Your Title Here

Sometimes something just clicks:

He bought his first gun a week before the debut of He took a firearms class. He filled out the paperwork and went through the background check to get a permit to carry a gun. He now owns 18 guns.

“Once you put a gun on, you gain situational awareness,” he says. After he bought his first gun, he says, “I felt grown up. It was like a coming-of-age thing. I felt like an adult.”

In the 1940s and 1950s Joseph Campbell was writing stuff about myths and rituals and arguing that modern society suffered by the lack of them. He pointed out that a nearly universal feature of tribal societies was the rite of passage. For boys, this ritual often involved all the men of a tribe or village physically kidnapping a boy away from his mother and taking him off to some “men’s ground,” and the boy would be put through some kind of ritual that would be frightening or even painful. The ritualism often included obvious phallic symbols, such as snakes. But from that point forward, his status as a man was secure.

The corresponding rites of passage for girls are marriage and childbirth, which is pretty much still the case. But in modern western culture males seem to drift along as boy-men for a prolonged time. Campbell wrote in Hero With a Thousand Faces,

“It has always been the prime function of mythology and rite to supply the symbols that carry the human spirit forward, in counteraction to those constant human fantasies that tend to tie it back. In fact, it may well be that the very high incidence of neuroticism among ourselves follows from the decline among us of such effective spiritual aid. We remain fixated to the unexorcised images of our infancy, and hence disinclined to the necessary passages of our adulthood.”

So, hypothetically, there are a lot of men drifting through their lives never completely certain of their status as men. Add to that the feedback loop of popular entertainment, which (seems to me) often portrays males as perpetual juveniles. What you’ve got now is a big chunk of U.S. society sucked into an infantile caricature of manhood, and using guns as their phallic symbols to act it out. And men who display their firearms at seemingly inappropriate times, like these two, are really, unconsciously, showing off their mighty weenies.

Discuss. I’ll be back later.

28 thoughts on “Your Title Here

  1. If they had mighty wieners, they wouldn’t need guns.

    My working theory is, the smaller the weenie, the bigger the pick-up, the bigger the gun, and the larger the magazine.

    And, a Hummer with a gun-rack, means you probably need an electron microscope to spot that wiener.

  2. You read through the article and you see the guy and a friend of his dealing with their world as if they’re in a perpetual state of war — imagining a an armed robber at a shop that just happens to have an alarm system that’s malfunctioning, sitting facing the entrance of a restaurant so they can see some (nonexistent) threat approaching. It’s as if they need a war as a male rite of passage, so they’re creating a fantasy war in their own heads.

  3. Steve M,
    We’ve been in a perpetual state of war and occupation overseas for the last 10+ years, so one might suspect that if needing a war as some sort of male rite of passage, some of these guys might have volunteered for an actual one, and not arm themselves and act like there is one everywhere they go.
    Oh yeah, but the likelihood of facing someone who’s actually armed in a war zone, and might shoot your sorry ass, is much greater there, than at the local Chik-fil-A they feel the need to carry loaded AR-15’s into.

    I think they suffer from PTSD – Perpetually Traumatized Stupid Dipsh*ts.
    Or, Perpetually Traumatized and Sexually Dysfunctional.

    It all comes down to the pecker they’re packin’, and not the pistol.

  4. Look at man’s best friend, the dog. After 200,000 years of living with us, they are reduced to perpetual juvenility. After civilizing the dog, the horse, and various food animals, we are getting around to ourselves; and after us, the cat.

  5. Part of the juvenility of weapons culture is its separation of power from responsibility. The NRA makes a fetish of the 2nd amendment, but they read only the ‘right to bear arms’ clause, not its enabling clause, the ‘well-regulated militia’. The gun-runner lobby neurotically whinges that any gun control at all equals taking the weapons away; but the reverse is true; for weapons require control, and vice versa.

    Consider the ultimate gun-ownership organization; the military. It is also the ultimate gun-control organization. It is all about control of guns, by guns.

