Saturday, February 24, 2018

Weapons: the pseudo-strength of the weak


Grieving, bereaved and distraught young people, crying, “The NRA is killing me! The NRA is killing you!” into microphones of national news agencies sound a long-overdue alarm!

The United States is a killing field, and if I were a parent of a child in a U.S. school, I would be lying on the pavement outside the White House with them.

The mountain of money, a virtual monster in American politics, poured by the NRA into the campaigns of duped and spineless political actors is not only a source of national shame and shamelessness; it is also a clear sign of the power of perverted wealth, the wealth of lobbies including the pharmaceutical, insurance, weapons manufacturing and more recently the security apparatus, that is strangling a once-powerful and respected global leader.

President Eisenhower warned of the dangers of the military-industrial complex, as he prepared to leave the White House. A celebrated military leader, he knew all too well of the depth and the entanglements of the military in the political and cultural processes and roots of the nation. Counter to his critical and profound warning, however, the basic “business-model” of the megacorporation as the primary engine driving the economy, fueled by the for-profit/for-freedom/for self-gratification/for-dominance/for top-gun motivation, has overtaken all reasonable and proportional iterations of its predecessors.

“World” champions, (in football, in baseball, in basketball….and definitely in military hard power) the United States has fed its children a diet of hubris, superiority, and cut-throat competition that, ironically and tragically, is undergirded by deep, profound and relentless fear, anxiety, insecurity and neurosis. Parents vy, on behalf of their children, for the ‘best schools,’ the best corporate executive suites, the best legal firms, the most affluent Wall Street firms, the most preferred church establishments and cathedrals. And while a vision of pursuing the “best” has some specific advantages, in its absolute form, in the real world it also carries significant burdens….especially for those whose circumstances and whose support systems categorically exclude and alienate them from the what the culture deems the ‘best’ of everything. In excess, pursuing the “best” under pressure of its negative alternative, gives vent to frustration, racism, and the worst tumors of exclusivity and rejection.

“Suck it up” and “pull yourself up by the boot-straps”…and “you have to get back up after falling down”….these are the locker-room lectures of highly competitive athletic coaches, sales directors, field lieutenants, and war-room strategists. Churchill is written indelibly into the history books for his bull-dog determination, stubbornness and oppressive hubris. World War will tend to focus the body and the mind and bring such qualities of character into the breach. Painting human existence as another “world war” demanding a parallel set of strategies and tactics, including the mind-set of the military victory as the only acceptable outcome, however, has serious social, intellectual, cultural and spiritual consequences and implications.

The contemporary phrase “crisis management” is useful, if there is a crisis, and if the options forward include multiple complex and collaborative approaches. However, since there is an inherent drama imbued into each crisis, leaders have an over-developed proclivity to revert to the crisis management manual, partly out of fear and anxiety that they will “fail” in the eyes of their “masters” and partly out of a strong preference to see themselves as heroic….and to have others see them in a similar light. The actual situation they have too often prematurely deigned as a crisis may be much more modest, and warranting much more complex and nuanced interventions.

Too often, however, when a crisis surfaces, the preferred options tend to be extreme, in response to a perceived emergency. Triage nurses and doctors, in the emergency ward, are both trained and experienced in discerning the signs of varying degrees of emergency, and the deployment of finite resources, in part, as well as their innate good judgement combine to disperse their staff and facilities in the optimum “design”. Not all doctors and nurses on duty can be assigned to a high-profile case, leaving other patients in the lurch. Fortunately, doctors and nurses do not bring an ideological agenda to their triage duties. Such a compounding and counter-intuitive perspective serves neither the patient nor the medical staff. Saving lives is the declared objective and goal of the exercise.

In the public arena, where the skill/art/agenda/modus operandi/traditions of the political theatre are unleashed, however, such discipline and such restraint and such clarity of purpose and such focus, unless and until war has formally been declared, is absent. The public is more and more treated to a pseudo-drama of egos on steroids, statements calculated to sustain the support of funding sources, of ardent supporters and ultimately the return of the actor to the job, following the next election. The public good, clearly, has been relegated to a vestige of its rightful significance, under the weight of personal aggrandizement, and under the pressure of the interest groups and super-pacs writing those campaign cheques.

So Wednesday’s theatre of “listening” in the East Room of the White House complete with live national television coverage, bereaved parents of children killed at both Sandy Hook and Parkland, students of Parkland, and various other voices, selected likely to balance the agenda of the anti-gun lobby, was followed by an out-of-touch president tweeting advocacy for gun-toting teachers, signifying both his deaf ear and his intransigent and immoveable dependence on the NRA.

