So I've been thinking about this some more. What is it about guns that is buried so deep within the American psyche that despite our being the only high-profile democracy with a massive shooting-death problem, we will never, ever ban or even meaningfully restrict them?
I would have said 'highly-evolved' or 'highly-developed' democracy rather than 'high-profile,' but sadly that would not have been true. In 1789, when our Constitution was finalized, we might have been called one of the highly-evolved democracies, in that there weren't too many of us and at least we'd put together some paperwork. And in the 1950s, before special-interest lobbying and donor corruption had become so prevalent and destructive to congress, our democracy might have been called highly-developed. But now we are just famous. Appropriate, but not edifying.
What's the obsession with guns and the resulting violence problem all about? Do Americans glorify gun violence more than other nations? Or do we just have more guns to act it out in real life? Do we have more undiagnosed or unmedicated mental illness, or do we just have more freedom to opt out of treatment and opt in to other pastimes that keep us quiet, like violent video games and television?
Looking at the origin story, since there were people here already when the Europeans 'discovered' America, the settlers/invaders needed to use force to conquer. Back in Europe the average citizen/resident did not need to invade or conquer in order to establish residence, and so did not require weaponry. Therefore the ownership and use of guns on this continent by European settlers was directly related to their role as individual citizen-conquerors, and represented a marked difference from how they had lived in the old world. Without those weapons, people on the frontiers would not have been able to defend their homes against those whose lands they were appropriating, since it would have taken days or weeks for the closest sanctioned cavalry to arrive. The earliest, most enterprising Americans, the pioneers who 'made this country great,' depended on weapons for their continued existence.
So, weapons played an enormous role in making the country great, and helped forge a different path to greatness from those that had existed back in Europe.
On the frontier, there was no democracy - there was only individual enterprise and defense. I've noticed that the people who fight loudest and longest for guns seem to be the ones who think that guns are the only thing that will allow them to stand up to and fight back against 'the government.' If this is true, it's a huge chink in the armor of our vaunted democracy. The point of democracy is (kind of) that everyone gets a say, not everyone gets the right to shoot people if they feel their rights are being impinged upon. But if you identify as a patriot with the pioneers who made America 'great,' then you haven't really made peace with the idea of democracy, since there was no democracy on the frontier.
So maybe that's it. America is built on the use of guns to overtake a continent of people who had lived here for centuries, and the only rule of law was who was armed and who was the quicker draw. Freedoms of speech and religion didn't really matter when there was no one in charge. And deep down, maybe Americans believe that since guns are what helped make this country what it is, restricting the right of anyone to own and use them is to take away an important piece of what it means to be American; what it means to be different from the cultures and societies we left behind (no matter who much they have each evolved since that time); what it means, on the frontier, to be secure and free.
Sunday, December 30, 2012
I've got a little more to say about the purported 'end of the world.' The Mayan empire was slowly decimated by Spanish conquistadors, and the new habits, preferences and diseases they brought with them. The Mayan people began to lose their faith in their deities and their communities and as a result were subsumed into the culture of the Spanish colonists. It was a case of the imperial efforts of one civilization out-gunning the empire of another. Over the last 13 years, since 1999 and Columbine, we've grown used to the periodic news of madmen (usually men) committing mass shootings at schools, shopping malls, movie theaters and universities. It's horrific every time, but it grows less shocking with each occurrence. It's awful but no longer surprising that mentally ill people have access to guns and violent images to inspire them. After Newtown, only 16 days ago, I thought 'well maybe there is something to this end of the world stuff,' because who shoots at small children and teachers (apart from the shooters in primary schools in Dunblane, Scotland and also in Lancaster county, PA, both in the last 15 years, of course). Then we had news of someone setting a fire and then shooting at firefighters who came to put it out. Followed swiftly by a second incident of this kind. And now I am convinced that we are officially a empire and society in rapid decline. We are arming our own killers, and in the end we will all be gone. I fear it is too late to make meaningful change - this is a country built on the freedom to own guns and carry then around and shoot them at will. It's only a matter of conscience that keeps gun-carriers from shooting at people, and that's a very thin line, one easily crossed as mental health declines. For military veterans, that conscience has had to to be worn away and in some cases erased, especially over the last 70 years, in which it stopped being clear who our enemies were in war zones. So now we have people who have seen incredibly traumatic things, which can directly result in mental illness, even in people who have not suffered previously, who have had the stigma against shooting people rubbed away at until it's nearly gone, who are trained gunmen and usually weapon owners. Somehow, so far, the people these men (mostly men) seem to kill the most are themselves. In 2012, more service members died from suicide than in combat. The silver lining here is that combat deaths are clearly down, but there are far too many suicides amongst the combat survivors. How do we stop such senseless violence and death? We will all die anyway - why would we want that end hastened? All of the people killed, by others or by their own hands, had the power and in many cases the desire to help others get through their time here with less pain. But we continue to fight for the 'freedoms' offered centuries ago, in a different time and society, and we will apparently fight for them to the death.
