Who’s Bigger?

Sometimes we have to work so very hard for unity. On the day before the conference proper began, I decided to take in some of the sites. In San Antonio this means the River Walk and the Alamo. I was awake early, as usual, and since the Alamo doesn’t open its doors until 9 a.m., I took the River Walk first. Seeing the gift shops selling countdown to Obama’s last day novelties, I had to shudder. It may be a sad day when you have to look to the Alamo for consolation. What looked like a rainy morning became a sunny day and the Alamo was crowded by the time I arrived. Last time I was here I stopped in the church, and I think that was it. I decided to look in the Long Barrack room, noting the sign that read “Please remember this is a place of reflection and respect.” No photos. No food. Just respectful thoughts. I stepped inside.

 

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There can be no disguising that this site was host to a bloody battle some time ago. As I looked at the period rifles and the caliber of the musket balls graded up to cannon balls, I reflected how we’ve invented ways to hurl bigger and bigger pieces of hateful stone and metal at each other, faster and faster. A few thousand died near here, perhaps some in this very room. A couple of guys walked up and one said to the other in his beautiful Texan accent, “There’s some beautiful weapons here.” I could almost hear the tears in his voice. His companion agreed. “They’re bigger than what I carry,” he prayed. People had died here in the past, and it seemed that perhaps the best we could look forward to was more deaths in the future. Reflection and respect.

There’s no point in visiting a place like the Alamo without a sense of the history that made this place what it is. It is not a shrine to glorified warfare. It is a mission, an abandoned church, that became out of necessity a place of self-defense. I just can’t shake the thought that so many people died here, but the point of visiting seems to be celebrating a nation where you can wear your weapons proudly. It is a supreme irony that this particular November the conference I attend happened to have long ago locked in this particular venue this particular year. I could very much use a place of reflection and respect. Instead, I’m thinking of how so terribly hard it is to work for unity in what seem to be the increasingly Untied States.

Silverbacks

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It’s been decades since I’ve seen the original King Kong. A none-too-subtle racist and sexist flick it may be, but it stands as one of the original “horror” films of the early thirties and it has had a profound influence on movies ever since. King Kong wasn’t very nice to Fay Wray, and had to be euthanized by biplane, if I recall correctly. I work one block from the Empire State Building, and sometimes I subtly glance up, looking for the giant ape. There are more fearful sorts in New York these days. I can see Trump Tower, for instance, from the pantry at work where I keep my lunch. But I digress. For its day, King Kong was a violent movie. Like many films, however, it is also a parable.

Recent studies have shown that some 98 percent of mass murderers are male. Men deal out, by far, more than their share of death to others. Some have suggested that when women experience failure they look internally, blaming themselves. Men, on the other hand, go postal. They seek someone else to blame. In our culture—maybe in all “western” cultures—man are acculturated to think of themselves in terms of success. Quite often this means business success—affluence and its discontents. Do you have more money than your neighbors? Good for you! You have succeeded, and, for some warped perspectives, God has blessed you. In reality, the system we’ve constructed has set many people up for failure. This is no excuse, but men who have no other way of measuring self-worth may find comfort in firearms. After all, it’s society that should take the blame. Right?

Gun lobbies claim that collecting firearms is a harmless hobby. Like collecting stamps, only a little louder. A bit of psychology might go a long way here. Might we not stop and think what happens when you give arsonists matches to play with? I suppose if we took away these toys, boys would use baseball bats, or rocks, to take out their aggression. I can’t help but wonder, however, if the problem might not be the system that measures a man by his money. Could there be a better way? There have been those throughout history who’ve made such a claim. They often die violent deaths. Once King Kong has begun his ascent with lust and violence in his eyes, we should all cast a wary eye on the Empire State Building and wonder what it all means.

Industrial Revolution

Everything’s industry. It has haunted me for some years now that we’ve let our corporate greed run away with our imagination so that nothing but “industry” remains. We don’t wish to interfere with the gun industry. The guns we like the best are those designed especially for killing lots of people. We feel happy having them in our homes. We’ve supported industry. Time was when society had more than just industry. Education, for example, was not an industry. It was just education. No measurable outgoes but a better society. Now we quantify and try to measure, thinking there’s something magical about numbers. My, what big ammo you have! The better to shoot you with, my darling. Think of it as the people killing industry.

After all, if you spend all that money on an expensive automatic weapon and don’t kill anyone with it, haven’t you wasted your money? Well, wasting money is good for industry, so we shouldn’t be too harsh. Most people know better than to take their weapons out and blow away those they don’t like. I would feel better if more people were like Pedro Reyes. (We, however, want to build walls to keep his kind out.) Reyes is an artist who had people in Mexico City turn their guns in for useful things. He had the guns smashed with a steamroller, at an army base, no less. The metal from the guns he melted down and made shovel heads so that people could plant trees. Over 1500 guns were turned in. The biblical allusion has already been made, but we would rather, in this country, ignore the good book we love so.

What would the gun industry do if people stopped needing to defend themselves so much? What if people felt less fear? What if politicians, instead of cynically using fear to win nominations, and elections, had the best interest of citizens at heart? Guns are for wars, and wars are useless. We have far more to offer one another than pools of blood and gore and guilt everlasting. Does it not strike anyone as odd that mass shooters intend to die at the end? We could use more shovels to bury them all. Wouldn’t it be even better if, before the shooting began, their guns were melted down and cast into useful tools? One might, in an optimistic mood, call such a thing an industry.

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