Descartes and the NRA. (5/17/99)
In his signature work, Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting the Reason, and Seeking Truth in the Sciences (hereafter referred to as Method), Rene Descartes puts forth an idea, so like many others developed during the Enlightenment, that is, ill-considered notions that simply will not go away, that has found a home at the end of the second millennium in the minds of a regressive religious ideology that could not possibly do more damage to contemporary society than it already has if it had been formulated originally to accomplish that precise end. Blaming Descartes, of course, for the use and abuse to which his philosophy has been put by individuals of lesser intellectual capacity than he himself might have exhibited is not a particularly fair-minded thing to do but, since Descartes is one identifiable source for the notion in question, it seems disingenuous to excuse him altogether for articulating it in the first place. What I am suggesting here is that the authors of ideas, while always already unpunishable for the use to which subsequent generations put their ideas, are nevertheless responsible, and susceptible to condemnation, when lesser minds than theirs appropriate and apply their ideas in ways that are harmful to society as a whole.
The wider problem this assertion points to is one of ideology (as false consciousness) in the service of creating a political hegemony the dominant class then employs as a means to control and coerce the rest of society in adherence to its whims and policies. Tradition, in other words, specifically the traditions associated with Enlightenment philosophy, and especially the ideas of individualistic ego-centrism and the notion that such individuals have and exercise certain inalienable rights, even in opposition to the best interests of society in general, appear and reappear in cultural contexts for which they may not have originally been intended, not because they are valuable and necessary ideas, but only because they can be made to promote agendas that keep the dominant class in its position of ascendancy. These cherished ideological concepts are always protected from scrutiny and critical evaluation by being wrapped in the mantle of belonging to that quasi-mythic and mystical category of ideals and principles inherent in the mind and intentions of the founding-fathers of the political structure that supports the existence of the dominant class and its ideology.
The idea in question here is a political concept associated with law and legality that clearly does appear to contain more than an element of truth if one is seeking the best way to organize and administer a complex social organism. In Part II of his Method, Descartes asserts that "a multitude of laws often only hampers justice, so that a state is best governed when, with few laws, these are rigidly administered." There is little enough that can be said to contest the apparent validity of this assertion. However, when a maxim like this one is used to prevent the enactment of a law, solely on the grounds that there are enough such laws already, if only they were properly enforced, meant to restrict or limit general access to a product deemed dangerous to society by a majority of its citizens, then this idea can be quite easily turned against the best interests of the society it is meant to protect and preserve. This is precisely what has happened in the debate over gun control laws in the aftermath of the Columbine High School massacre in Littleton, Colorado on April 20, 1999.
Charleton Heston, the president of the National Rifle Association, almost before the smoke had cleared in Littleton, was on camera, reprising his role as the supreme law-giver, Moses, by claiming that there were already enough laws on the books restricting access to guns in this country and that adding any more would certainly impede justice, especially the kind of justice meted out by private gun-bearing citizens who need and use guns to protect themselves from criminals who, according to Heston, can get guns any time and anywhere they please. One place criminals get guns is at gun shows where no background checks are required before a weapon is purchased. This "freedom" from background checks at gun shows is one of the NRA's sacred cows, of course, and the four guns used in Littleton by the Nazi assault team there were all purchased at gun shows. Heston went on to suggest that more laws restricting access to weapons of mass destruction would not prevent incidents like the one at Columbine from occurring in the future, especially in light of the fact that the two mass murderers there broke 22 gun laws in the act of killing 13 innocent children. Heston's point, apparently, is that the only effect of passing more laws restricting access to guns will be to increase the number of criminal violations that occur when such acts of violence happen, that no new laws of any kind will prevent such crimes in the future. To prove this point, Heston argued that in the last three years there have been approximately 6,000 gun violations involving children at schools and that the federal government has only prosecuted 6 people for those violations. Hence, if the government would only administer the laws "rigidly," as Descartes suggests, there would be no need for new or better laws to protect us from such acts of violence.
Almost before anyone could take a deep breath and contemplate the argument Heston already had in hand to prevent any new laws from being enacted the US Senate predictably refused to pass any new laws restricting gun purchases. This carefully reasoned Republican Senate position only endured for a single day, long enough apparently for most of them to hear from their outraged constituents about their failure to protect America's children from gun-crazed lunatics who could buy assault weapons virtually at will at any gun show in America. These wise Republican protectors of gun ownership for the mentally halt and morally blind legions of gun-crazies who have a God-ordained Republican right to terrorize the rest of us quickly reversed themselves by passing a bill which instituted background checks at gun shows but canceled them at pawn shops. Orin Hatch, a Senator who will take money from anyone, then appeared, as if by magic, on the Sunday morning news talk-shows with carefully prepared charts in hand to show us all that 6,000 gun crimes against laws already on the books had occurred in the last three years and the federal government had only brought prosecution against 6 of the children who had committed them, and so on and so forth.
This sequence of events only goes to show that in America's version of democracy at the end of the twentieth century you only get what the NRA pays for. And we get Orin Hatch. I'm only kidding, of course, since Orin Hatch has exactly as much integrity as any other person who has been elected to the Senate in the last 35 years manages to display. And for that matter, how precisely enlightened were the people responsible for the Second Amendment to the US Constitution (Bill of Rights) when they had the brilliant idea to condone gun ownership for all citizens in the first place? Believe it or not, this question brings us back to the one I asked earlier about Descartes; that is, should he, and by extension they (founding fathers), be held accountable for the existence of AK-47 and Tech-9 automatic weapons that invariably find their way into the hands of murderous children when all the founding fathers were talking about in the context of a "well-regulated militia" was a muzzle-loading musket that could not kill more than one person every three minutes or so if the shooter was really good at reloading the cumbersome rifle in the first place and could hit the side of a barn in the second. At Columbine, those two children were able to shoot as many people (in twelve minutes) as it would have taken a minuteman half a day to shoot. If the founding fathers meant for children to have access to automatic weapons, then they were as crazy as Heston and Hatch have proven themselves to be when they invoke Descartes' nonsense about how too many laws necessarily lead to the malpractice of justice. Even one badly conceived law, which the Senate just passed, even if it is well-administered, will inevitably corrupt the administration of justice. That, of course, is precisely what Heston and Hatch mean to accomplish.
Taking a longer view of the problem, and hence taking it from a native American perspective, the issue of gun control and gun ownership in the Americas comes down to the same thing that it has always already been. A people who consider themselves to be the superior race, one chosen by God to exercise dominion over every other kind of people and every animal and plant in the universe, when they also know in their hearts that they are nothing of the sort, cling to the gun, to the free access to weapons of every kind, because they also know that the crimes they have committed against the other will eventually be called to account. They, of course, intend to deny their guilt when the judgment comes due and will use their superior fire-power one last time in an effort to escape that judgment. They will slaughter the judge, the jury, the prosecutors, their own defense lawyers, and every other innocent (wo)man and child who stands in the way of their inalienable right to commit genocide against any group of people they consider to be their inferiors. Why else would they go to such lengths to preserve the right to own a tool that can only be used to kill. A gun has no other purpose, no other use. What they do not understand is that the gun they own will eventually be used to kill them. Native Americans will not be the ones holding the guns that kill them. It will be their children and their grandchildren who do the executions. We already see that now. We will see more and more of it in the future because the bad conscience of the parent always breeds death and destruction in the life of its child.
I know this is true because the difference between the European and the native American is that the European has fire-power while the native American has spirit. We have learned to turn our spirit-power against those who have always tried to eradicate us from the face of the earth and we expect to end where they began, since every circle, in or out of time, always turns its track back into its own beginning.
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