2012 ends tomorrow, and lacking anything better to do I've been taking stock of the year and thinking about things I want to keep or change for 2013. My friends and I do a little ritual around this time where we write down the things we want to be rid of for the new year and put them in a blue fire (epsom salts and rubbing alcohol). While it is cathartic to watch things like 'anxiety' burn to ashes, and it does help to remember the vision several hours later when sleep still hasn't come, I have to remind myself that this 'year-end' business is just as irrelevant as the 'world-end' nonsense was on December 21. We all laughed at the people who took it seriously, because it's not like the Western world has observed anything else in the Mayan calendar ever; but our calendar is equally arbitrary. December 31 and January 1 are just Monday and Tuesday this week, and in real time, unrelated to calendars, they are one and two planet-spins from now. We've assigned importance to these days based on the number of planet-spins that occur as the planet completes its revolution around the sun, and the months and days of the week were named by the Romans, which is pretty recently in the large scheme of the universe. So while it's great that people make resolutions about changes and think about things that didn't work in the past in order to do things differently in the future, in actuality you let go of things when you let go of them; things end when the end. I think I find this comforting because it's nicer to think of life as an unbroken line that ends when it ends, rather than a set of goals to reach in a certain amount of time. If we're all here in order to do the work we're doing, whatever it is, for however long we have, I'd hate to think of it being chopped up like that and marks being given for effort and achievement. With all of that said, at this time of year it's nice to remember that no one can make you happy but yourself, and the more you do things because they are expected of you the less they mean. If you do have to do things in order to get by, own them, so that they feel like choices and not obligations. That's the only way we take the helm in our own journeys.
Friday, September 7, 2012
I started this blog five years ago and despite its title it seems to have articulated more sorrow than joy. This is mostly due to the circumstances of my life in 2007-08, which is when most of the posts were written. Since 2009 things have improved markedly (cf. wedding post from March 2012), and I suppose I haven't seen as much of a need to work things out here. In light of the better circumstances and the title of the blog, I'm now making the change to include two 'joy' posts for every one 'sorrow' post. Joy for everyone.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Watching a Taylor Swift video this morning, in which she wears a long white linen dress and wanders across an empty countryside, at times with some dead foliage in her hands that she might have pulled off a bush (it's a tie-in song to the Hunger Games), I began thinking about the semiotics of weddings and whether western society's wedding obsession really is as ridiculous as I've long imagined. I suspect it is, but am willing to explore the idea to some length before ceding to my original point. In planning my own wedding, an event agreed upon mostly to satisfy the wants of others, I've consistently struggled with the many wedding-specific symbols and rituals that seem important to everyone else but carry no meaning at all for me. After being talked out of a red dress, and into a not completely outrageous white strapless affair that makes me look like I am attending a 1962 prom, I've drawn the line at such staples as bridesmaids, flowers, a cake, a photographer, to say nothing of a color scheme, a personalized cocktail, favors and all of the other features that seem to have become necessary in everyone's minds. I'm closer to 37 than 36; no one is 'giving' me to my betrothed apart from myself. My friends are all my age, and most are married, some divorced, one widowed - the bloom is well off the bridal party rose, and while I was happy to serve as a maid in some of their weddings, I've never had a need for several women to be dressed alike in outfits of my choosing. Flowers are very pretty, but when they are cut they die sooner than they would have if left alone, and it makes me sad. I was never going to carry a bouquet, but even the centerpieces are just bamboo plants and a small lantern. If people want to take any of them home at the end of the night they should feel free, but I don't understand why people have recommended we have the lanterns inscribed with our names and the date. If someone wants a lantern for their home, why the hell would they want our names on it? No one's got a sweeter tooth than me, but making a decision about and paying for a cake was just one decision too many for us. There'll be a dessert tray that I am certain will be able to satisfy the sweetest molar. And in this era of camera phones, I didn't understand why we would pay thousands for 500 photographs of ourselves, only perhaps three of which we would ever look at. I know that I've seen some wonderful photos taken of my friends and family by professional wedding photographers, and I'm glad to own some of them. But I have to believe that out of the 88 guests with camera phones (my father and grandmother excepted), someone will get a decent photo of us and it will go into a frame to commemorate the day. So in spite of actually having a wedding, the important aspects of which for me were vows, rings, dinner, and dancing, I'm clearly trying to sidestep what I consider to be nonsense. I keep running into opposition about each item that I omit, however, and I want to try to address that very opposition from people who ostensibly should know better, yet can't help themselves. I do acknowledge that the image of Ms. Swift in her white dress in the fields, holding what maybe used to be flowers, stirred a