1.31.2013

King's Highway pt. 69: Guns (An Unexpected Pit Stop)

So, last week, Stephen King published a Kindle essay (you can buy it here for a buck - all proceeds go to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. If you're an in-the-interests-of-parity sort of person, you can counter-donate a buck to the NRA-ILA here.)


His stated purpose is to provoke rational discussion. A laudable aim, but... 
I am skeptical of its chance for success in this dispostion matrix of controlled dissent and Pavlonian conditioning. This is the result of regulations, by the by, passed by both right-wing and left-wing administrations. Bipartisan consensus seems pretty common once you know where to look. If you've never seen it, watch Orwell Rolls In His Grave. Worth your time.
Since disinformation and logical fallacies are the name of the game in 21st century America public discussion, engaging in such a divide-and-conquer topic often strikes me as not just pointless but actually harmful. As James Altucher says in one of his blogs, if you get in the mud with a pig, you get your clothes muddied, and the pig gets happy. Agree or disagree; such is your right, but such is my position. I gleamed the important lesson from Wargames.

Also known as You Are Attached to What You Attack. What can I say? I'm a Taoist sympathizer.
But my curiosity got the better of me and after reading Glenn Beck's and Team Twitchy's responses to it and after reading the Truth Inside the Lie review of it, (three guesses as to which of the aforementioned is reasonable and which are utter guano) I felt compelled to give it a go. I'm glad I did. Although (as I discuss below) I have some issues with demonizing the opposition or focusing on the wrong things, it's a well-written, heartfelt and reasonable response to an issue that obviously impacts us all.

Another reason I didn't want to get into it is that I have occasional problems with brevity, and I think if I really wanted to give King's essay the full monty, I'd have to go on for far too long on way too many subjects: Trotsky, Ed Bernays, engineering re: Americanism over the course of the twentieth century, the Ford Foundation, The Frankfurt School, Norman Dodd and the Reese Commission, how Hollywood played (and plays) into it all... I just did not pack for that sort of trip, nor do I have the time to stop and pick up supplies (I'm sticking with my King's Highway metaphor; sue me) so I will cover only three things about it before I discuss Glenn Beck and Team Twitchy.

Your best bet, as always, is to read it yourself and make up your own mind. Hell, read the NRA's, too. Selective perception (on either side) leads to blind spots. Reading every primary source you can get your hands on is always the best option.

ONE

For the most part, I accept his reasoning. But... I also am willing to consider the NRA's objections to them, without proceeding from false premises, as King, I must say, does when he writes off any who might have reasonable doubts about who would perform the background checks and their potential for abuse as paranoid loons, or when he writes:

In January 2013, President Obama announced - to the predictable howls of outrage from America's right wing - twenty-three executive orders and three major initiatives to help curb the spread of guns and stiffen penalties for illegal use and possession. (The NRA's response was a vile ad that Obama's daughters were receiving special treatment, as though a terrorist attack on the Chief Executive's family were not even a possibility.)

Holy frakking moley is this loaded. 

One, re: the predictable howls of outrage, I get annoyed when the image of kneejerk howling is associated with the right-wing. Not taking their side, here, but you have to be kind of crazy not to see that these days the first nine out of ten "predictable howls of outrage" are not crazy right-wingers, etc. but those screaming the left-wing (perceived) position and ridiculing the (perceived) right-wing. Go on Twitter in the wake of any media event/shooting and see for yourself. I don't pretend the so-called right doesn't do it, either, but give me a break. (Elsewhere, he refers to the gun-org's powerful lobbying; surely that's true of other sides, as well?) 

Two, I don't believe for a second these executive orders/ initiatives came together after meaningful analysis; I believe, as FDR said, that nothing in politics ever happens by accident. No crisis goes unexploited. You'd think the author of Under the Dome would be a bit more cognizant of how that plays out. 