  6. paradoctor: I’ve been thinking along the same lines. Like this idea that the next step after registering guns is to confiscate them. First of all, I’ve had to register every car I’ve owned, and there have been no attempts to confiscate them. But on top of that, if the phrase about the “well-regulated militia” means anything at all, it would seem to require people to register their assault rifles–not so the government can confiscate them, but so the government knows where they are when it’s time to call out the militia.

    Meanwhile, no discussion of guns as phalluses can be complete without this canonical example from Red River.

    • Yeah, my Dad used to argue that if guns were registered, when the Communists took over they’d use the registrations to find and confiscate the guns. And I’d say yeah, so instead they’ll get the NRA membership list and go by that. Seriously.

  7. The thing is, the NRA has already explicitly approved of all gun regulation because they do not (yet) show any inclination to taking the ban on fully-automatic weapons, and heavier ordnance, to the SCOTUS for a ruling.

    The Thompson submachinegun and the BAR were available by mail order in the 20s & 30s, so there is no argument about “commonly available to the public,” per the recent SCOTUS ruling.

  8. So, hypothetically, there are a lot of men drifting through their lives never completely certain of their status as men

    Where’s the hypothetical come in?… I’d say it’s more of an unverifiable fact.

    I drive a Toyota tacoma..When I purchased it I was quite pleased with the wisdom of my decision..It was stylish,dependable,economical, affordable, and served every purpose for which I needed a vehicle.. Once when I was stopped at a traffic light and a huge Dodge Ram all tricked out with oversized tires pulled along side me and my eye level was looking at a chrome running board..I experienced a sensation that I only could describe as a feeling of inadequacy as a male..It didn’t make sense to me why I should feel that way..But never the less, I know I indentified my feeling correctly. Why should I feel that way?

  9. Stephen, thanks for the clip from “Red River”. It reminded me of an interview I heard a long time ago. I think it was on “Fresh Air”. The man they were interviewing was gay and he was talking about earlier in his life when gayness and everything that might be considered gay culture was hidden and suppressed. He said that when he was young erotic literature for gay men was not available. He and his gay friends used to read cowboy novels. As I recall, he said that “The Virginian” was very popular. Western novels depicted a society mainly of men, and close friendships between men were often central to the story. A scene like the one in “Red River” would be understandably popular.

    Swami, I still use a Ford Ranger for the farm, it does everything I need it to do, I’ve hauled horses trailers and I can carry 5 by 5 round bales. They weigh in around 1100 pounds. By the time it gives out, we’ll be selling the farm anyway.

    But, I do recall the thrill of getting my battered 1958 TR-3A many years ago. I could actually reach out and touch the ground. I picked up a nice shirt that blew out of someone’s car and I didn’t even have to slow down to grab it.

    But, it was disconcerting when dogs chased the car, because they seemed to be looking me straight in the face in an “up close and personal kind of way”. I got used to it. I wish I had that care now.

  10. “Once you put a gun on, you gain situational awareness,”

    That’s funny. It’s situational awareness that I experience every time I come in contact with someone who is making it known that they are carrying a gun in an environment that doesn’t call for the necessity to carry a gun..Like having a wasp buzzing around your head or a rattlesnake minding it’s own business as it’s coiled up next to you just enjoying the same common space.
    I seem to sense a potential danger to my safety based on not knowing what might trigger a violent action..For some strange reason I feel that a person who flashes or displays a gun for the benefit of an audience also displays an insecurity and instability that makes me very situationally aware

  11. I find the topic most interesting. The focus on myth with its potential to supply answers and explanations is essential. Myth and dreams were essential tools used by Carl Jung in interpreting human behavior and he offers a great deal of insight into male and female psychology with these tools. He considered the concept of anima (the personification of all feminine psychological tendencies within a man, the archetypal feminine symbolism within a man’s unconscious) and animus (the personification of all masculine psychological tendencies within a woman, the archetypal masculine symbolism within a woman’s unconscious) significant.

    Being a man (well last time I checked anyway) I came across a booked by a Jungian analyst, Robert A. Johnson, titled “He” which offered me a lot in the way of explanation. He also penned the counterpart “She” which I own but have not read. It resonated with what I’d come to accept as a process of individuation (the manner in which a thing is identified as distinguished from other things) and search for personal meaning as profound as the question “Just who am I, anyway?” There is very little innate within us which supplies related answers. Rather our self-understanding is born out of experience and realized more in terms of what one is not than by what they actually seem to be. The experience by which personal growth and individuation is achieved can lead to harmony with others, to destructive tendencies and even destruction of self. Do we not see this? Though we do, insights and explanations often defy us.

