lobby cares about the environment. They are concerned about gun sales, and nothing else. The second amendment is merely the worm on the hook the NRA needs to get support  from the proletariat so that legislators can take their money without it costing them their jobs in the form of voter retaliation.  

But lost in all of this  far left/far right gun mania is that innocent people –American citizens– are being helplessly gunned down all too often. These are tragedies, not rope to have a political tug O’ war with. We’re having the wrong discussions, because people are making money from our collective anxiety.

The reality is that the causes for gun violence are more complex than any of the talking heads on cable news, or our unimaginative politicians will acknowledge. There is no one explanation that causes someone to shoot their fellow citizens for no rational reason. The blame has been spread around from too many guns, to not enough guns… from a culture desensitized to violence to a lack of proper mental health coverage… and from the changing landscape of parent/child relationships to the sugar and salt rich American diet resulting in millions of cases of undiagnosed depression.

To some degree, it’s probably all of the above. But the thing is, that offering a reasonable perspective won’t get socio/political entertainers the clever sound bite they need to stay relevant into the next news cycle. So they blather wingnut platitudes in the hopes of having their media appearance turn viral.

… and it comes at the expense of solving problems, and ultimately people’s lives.

Willful Ignorance

Every once in a while, inspiration arrives unexpectedly.

Recently I’d had a rather humorous exchange of ideologies with some very nice, albeit imaginatively compromised theists on the internet. Although we had extremely different views about life, death, the afterlife, science and theology… for the most part we were all able to discuss our varying perspectives without too much Christian inspired animus. As only the invisible, all-knowing, all powerful, sex hating, intergalactic ruler of the cosmos knows, I was uncharacteristically well behaved.

Sure, there were those who took exception to my very existence, and who typed in all capital letters (to let me know that they were shouting in anger) that I was undoubtedly going to hell, and that –as one synaptic impaired dullard asserted– “GOD IS AN AWESOME GOD! I HAVE 2 AWESOME PRAISE REPORTS THIS WEEK! HE IS WORTHY 2 B PRAISED! I GIVE HIM ALL THE PRAISE AND GLORY!” (actual quote)… but for the most part the discussion revolved around me trying to explain basic science to people who refused to acknowledge it. To them, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the earth is 6000 years old, humans and dinosaurs coexisted, and their appalling consensus was that any science that contradicts the bible is a tool of Satan.

But my resolve is such that I cannot sit in good conscience and allow blatant lies which negatively affect so many lives to be accepted without speaking out against them. My idealism won’t allow what I felt was a flippant, cavalier disregard for human suffering from “Christians” sitting comfortably in their heated, carpeted homes to go unanswered… especially when they engage in trite religious platitudes such as “Jesus loves us”, or the comment that began our interaction:

“GOD is with you, He is on your side, He has your best interest at heart and He is working to bring restoration and peace to every area of your life”.

But clearly, God doesn’t love all of us, and if he does, he has a funny way of showing it. Sure he loves the wealthy, or the plain ole’ lucky… but try telling a victim of the Rwandan holocaust who’s had her arm hacked off with a machete, or someone who lost their family in the Japanese tsunami, or a 4 year old dying painfully from leukemia that God has a special plan for them. Faith in god not only allows theists to dismiss the man made pain and suffering occurring around the globe and chalk it up to “god’s will”…. it allows them to remove themselves from any sense of empathy and pretend that (especially brown) people somehow had it coming for not believing as good, Anglo mid-western Christians do.

The sanctimonious indifference exhibited routinely by American Christians is the height of condescension, and serves the less than noble purpose of narcissistic self-centeredness. “God loves me, more than the Serbian child who became paralyzed when a bullet ripped through his spine while he was doing his homework. I can tell because he rewards me with cable television. In fact, I don’t have to concern myself with the poor little cripple, God is on the job.” Religion appeals to the darkest parts of human nature, and allows us to rationalize some otherwise very antisocial, bigoted, and overtly ignorant perspectives. It’s as if theists are complicit in a post-life ponzi scheme, design to sign as many gullible people on as they can. And like any other multi-level-marketing pyramid, only those at the top are rewarded.

Which is why I believe that even a little religion is a very bad thing. For theist –many of whom I have little doubt are very well intentioned– the belief in god deprives them of the ability to think critically, or to fundamentally reason. It allows them to ignore facts and evidence in favor of what they’d like to believe. It can cause people who are obviously not insane, to make some very irrational statements of faith. Once one convinces themselves that a talking snake persuading a woman to eat an apple is the reason for war and disease, believing that god was punishing the hedonistic city of New Orleans with a hurricane is not such a stretch.