Third, I live in Chicago. Most restrictive gun control laws in the nation, more gun-violence deaths than Afghanistan. I, my friends, my family, and a couple million of tourists and fellow citizens are constantly in danger of being collateral damage to terrorist attacks, and yes, that's exactly what I call the ongoing gang violence/ flash mob attacks, here. Hundreds per year is neither normal nor acceptable. Yet, it's background music.

When the ship has hit the iceberg the way America's has, it isn't unreasonable to take issue with inequitable distribution of life-vests; it might even be considered a moral imperative.

I don't mean to nitpick structure over substance. I have no qualms with the destination he arrives at, but I think we need to be vigilant about the route we take to it.

So, sure, the NRA's proposal to arm schoolteachers is flawed, as King rightly points out, but it's no less screwy than Homeland Security's. But, as is pointed out elsewhere, the current situation does not work, so some new approach is definitely called for.

TWO

The idea that America exists in a culture of violence is bullshit. What America exists in is a culture of Kardashian.

This is the most simultaneously correct and incorrect thing I've seen in a long while; it's almost a Zen koan. America clearly exists in (and aggressively promotes) a culture of both. Add guns to the mix and you have a perfect storm of WTF. (Some, such as Joe Zornado or Noam Chomsky, would argue we exist in a culture of genocide, much less violence. But hey!) This section of the essay (pt. IV) is baffling. Its assertion is so contrary to common sense perception / demonstrable reality that it reminded me of the 2004 election GOP talking point, repeated ad nauseum: There's one America.


Tell it to an Apache, dude.
But, the point about existing in a culture of Kardashian is not only correct but I feel very important. One cannot divorce the aggressive narcissism of media programming/ academic exceptions from the debate on violence. It behooves us to ask what changed over the last fifty years, how we got from isolated acts of violence to mass-shootings-every-other-week and urban-centers under siege. To suggest that American Idol uber-alles has nothing to do with it (as some do) is to slam the door on a potential escape route. Perhaps if we focus on excising the tumorous narcissism at the heart of our society, we might go a lot further and a lot faster.

Incidentally, this seems to me an important subtext/ theme of Richard Bachman's Rage. As I wrote elsewhere, its themes of learned-abuse/ violent-narcissism and group-turning-on-individual/ individual-turning-on-group described therein at least offer specific (and proactive) lines of inquiry.


THREE
If I could wave a magic wand and have one wish granted (...) and the god or genie who bestowed the magic wand told me my one wish had to do with American politics, I think I'd wave it and make the following proclamation: 'Every liberal in the country must watch Fox News for one year, and every conservative in the country must watch MSNBC for one year.'

That's not a bad start, but swapping in one organ-of-propaganda for another is hardly a way of moving past propaganda and into critical reasoning/ actual journalism. The problem is the false divide (and constant re-enforcement of this illusion) between left and right, after all. To be fair, he continues:

...the viewers themselves might change. Not a lot; just a slide-step or two away from the kumbayah socialists of the left and the Tea Partiers of the right.

Might I suggest a much better way to accomplish this widening-of-perception and unclenching-of-fists might be to turn off both and watch everything you can by BBC journalist Adam Curtis? Particularly his incredibly insightful Century of the Self. As with Stanley Kubrick, his favorite theme is power and how it manifests itself in society.

Or perhaps make Glenn Greenwald a daily pit stop on your ride on the media merry-go-round? Or better yet, triangulate your opinions. Read whatever you read and then read alternative viewpoints.(JULY 2013 EDIT: This was well before the Snowden leaks; I wonder if linking to him then or now gets Dog Star Omnibus some NSA love? If so, retweet or "like" me, you big teases.)

That'd be my magic-wand-wish, anyway. Swap in Curtis for a few weeks instead of Chris Matthews, Al Sharpton, Sean Hannity, Lew Rockwell, or whomever.

GLENN BECK'S AND TEAM TWITCHY'S RESPONSE

Okay, now for the guano. 

