Sunday, July 22, 2012

A "Normal" American Massacre: Gun Violence in America

Another hellish shooting in America, this time in Aurora, Colorado. Another mass murder by a deranged gunman, the 24 year old James Eagan Holmes, this time in a movie theatre. Another round of speeches by politicians deploring the loss of life and calling on us to pray for the dead and for their families. This time, Obama and Romney making the usual robotic-compassionate speeches. It's all become so very normal in America, as we seem to have these explosions of gun violence on a horribly regular basis. The news media will be all abuzz for several days with coverage of the tearful survivors and their families.

One thing likely to be missing: any rational discussion of the need for more gun control in this country. We might not be able to prevent all dangerous individuals from getting guns and wreaking havoc, but doesn't it make sense that if we reduce the supply and ease of access to guns in this society, we might see less of these awful events? I fear that our public officials are too afraid of the NRA (the politically powerful National Rifle Association) and the gun lobby to engage in any such discussion. We can look forward to the next massacre, more politicians calling for prayers for the dead and their families, more media stories about pathetic victims, tearful survivors and traumatized families, and nothing will be learned. This country is brain-dead when it comes to the issue of gun violence. It is one of the saddest things about America. As far as I can tell, the Zombie Apocalypse is already here.

As a Pagan, I see all the more need to focus our spirituality on peace and reconciliation, not fetishes about weapons and fantasies of violence. We do indeed have in Pagan mythology gods with weapons and there are indeed tales of wars. Let us make sure to interpret these things metaphorically and spiritually so that the weaker-minded who are among us now or who may come after us later do not see these elements of mythology as literal instructions for what to do in society today, like right-wing racist nuts such as Anders Behring Breivik who blend in the mythical scenario of Ragnarok from Norse mythology with their own hateful fantasies of "race war." We can be fighters for peace and justice. We can look to smash intolerance and inequality, not the skulls of enemies. We can use the sword of intellect and understanding to cut through ignorance, like the thunderbolt-weapon (vajra) that symbolizes the Vajrayana school of Tibetan Buddhism. In fact, there is much for thoughtful Pagans to consider about how Buddhism put a psychological spin on gods of anger and war and used them as tools for meditative self-transformation.

Above all, let us refrain from glamorizing violence and weapons. In our world today, there are simply too many things going on in our culture that point us toward violence, and so very few that point us away. Let's be on the right side of that equation.


Peregrin said...

Great post, and much that needed saying. The suggestion to look to Tibetan Buddhism for processes, myths and metaphors to transform, not subjugate or sublimate our violence is spot on.

This is one of the few occasions I have respect for the conservative Australian Prime Minister John Howard, and how he oversaw the unpopular gun restrictions here following the Port Arthur Massacre in 1996. Why such actions seem beyond even discussion in the USA is beyond me. It is very sad.

Thanks, again :)

Anonymous said...

Maelstrom, you are right in concluding that such acts spring from a culture of violence. Americans believe that violence is a legitimate avenue for solving problems, or at least violence is a legitimate last resort. We must transform the cultural narrative of our society which teaches us that aggression has always been the foundation of America's success and strength. We equate violence with strength.

I agree that politicians and our other 'leaders' will make the usual empty gestures about our need to make a change in our society. But whether they put the blame on guns, lack of mental health care, violent video games, or (as some have suggested) wearing masks to movie theaters(!), no real transformation will occur. Why? As Peregrin states, we do not seem to be able to discuss - let alone change - our culture of violence. The answer lies in the fact that America has the largest military force on Earth. America's leaders may want to contain violence in our society, but they do not want to end it. They do not want to turn Americans into conscientious objectors. Giving up violence means giving up our aggressive military might. Sure, we may have a national defense force, like the Swiss, but this is far from a military willing to fight oil wars for Haliburton. Our military policies and our culture of violence exist in a symbiotic relationship. Personally, this Heathen is willing to give up our military ambitions, and also to see war Gods, such as Thor and Tyr, in the metaphorical terms you describe.

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