Freedom From Fear

From the President’s remarks at the Newtown memorial:

It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself, that this job of keeping our children safe and teaching them well is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community and the help of a nation.

And in that way we come to realize that we bear responsibility for every child, because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours, that we’re all parents, that they are all our children.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged. …

Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

I was thinking about FDR’s “four freedoms” recently. You really don’t hear much about them any more, other than in the context of Norman Rockwell’s iconic paintings of them. The painting for “freedom from fear” shows parents tucking a couple of children into bed.

There are those among us who appear to define “freedom” as “the ability to own and carry whatever firearm I please whenever I choose to do so.” Firmin Debrabander argues that guns makes us less free:

A favorite gun rights saying is “an armed society is a polite society.” If we allow ever more people to be armed, at any time, in any place, this will provide a powerful deterrent to potential criminals. Or if more citizens were armed — like principals and teachers in the classroom, for example — they could halt senseless shootings ahead of time, or at least early on, and save society a lot of heartache and bloodshed.

As ever more people are armed in public, however — even brandishing weapons on the street — this is no longer recognizable as a civil society. Freedom is vanished at that point.

Debrabander argues that the threat of violence, including the presence of guns, and genuine freedom cannot co-exist:

This becomes clear if only you pry a little more deeply into the N.R.A.’s logic behind an armed society. An armed society is polite, by their thinking, precisely because guns would compel everyone to tamp down eccentric behavior, and refrain from actions that might seem threatening. The suggestion is that guns liberally interspersed throughout society would cause us all to walk gingerly — not make any sudden, unexpected moves — and watch what we say, how we act, whom we might offend.

And the terrible irony is that possessing a lot of guns doesn’t seem to make anyone less fearful, any more than possessing a lot of money makes people less greedy. The gun hoarder may feel better prepared for whatever phantom menace he thinks threatens him, but the fear is still there.

Awhile back I wrote about the Six Realms, which is a six-part cosmology that can be interpreted as “realities” we create by our own psychological projections. The hallmark of the Animal Realm is to live in fear of being preyed upon. Animal Realm beings are repelled by anything new or unfamiliar. They are incurious and intolerant, and they are acutely uncomfortable in the company of anyone who doesn’t fit into “their” narrow little world. If you can put yourself into their place and imagine viewing the world and most “other” people as menacing and dangerous, you can sorta kinda understand how they think packing heat might make them more “free.” But most of the time what they really want is not to be left alone but to coerce the rest of the world to be like them — not “different” and scary.

And all the guns in the world won’t give them what they really want.

I believe it’s the case that perpetrators of mass atrocities are acting under the influence of some really twisted psychological pathologies and are not just your run-of-the-mill Animal Realm-dwelling Gun Nut. But the Animal Realm-dwelling Gun Nuts are enabling the mass murders.

One of the arguments about guns keeping us “free” is that we’re supposed to be prepared by overthrow government tyranny. Mistermix speaks to the absurdity of this idea:

The other piece of gun nut arrogance or craziness is the notion that guns are some sort of defense from the government. When I lived in a small college town, one of my friends was an Army ROTC instructor, who was an active duty Major in the Army. After the Oklahoma City bombings, we had a conversation about survivalist gun nuts. Before his ROTC posting, my friend had commanded a Bradley Fighting Vehicle. I remember him wondering what the fuck these nuts thought they were going to accomplish if they had a real skirmish with the Army. He knew what his unit could do, and he knew any band of civilian insurrectionists would be utterly destroyed by them. That’s such a completely obvious point, but apparently these idiots think there’s some kind of Red Dawn scenario where the largest military on earth wouldn’t roll over them if they have a couple of assault rifles in their flabby inexperienced hands.

Civil society cannot exist without a certain amount of trust. That doesn’t mean you don’t pass laws, hire police, and get receipts, but at some point you have to have some trust in the essential decency of most people, or civilization itself breaks down. Certainly democracy cannot function where people have no faith in it, which is to say faith in your fellow country-person, even if he/she is “different.”