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The world's this way because we like it

by Philip Martin | June 28, 2015 at 2:44 a.m.

We like it this way.

We don't admit it, we say we hate it, we throw up our hands in expressions of outrage, but we secretly like it when something terrible happens to people we don't know. We perceive it as entertainment: we like the drama and the admittedly slight but ever-present risk of living in a world where the horrific regularly occurs.

More than that we like the opportunity it offers us to reiterate our beloved points. We like the strutting and fretting and condemning and hating. We like the easy columns our violent culture makes possible. We like believing that we are tough and true and not to be trod upon. We are willing to tolerate the sacrifice of others so that we can advertise how compassionate or deadly we can be.

We are intoxicated with violence, addicted to the myths and legends of the frontier. We believe in black and white, in right and wrong, in us and them. We will only listen to those who tell us what we want to hear about ourselves: that we are the salt of the earth, godly and generous, fair-minded yet put upon by licentious hordes who demand what we have without having to work for it. We will only entertain those ideas that conform to our sense of ourselves as special and deserving.

We want to believe we are put-upon and persecuted, and that it is only our vigilance that prevents the world from spinning apart. We like the way it feels when we see the bad guy finally cut in two on TV by a hero who has suffered and lost so much. We like it especially when, at the moment of catharsis, he says something witty like we would have, and when the villain looks like someone we might feel nervous around in an airport.

We long ago became unmoored from facts and free to indulge whatever wishful fantasy helps us to sleep. More guns make us safer. (While we might say we despise postmodernism, we secretly love it because it allows us to believe that whatever we want to do is precisely what we should do.) We love being able to stare at the TV screen in horror, to be moved by the sight of another's pain. We love arguing about how much braver and more moral we are than the usual person.

We like this world, we like its dark thrills and the way the Internet gives us the power to anonymously investigate the lurid and obscene, to find amid the haystack of the web the mad and lonely needlepoint of someone who really gets us.

We like it this way. If we didn't, we'd do something about it. It wouldn't be that hard.

We could talk about erecting market-based deterrences to mass shootings, things like mandatory insurance for firearms and imposing strict liability on those who choose to keep them. We could start to talk about the right not to be gunned down in church, about how we might do better at finding and helping those stunted souls who run a relatively high risk of squeezing a trigger at an inappropriate time and place.

We could talk about how the Constitution isn't, after all, scripture, and how any man-made thing might be improved by people who are talented and diligent enough.

We could talk about the still-lingering implications of America's original sin, about the moral problem of being a nation that was in part founded on the evil notion it was all right for white men to enslave dark people, to traffic in lives they believed didn't matter so much as their own.

We could talk about America's deep erotic fascination with firearms, with the gun porn on the supermarket magazine shelves and the balletic make-believe murders that we watch on our screens. We could talk about what this might be doing to us, and whether there isn't something unwholesome in the way first-person shooter games groom assassins. We could talk about the kind of pain that drives some of these disturbed individuals to act on their fantasies--and the ways our culture encourages desperate action.

We could talk about the inchoate rage that thwarts so many of our lives. We could talk about why so many of us feel so angry all the time, despite the obvious advantages we enjoy.

We could talk about the prideful ignorance so many of us are so happy to display as a trophy of our authentic, full-bodied existence. We could start to talk about the problems inherent in a culture of anti-intellectualism, where the profoundly felt "instinct" always trumps the cool analysis of evidence.

We could talk about the increasing militarization of our police and their estrangement from the communities they are sworn to protect and serve. We could talk about the unequal ways laws are applied, about how we might begin to establish trust between the police and those who most need their protection.

We could talk about economic injustice, and how the concentration of the bulk of a nation's wealth in the hands of an untouchable elite who control the political process is antithetical to what America is supposed to stand for. We could talk about our unhealthy worship of the wealthy, about how so many Americans equate financial success with moral fitness.

We could talk about how we are so often manipulated into blaming each other, and the arrogant disdain for us by so many of those who put themselves forth as our potential leaders. We could talk about what the real issues should be, instead of the latest sparkling diversion.

Maybe we could even stop shouting at one another for a moment. Maybe we could admit that not everyone who keeps a shotgun in the closet hopes to someday use it on another human being. Maybe we might consider that good people might be infected with bad ideas. Maybe we could entertain the possibility that we might, just this once, be wrong.

But we don't. Instead, we defer to the sensibilities of the scared and scarred, the people with irrational attachments to weapons and symbols. The ones who claim that more murder tools in more hands makes us safer, and that they, like Pancho, ought to wear their murder tools outside their pants for all the honest world to see.

Sure, the Second Amendment means something. Read it for yourself and make up your own meaning. Better yet, cut and paste a paragraph from some woolly website. You can find people who will tell you anything, who will validate your goofiest prejudices and readings of history. People who will argue with a straight face that the Civil War had nothing to do with slavery, and that Confederate battle flags aren't, above all else, provocative signifiers of white supremacy.

No longer do we have to stipulate to anything--the moon landing was a hoax, if we want it to be. Our president is a Muslim from Kenya. Americans plotted the 9/11 attacks. Science is stupid. Dylann Storm Roof was actually attacking Christians. You can't prove it isn't so.

We don't have to live this way. But we do. Because we want to.

There is something very wrong with us.


Editorial on 06/28/2015

Print Headline: The world's this way because we like it


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