    I’d add that in terms of anima which, together with “maleness”, mirrors or serves as analog of the examples of male and female embodied in one’s parents as well as what society and culture inform us they are. When the male and his anima are at odds with each other there is inner turmoil, lack of confidence and for more to “prove” but when they are not afraid of one another there is a far grater chance of productive integration of the two and consequently harmony with the external world.

    Understandably, male psychology is differentiated from female psychology by the experience of having relied on mommy for everything in early years only to learn that “I am not Mommy” but rather a smaller version of Daddy. This is pivotal in the developmental sense.

    Anyway, I’ll try to cut to the chase to arrive a 2-3 salient points regarding male psychology and behavior highlighted in this book “He”. They explain much to me and possibly has and will to others. Johnson uses the allegory of the holy grail (common to many cultures, particularly in 12th-14th centuries, each with a culture-specific incarnation of the myth, for example the fisher king in French culture) as the explanatory and defining myth by which the challenge of growing up male might be better understood.

    Without recounting fine-level details of the myth it’s relevant that the fisher king had received a wound early in life which is the analog of the young man’s disillusionment that the world is not just joy and happiness and the accompanying “disintegration of childlike beauty, faith and optimism” (quoting Johnson). This leads to suffering until such time as there is redemption or enlightenment years later. Johnson points out that most western males are “fisher kings” in that “every boy has naively blundered into something that is too big for him. He proceeds halfway through his masculine development then drops it because it is too hot.” Coincidentally the fisher king involves the young prince taking a bite of hot salmon that burns him badly.”

    That’s the $0.05…the nickel version from which it’s hardly a leap to the idea of incomplete, overcompensating boy-men who before enlightenment, which can surely happen, can wreak much destruction on others and themselves on the way to personal redemption which so many do arrive at later in life though sadly some never do. This resonates intensely with my own experience as a male and how much disappointment (often that first defining major one) plays in male outlook and how personal growth requires moving past it with a more harmonious integration of all aspects of self. Men can often trace back their loss of innocence to a single incident. I know mine and it took damn near 40 years for me to pull my head out of the muck, to look in the mirror and to understand it.

    To come full circle, guns as a means of men defining themselves are not exactly the path to enlightenment and redemption. I’ll only add that to avoid the appearance of sexism, piling on or self-hate it’s better to understand causes which enable constructive responses than to risk the appearance of throwing stones. Only then can we behave in ways that might actually help.

  12. Pat …Could decreased levels of testosterone production in males— as they age— factor into the transition from boy-man to man? I know in myself I find myself saying..That’s just kid shit ( entertaining the fantasies)..and I know that it’s not a wisdom I’ve gained by way of knowledge… It’s more of an evolution of my thinking process… something like mellowing out as you get older.

  13. I remember Farago from when he wrote for The Truth About Cars. He was an obnoxious right-wing jerk then; so his transition to gun nut was not a surprise.

  14. Reduction in testosterone fog? I would think it plays a part. Mine reached its high water mark long ago. LOL! That might be the biological counterpart to (or causal force) what Erich Fromm characterized as a frenetic, often self-defeating, compulsive need to fill an emptiness, to accrue “stuff” be it knowledge, money or prestige, which can become twisted if it ignores one’s equanimous place among others….perhaps not to look at the big picture. But it can’t be all that — neutered dogs still fight over bones. Nothing ever has a single cause.

    In light on Jung’s work I wonder whether if men had to bear nurture children would we not see much of the same exaggerated struggles with opposite sex children, i.e. girls. It imposes a uniquely difficult hardship to accept ones differences from one with whom there had, at one point, been indistinguishable from self. There’s the pain of birth which interrupts a blissful state of pain-free contentment and it hardly gets easier thereafter.