sense of longing in me. I wanted to be the pretty girl in the white dress and the half light too. I wanted to embody that representation of innocent beauty and possibility; I could also see it through the eyes of a man, perhaps not the one I am marrying, but I bet he would agree as well. But I think that's because it is ingrained in me, in most of us, to see that image as a fleeting ideal, like a firefly whose desirability lies in its untrappability. We like to think that each man longs to catch his wood nymph, and we want to be that object of desire - but toward what end? To be put in a jar and left to die? The wedding industry perpetrates a dangerous misrepresentation of womanhood and marriage under the guise of innocence and a hoped-for connection to the natural world. Brides have not always worn white - not all societies have insisted that women be virgins before marriage, and white does not represent innocence in all of the societies that do make this stipulation. We have taken this idea of a young girl, running wild through the woods yet dressed to go to at least to church, if not to a party, and transposed that onto a ceremony in which two people make a very adult commitment to one another. The dress, no longer remotely simple, is still in a shade of white to represent that unlikely, and unreasonable, purity. It signifies the bride, distinguishes her from the others - other women in the party are chastised for wearing white on another women's wedding day. The flowers appear to represent that long lost connection to nature and the wood nymphs. The bridesmaids were originally dressed like the bride, in order to create confusion in the event that the bride might be a kidnapping target amongst enemy tribes, but today only the idea of making them dress like one another has survived. The cake I suppose represents the sweetness of the day, as well as the promise to care for and nourish one's partner. The photographs exist to remind you of that one special day in which you were presented so perfectly and everyone showed up to celebrate you. Likewise, the favors are gifts to your guests, to thank them for joining in your personal celebration and to give them a reminder of this wonderful day to take home with them. This is all making me a little nauseous. My society is one of grown men and women making their own decisions about whether they will marry at all, whom to marry if they do decide to, and how their own lives will connect to nature, if at all. Thank god we are long past the days of parents paying older men to take young girls off their hands, so as to have fewer mouths to feed, and for the man to have a servant he does not have to pay, who will, he hopes, bear him a male heir to take care of him in his old age. We would like to be better connected to nature than we are, but the practice of cutting flowers and carrying them around in order to signify this connection has outlived its sustainability. And we have a reached a time in which cake is so prevalent that its place at celebrations is nearly an afterthought. We can eat cake whenever we like, and most of us have eaten too much of it in our lives already. It is no longer so rare as to be offered only on special occasions, and therefore has lost its value, if not its celebratory significance. And while I am certainly in favor of documenting as much of our lives as we can, in order to preserve the images for posterity to enjoy the way we enjoy those from before our own time, the staged, unworldly nature of wedding photography is something I can't assign any meaning to myself. However, I do not wish to begrudge others, in this time of everything, the opportunity to take meaning from these symbols, particularly in the absence of any other symbols that might have more resonance in this modern existence. By all means, perform the rituals, if it gives the commitment you are making to one another more symbolic import. If feeling 'like a bride' will give you the confidence and drive to be a wife, then it is important for you to feel that way and you should - however that expresses itself through you. Please leave me to my own symbols, however, and allow me to decide what is important on this occasion! Left to my own devices I would have preferred to engage in a much smaller, yet heavily ritualized, ceremony, such as washing one another's feet or toasting a marshmallow for each other over an open fire, followed by an exchange of rings and vows, and possibly the signing of a document. I would not have involved any members of my or his family, nor our friends - this is a decision we are making with one another, and we understand that this level of commitment to another person brings with it a certain commitment to their family and friends, if only for the sake of that person. I think it is interesting that as a participant, I do not understand why a greater community needs to celebrate this decision, yet as a celebrant in others' weddings I have certainly felt the joy inherent in the knowledge of a new and promising union. Therefore we are including our families in the ceremony, and exchanging vows and rings, and then opening up the party to a larger number of people and providing them a feast and dance. I love a good feast and dance, so can certainly see why this is a good thing to do. I just wish people would let us do it - and stop trying to make it something that has more meaning to them than to us!
Thursday, December 16, 2010
When you finish your holiday shopping before December even begins, the two-week run-up to the 24th seems to take forever. Parties that seemed like things to look forward to now can't come and go fast enough, and having to spend 24 hours with immediate family in high-stress surroundings hardly puts you in the festive spirit. All it takes for me to get right back into it though is a quiet dark room with a lit tree and an excellent version of O Holy Night... it's not easy to bring Yule-oriented tears to the eyes of a an atheist, but somehow this does it every time.