Politicizing Newtown

Fearing that advocates of gun control will gain momentum from the Connecticut shootings, the Republican media net has already activated its disinformation echo-chamber. At the very moment that Americans want a straightforward, honest discussion about guns and public safety, the Republican media is in full swing trying to divert that discussion into a political discussion pitting those in favor of gun control against those who are opposed to any kind of gun control. Thus Rush Limbaugh’s politicization of the massacre, ironically in a piece titled ““Left Mobilizes to Politicize School Shooting.”

Of course, Rush is right. In the kind of highly polarized climate that Rush helped to create and that he loves to capitalize on, any sensible, meaningful, and informed discussion of fire arms and safety cannot help but be “politicized,” since, in Rush’s perverted world any sensible, meaningful, and informed discussion about anything whatsoever must be perceived as an attempt by the left to “politicize” the issue. That is because, for Rush, real Americans shoot from the hip, or, more appropriately, from the gut, without any interface with scholarly evidence, history, science, or reason (all of which, of course, are only further evidence of the left’s attempts to control the discussion).

Rush’s callous idiocy notwithstanding, the discussion about Connecticut should not focus on guns, at least not exclusively. Because the moment we allow the discussion to focus on guns, we overlook how it also needs to focus on a woefully inadequate mental health system. But, then, if we focus on mental health, we are likely to overlook the everyday violence that w9rks its way slowly, methodically into all of our lives with the constant fear of impending unemployment, with the constant reality of underemployment, as childhood dreams and hopes for care and safety give way to adult nightmares of abandonment and insecurity.

There are complex, diverse, highly industrialized, socially stratified nations that enjoy far lower homicide rates than we do, where citizens also enjoy the right to own and bear arms. Which suggests that the problem runs far deeper than registering guns will take us. To be sure, every police department in the nation, and every law enforcement official of any note, is in favor of strengthening our gun control laws. And this might reduce our absurdly high homicide rate.

Yet, beyond the easy access to fire arms in the U.S., there is the far more troubling issue of overall safety and security. Americans feel insecure. They feel threatened. And, like all creatures who feel threatened, we behave in uncharacteristic ways even when the threat is unreal.

Those individuals who oppose gun control laws, for whom Rush is a public shill, admit that much of their opposition comes from a place of deep anxiety and fear. They fear that someone will break into their homes, that someone will attack them on the street, at a post office, at a shopping mall, in a movie theater, or on a school campus, or in a public elementary school. And they believe that the more people who own and carry guns the safer they individually will be; when, in fact, in the real world, we are all made less safe, not because the world is particularly dangerous, but because human beings, by their very nature, are fragile, flawed and vulnerable.

The Ayn Randian world that Rush and his friend live in – a world of radical individualism, where care for one another, or, even worse, the mere need for care is a sign of weakness – does not lend itself to treating the uniquely American virus of mass violence. Because if human beings really are as flawed and vulnerable and fragile as, say, the Bible says we are (a Bible which, of course, Rand herself despised) then mass killings should not only be expected, but even – in order to defend the individual – invited since they expose who is bad and who is good, drawing a clear line between the innocents and their murderers, who, of course, must now be brought to justice, if not in this world (which, in Connecticut, is impossible), then the next.

What was once understood intuitively by every human being – that no man is an island (J Donne), or that man is by his nature social (Aristotle), or that we need one another’s care – is now the declared enemy by fully 47% of all Americans who have labeled it the “Nanny State.” And, yet, surely every arm that reaches out to embrace a bereaved parent in Newtown, every teacher that cares for his or her students, each of us who in any way reassures and provides comfort or security or assistance in these times of need knows how deeply this label fails to grasp our need for one another.

The tragedy is that this need and our own vulnerability has been politicized, as though caring for and about one another somehow deprived us of our freedom and individuality; as though guns and weapons were the lone symbol of that freedom and individuality; or as though taking steps to care for one another – through health care or employment or education or food safety or gun control – somehow deprived us of this freedom and individuality.

But, since Rush and his friends have made care for one another a political issue, then, yes, I am not afraid to politicize the tragedy at Newtown, Connecticut.

Announcing New Blog: Divine Economy

Contemporary spiritual experience, understanding and practice are distinguishable, but not separable, from capitalism, not because Islam, or Judaism, or Christianity, or any other specific religious tradition has explicitly authorized capitalism, but because capital mediates our practices, thoughts, and experience of our world. Divine Economy is an occasional critical reflection on the intimate relationship between capitalism and contemporary spirituality that seeks first to expose and then to interrogate the lineaments out of which this relationship is composed to the end that both individually and collectively we might recover experiences, understandings, and enactments of our different spiritualities that point beyond their current, contemporary, complicity in the reproduction of capitalist forms of domination. Should you wish to be alerted about installments to this critical reflection, please feel free to respond to this blog or email me at joseph.lough@gmail.com.