When adults practice the art of self-deception in any other aspect of their lives, we call it denial. We offer therapy, support or perhaps even an intervention whereby all of one’s friends get together and explain what an irrational, self-destructive imbecile they are behaving like. However when they do so in regard to the genetic, or astronomical evidence supporting the actual age of our universe or the origin of our species, we call it “faith”. However “god” is the abusive relationship theists can’t get out of, and they keep telling themselves that “He loves them”, despite the random, abject cruelty he routinely exhibits. They need an intervention.

But it gets worse. When people allow themselves to become corporeal servants to an ethereal dictator… and when we sacrifice our intellect and ability to employ logic here on earth in the hopes of gaining post-life admittance to what Christopher Hitchens so eloquently described as a “Celestial North Korea”… When we convince ourselves that we’ll find happiness in a heavenly hive where one must appeal to an almighty creator’s sense of vanity by constantly heaping praise on him, while simultaneously serving as “bottoms” in a sadomasochistic, mentally abusive patriarchy which only allows one to only be rewarded for blind obedience, and the ability to endure boredom… it is epitome of lazy thinking in the face of real world issues that require our serious attention.

As such, religion hurts everyone. To which I say to those whom demand “respect” for a fundamentalist, inherently bigoted worldview that eliminates any metaphoric interpretation of scripture, and which denies science in favor of fairy tales…. You’ll get none from *this* Atheist.

Supply Side Story

I too, am guilty.

There is a current socio/political trend that is lending itself towards an irrational dynamic. Like many irrational behaviors, it is largely motivated by fear. This “trend” I speak of, is when American citizens begin with a subjective political assertion, and gather evidence –whether it be real, manufactured, or a little both– to support it. These declarations are often made without regard for acumen, rather the impetus is to affirm one’s blind allegiance to their chosen dogma… Or to put it more bluntly, paranoia caused by partisan hyperbole. And while toting a “party line” has been an establish practice for generations, the vitriol and adversarial approach to our fellow Americans has become a tragic part of the new Americana.

For instance, I have lifelong friends who reside on both sides of the political aisle who are the exemplification of this sociological paradigm. Almost without exception, they’ll depict a political landscape whereby good and evil are easily recognizable, dependent upon one’s political affiliation. Representatives from either party are often labeled as socialists, fascists, elitists or stupid… and while there are times when any of those labels might seem justified, it is the cavalier manner in which they are so casually tossed about which allows for bombast to have trumped reasonable objections to policy.

The reasons for this social malady are many, depending on who is making the assertion. The psychological payoff, it would appear, is to try to tether oneself to something both righteous and tangible in a world spinning out of control, socially, politically, and economically. It is simply how the culture of fear manifests itself. When one considers how media contributes to this dynamic, certainly it is understandable how we can vilify and canonize so recklessly. We behave more like Sharks and Jets than Democrats and Republicans, and as such our angst is able to seek its expression through our natural discourse.

But for the sources of the cultural divide –those who manufacture these extremes– the motives are not nearly as honorable. Those who profit from any given media platform have recognized the profitable forum in extremism, and thus prey upon the angst of those whom they purport to be enlightening. The laughably biased –albeit lyrical– affirmations of “truth” made by political televangelists on cable news have compromised the imaginative ability of the proletariat to which they preach, resulting in the regurgitation of fact challenged, wingnut propaganda by average citizens on blogs, and in social media. In the ideological turf war, the battle to win the hearts and minds of those not centrifugally pinned to either political extreme is being waged through those who are. In a nation fast losing its ability to employ critical thinking, reason is now viewed as weakness. The inability to rationally articulate one’s socio/political concerns in non-polarizing terms has been denounced, because the truth –as many of us see it– is not actually based on our own perceptions, but rather the perceptions of those on whom we place our misguided trust.

Which brings us to the point of this article, which is an observation about the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Regardless of our political leanings, I hope that we Americans can differentiate between condemning our entire financial system, and calling to task those who have undermined it for personal profit. I hope that we can understand the difference between capitalism, and corporatism. I trust that we recognize that when political influence is purchased though lobbying or when competition is artificially removed from the marketplace, that we no longer live in a democracy, nor do we live in a capitalist society. Something un-American is occurring where it concerns the collusive relationship between capital interests, and congress. The Tea Party saw it, and so do the OWS.

But with few exceptions, both the liberal and conservative media –which provides many with their philosophical rudder– ignores these facts. Rather they fan flames of partisanship because profit lies in our contention with one another. Actuality has given way to the portrait they want us to see. And while I have little doubt that this movement –like the Tea Party before it– will be co-opted by special interests, it does not deter from the evidence, or the larger picture. Regardless of whether one is able to channel their inner hippie and support these protestors, or whether they are the re-incarnation of William F Buckley and denounce them as whiney, entitled, and without a work ethic… it should not dissuade us from recognizing that there are those in both the private and public sectors who are escaping incarceration because we Americans have allowed ourselves to become distracted by political theater.