    But what do I know, grasshopper that I am? I’m just an amateur who’s read a lot of Freud, Jung, Fromm, Krishnamurti and a few others. For a more complete understanding I want to read “She” but there’s never enough time

  15. Speaking of “situational awareness,” gun toters are usually quite unaware of their surroundings (security people can spot toters from miles away by the way they keep feeling for their gun and by their posture). What they do have is a supersaturated alarm focus, much like a hammer in search of a nail, not unlike a photographer who cannot enjoy the surroundings because he is focused on taking pictures…

  16. “I know that it’s not a wisdom I’ve gained by way of knowledge… It’s more of an evolution of my thinking process… something like mellowing out as you get older.”

    I kind of wish you hadn’t written that, I was happy with the self delusion. I thought I was getting wiser, but, I think you have something there.

    I haven’t read Jung, but I read a lot of Campbell many years ago and a fair amount of Arthurian legend. In the version that appeals to me most, it is Parsifal, who heals the Fisher King, but also the one who wounded him by shooting an arrow into the air. (Please don’t tell me I am totally “misrememberizing” this, it resonates nicely with my world view.)

    As written above disappointment is a big part of our experience. But, it must be common to both sexes, women probably just deal with it better. As for the rite of passage, I didn’t serve in Vietnam, but many of my friends did. One thing that they seemed to hold in common, despite disparate experiences, was the unequivocal fact that they had gone through the passage and emerged with childhood only a memory. Their worlds were sometimes troublesome, but their identities were clear.

    Concerning my friends in the “Second Amendment community”, this does “click”. When they try to make casual conversation, it seems laced with simplicity, anger and magical thinking. This may be a sort of “display” behavior, but it certainly limits the conversational options. If I have to take an hour and a half to explain why I don’t regard Glen Beck as an insightful intellect I think I’d rather opt for mucking out the barn and partaking of a bracing cocktail when the hour arrives.

  17. I suppose it is also a bit telling that Rob Farrago, purchased his first gun and was ready to write “the truth about guns” only a week later. That fellow is one very fast learner.

  18. Oh, the irony!
    If those two “boys” in Portland had brandished 12 inch plastic Penises, they’d really have started some dialogue, and would most likely be in jail.

  19. Pretty much totally agree.

    If the media didn’t promote juvenile ideas of masculinity, it wouldn’t nearly be the problem it is, but essentially that’s the case.

    Now here’s where the problem get’s worse – I don’t think this is new, but something we’ve been coping with for a few decades. So the juvenile idea of masculinity is being promoted by people who only know that juvenile ideal. Merely turn on the news and watch some of our politicians and pundits, think of them as insecure adolescent boys, and it becomes very obvious.

    Until we become conscious of it, it’s hard to fix. But as the immature attitude of “nuh-uh you can’t make me” prevails, we’ve got our work cut out for us.

  20. Wild Bill Hickok got him some Tea party pistol grips…You can’t get more patriotic than that! Oh, maybe that’s not Wild Bill..could be Johnny Yuma”s great grandson.

    “He walked this land…a rebel man”

  21. Goatherd, just two points….surely you remember “Arthurian” legend accurately but during the 12th – 14th centuries there were many both in different cultures and within cultures…in the same way the Christ story had many manifestations or incarnations with just one meeting the test of time to become the one most remember. The author drew on many versions to disappointment, I agree that it can happen at any point in life and it is part and parcel but inasmuch as I was representing ideas of another I’m compelled to do so as fairly and accurately as possible. However, the author refers to a pivotal, almost life-changing disappointment on average occurring int the 15-16 year old timeframe to which the reaction can send the boy-man down many paths…momma’s boy, blamer, disengaged and unmotivated, one expecting handouts, one vested deeply in denial, spunky cocksure bantam rooster etc. The reaction to the formative disappointment and subsequent seatch (for the grail?) Can lead to more disappointment, including those experienced in war.

    Women do not experience this so severely. I’d submit that this is widely recognized, not only by therapists but by anyone observing males grow up. In mythological terms Johnson refers to women as never having left the grail castle, also observing that in many cultures the embodiment of wisdom assumes a female form. That resonates with me notwithstanding ample exceptions as basis for nitpicking including recalling the existence of some dull, coarse woman from one’s past.

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