I don't spend much (if any) time with Glenn Beck. To me, the stupidity of his approach is self-evident, and I just don't understand people who get off on constantly hating on him. (See You Are Attached to What You Attack, above) Or warning others about him. It's been my experience that people that forever-try-to-warn-me about the Glenn Becks of the world are too often blind to the egregious crimes of their own side.

Case in point...
But, when he does cross my radar, it is my pleasure to call Bullshit and call it hard. His whole screed is so infuriatingly assheaded I don't know where to begin. His basic position is that King is full of himself and a hypocrite. I'll deal with the hypocrite stuff momentarily. Within all that, though, he makes the following incredible assertion:

GLENN: You’d think that this guy would realize, you know, he’s seeing that he wrote The Stand, that he’s practically setting up the kingdom of Vegas. I mean, you’re on the wrong side, Steve. You’re on the wrong side. Come to the other side of the mountains.

Am I reading this right? King is Randall Flagg for publishing an essay? I assume the implication here is King on the side of Evil/ Satan? Isn't that a bit of a leap? Beyond the distance of the leap, is it even accurate? Would Randall Flagg call for limited gun control? Wouldn't he confiscate all the guns? Or, as Leland Gaunt did, pass 'em out and watch the fireworks? The comparison is  just not there. 

Reactionaries are compelled to assume that because their opponents disagree with them on one issue they must have a set of assumptions, opinions, etc. that put them on the side of Evil and can therefore be destroyed, attacked, etc. Par for the Glen Beck course.

Now as for Team Twitchy, I'm not a fan, but I'm slightly more forgiving of them, as I think they quite-correctly mock and deride this unfortunate (and all-too-prevalent) trend of celebrity-bullying/outright-lying to bolster the Democrat Party. Someone needed to make ridiculing this nonsense more visible, and if Michelle Malkin isn't perfect (to put it mildly) at least she's performing this service for those of us who take issue with it. (I suppose some would say the same of Rachel Maddow, and point taken. She and Malkin are pretty much flip-sides of the same coin.)

Here's what she has to say about King's essay:


Never let a tragedy go to waste … especially if King can line his own coffers or pat himself on his smug back... Note to Stephen King:  In addition to your horror tales, didn’t you also write an entire series about a gunslinger?

Stephen King certainly doesn't need little-old-me to stick up for him here, but such chicanery needs to be addressed.

First, and this goes for Beck, too, pundits that claim they defend American values/ the Constitution probably shouldn't be taking issue with someone's perfectly-legitimate use of the First Amendment. Their argument should be framed not in a "So and so must mean this" way but in a "so and so has the right to say whatever they damn well please, of course" because that is the only justification for a pundit's existence. It's incredibly self-defeating, otherwise. Besides, anyone who says So-and-so should stick to what he or she knows and shut the eff up are never First Amendment activists; one is mutually exclusive to the other.

Second, how is he lining his own coffers? He's not making a cent off this essay, nor is it likely to increase sales of his books. (If anything, he might lose a few.)

Similarly, (Third) how the hell is he patting himself on his smug back? Where does he do this? Point me to it. At literally no point in Guns does King do this, and no reasonable reader would come to this conclusion without it pre-determined. There is, though, a shit-ton (I believe that's the scientific term) of smug back-patting in the Team Twitchy response/ comments.

Fourth, let me get this straight: because he wrote a book that has as its title The Gunslinger, he is bound to a certain code of conduct/ set of assumptions? I suppose the rationale, here, is that since King has had characters use guns in his work, he... no, I can't even continue, because there's no rationale here, at all. 

It'd be one thing if Roland spent the entirety of the Dark Tower story making speeches about how people should have unlimited access to firearms, but as anyone who's read the damn thing knows, firearms are exceedingly rare and regulated by complex ritual in Roland's world. Even if that was the case for the Dark Tower books, you don't - and I can't believe I have to even write this - name a work of fiction based on how it best represents your own political beliefs. One has no bearing on the other.

I mean... people can see that, right? 

Whew.

IN CLOSING

King's written a number of essays/ op-eds. I hope, eventually, someone collects them all in one place.