Yesterday, the NRA’s Wayne Lapiere was loudly denouncing all those opposed to the free sale of assault weapons, and those supportive of background checks, and those wanting to restrict guns from individuals suffering mental illness as “European Socialists” determined to remove the Second Amendment and the hallowed right to bear arms. Together, the president’s tweets and the NRA’s slanderous characterization of reasonable people of all ages who want to limit the spread of deadly weapons from innocent lives offer not only no hope to the grieving, but also the promise of more slaughter of innocent children, teachers and school staff.

One could even hear the outlandish observation that the media “loves” another shooting because their ratings go through the roof. Even my own cynicism about the affliction of the media to its own ratings will not permit such hyperbole: the media would be quite satisfied if there were never another mass shooting in American schools.

This debate, long in the tooth of age, and short on signs that the nation is a mature and trustworthy place to raise children, is unlikely to bring about significant change to satisfy the legitimate cries of those young people, trumping as the establishment always does, the public interest and popular opinion (some 75% of Americans support stronger background checks and banning assault weapons).

Media blips, threatening rhetoric from the NRA, and cries from grieving parents and children aside, The United States is in the midst of a crisis of its own making, one that is far larger and more comprehensive that whether gun sales can or will be curtailed. The country, in a word, is in the throes of a melt-down that includes, but is certainly not restricted to, the erosion of public trust in public institutions, the subversion of most of the traditional sustaining traditions and protocols, the    debasement of public office by a generation of political leaders, topped by the president, who are not deserving of their offices, whether they are “worthy” in a formal sense or not.

Public outcries facing politicians so deeply embedded, enmeshed and indebted with/to the NRA will merely create another mini-episode in an otherwise inconsequential manipulation of the same public, by those same politicians, and yet, the successive repetitions of manipulations, far from inconsequential, erode the very fabric of trust on which the healthy functioning of a democracy depends.

The sheer gall and insouciance of the political class, as fully sentient and conscious participants in these charades demonstrates a level of narcissistic self-sabotage that can and will only leave the country’s institutional infrastructure fractured, eroded and depleted perhaps beyond repair.

So it is not only more lives of innocent children and their teachers (none of whom wish to carry weapons as a part of their professional obligations) are at risk; the nation is actively contributing to its own embarrassment.

Effectively the NRA has become the most powerful political party, without having to take  the necessary steps to make such a posture legitimate. And offering both political and financial support for the pursuit of violence by the right and the left, without having to own the political ideology of either side, the NRA escapes the kind of political scrutiny it warrants.

How long will it take for someone/some organization to publicly denounce the NRA as a “terrorist” organization, funded by various private funding sources, continuing to pour venomous and illegitimate arguments in favour of making the nation a virtual armed camp, under the guise of “protection”? Moderation, reasonable approaches, long-term vision and insights, all of them in the public interest are falling by the wayside in the U.S., as measures that qualify as “extreme” find more and more public support and resonance.

Much as the microbes are outstripping the vaccines concocted to prevent their lethality, so too are the social demons outstripping the political class’s capacity and willingness to counter their impact just as the cyber-threats are outstripping any counter-measures to protect the public interest…both the official interest of the state and the private interests of the citizens. Twenty-first century realities on many levels require, even demand, twenty-first century commitments, most clearly missing from the political landscape in the U.S. especially and to a lesser extent in Canada and other developed countries.

And the “reality-show” modalities are absolutely inadequate, if not counter-intuitive to the public needs. Incipient show-biz wannabe “stars” can and will only fall far short of meeting a minimal bar for public safety, security and health. (Example: stripping the Center for Disease Control of the necessary research money to combat global pandemics, as trump has done, while arming the Pentagon with super-charged nuclear weapons, as trump has also done, is definitely not in the public interest; in fact it contravenes all reasonable and mature measures of that public interest.)

Arming teachers (under secret carry rules) is also definitely not in the public interest; it too contravenes that public interest. Incentivizing those teachers with additional pay, that could otherwise fund classroom supplies and the hiring of additional teachers to alleviate over-crowded classrooms in public schools, also contravenes the public interest. Shifting responsibility for public education to for-profit charter schools also threatens the public education system, in a thinly veiled war on unions and labour.
If Americans consider their situation unstable, as they do, it’s because their situation is unstable, and growing more unstable every moment of every day.

And, the rest of the world is clearly not immune to the many toxic viruses that are being incubated in the “great” United States….nor do we have the vaccines to ward them off.

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