Nearly a week after the massacre in Newtown, CT, what I find shocking is the persistent arrogant attitude among the gun rights extremists and the right-wing lawmakers that cater to their wanna-be superhero fantasies. You'd think there would finally be some self-reflection since most of the victims were 6- and 7-year-old children, slaughtered like cattle. But you'd be wrong.
How did our culture devolve into such lunacy? Why do the gun nuts push for more and more weapons in more and more places? I think this craziness is a symptom of a larger problem of unaccountable conduct in American society. We may still have laws on the books, but I feel our society is suffering from lawlessness - starting with behavior from those at the top.
The American experiment was founded on the concepts of individual freedom and liberty, but also on promotion of the "general welfare" and of "justice." Unfortunately, these last two concepts have been almost completely buried by the first two. What we have today is hyper-individualism, individualism run amok. The idea of the "common good" is virtually non-existent, and even ridiculed or demonized. When selfishness runs amok, people don't feel they have any responsibility toward their neighbors. And when there is no responsibility, there is no accountability. When there is no responsibility, civil society doesn't survive. There cannot be a "United States." There is only strife.
In the last decade, we've seen lawlessness among the highest echelons of our society. Unethical behavior and horrendous crimes have been committed by our so-called "leaders," and so-called "pillars of the community." The administration of George W. Bush attacked countries that did nothing to America, and committed torture. Wall Street bankrupted millions of hardworking Americans, looted billions from the treasury, and nearly took down the global economy. Some American corporations abuse their workers or cause them to be killed or steal their wages and pensions. Members of Congress, state and local lawmakers routinely take (legal) bribes and do the bidding of their paymasters, rather than serve their constituents. The American judicial system locks up millions at the behest of privateers who profit from jailing as many as possible. Police gun down civilians for minor infractions and pepper-spray peaceful protesters. A major American "news" channel routinely lies to its audience. Rarely, if at all, are any of these bad actors held accountable for their behavior. Is it any wonder, that many average citizens feel they are entitled to behave in society in any way they wish, and damn the consequences? That they feel entitled to have access to any kind of weapon, no matter what the adverse affects are to the wider community? That in American society today, one's value is predicated on the amount of money and power one has? So the more weapons the extremists have, the more powerful they feel. This kind of power - the raw power of might - quickly shuts up anyone who disagrees with them. That is a threat to democracy.
More guns in the hands of more people further divides and isolates citizens from each other. A hyper-individualistic and fearful citizenry is far easier to manipulate and exploit for political and financial gain. And this dangerous situation can lead to despotic government. Firmin DeBrabander, a professor of philosophy at the Maryland Institute College of Art, makes these points in an excellent essay, "The Freedom of an Armed Society," that appeared in last Sunday's New York Times:
Our gun culture promotes a fatal slide into extreme individualism. It fosters a society of atomistic individuals, isolated before power — and one another — and in the aftermath of shootings such as at Newtown, paralyzed with fear. That is not freedom, but quite its opposite.An armed society means that everyone is walking on eggshells, wondering if the slightest offensive could be deadly. What sane person wants to live in a world like that? Instead, we must start embracing the common good, respect our differences, and shun violence as a way to solve problems. Unethical and reckless behavior must be reined in. Otherwise, the United States as we know it will be unrecognizable, having disintegrated into an authoritarian state run by an armed militia led by demagogues. But then, that's exactly what the far right wants. They hate democracy. And the rest of us have to call them out on it.