An American With a Gun Kills Students, Again

I have a two year old daughter, and I’m overwhelmed every time this happens with fear and anger. I teach at a university, and I feel special fear every time there is an active shooter reported, though I quickly cover it with bravado and statistical arguments. (There were two on my old campus in a single semester a few years back.) Guns make me scared, I don’t want to be anywhere near them. I even think it’s creepy that police officers carry them.

And yet, I’m never very happy with the way these discussions go. More than perhaps any other policy discussion, there’s a palpable sense of paralysis; I have more hope for a basic income guarantee than for substantial and effective gun control. For one thing, everyone who talks about gun control of any sort has to recognize that most there are almost as many guns as people in the US. The horse has left the barn, Pandora has opened the pithos, the djinn has escaped the lamp, etc. Plus it’s impossible to amend the 2nd Amendment under anything like current partisan political conditions. So our response has to be geared towards that. It’s got to involve action and organization and policy savvy.

The NRA’s power is not primarily money: it’s a large, active, and single-issue-voting membership list. The money is comparatively small and irrelevant: all you can do with money is buy ads to affect votes. The NRA already *has* votes, and gun control advocates don’t. For instance, most liberals who want more gun control would still be happy to have Bernie Sanders as President, despite his stance on guns.

So when the President says we should become single issue voters, he’s saying we should choose guns over finance sector regulation, campaign finance consistency, real attention to inequality, pro-choice judges, funding for Planned Parenthood, climate change, and many other things that matter.

That’s what a single-issue voter is: would you vote for a member of the other party if she had a stronger pro-gun-control record than the incumbent from your party? Because NRA members will, even if they mostly don’t have to: they will primary out a viable candidate and accept a loss, which comes to the same thing.

Despite the fact that gun control proponents are in the majority, we just don’t want it enough. We have a minor desire to see fewer mass shootings; gun owners have a strong desire to support untrammeled access to guns. Forget what people say: look at what they do. And we just don’t do much about guns.

And even if we did take that single-issue stance, there’d still be a gun for every man, woman, and child in the US for decades. So we’ll continue to be a country where assholes with guns kill our children and neighbors. And Black men will continue to die at twice the rate of whites, because we talk about school shootings and automatic weapons, but not handguns used in assaults and homicides.

I want to hope that someone will give an answer to the question of what we should do–what my readers and neighbors and friends and I should do–to actually change the terrible, atrocity-ridden status quo. And yet a sober calculations suggests that despair and impotent anger is the appropriate response. The love and hope we nurture can’t reach these issues: the guns will always be a background condition of our lives, a potential risk, yet–if we are white and comfortable–a statistically unlikely one.

It’s like Camus describes in La Peste:

And, indeed, as he listened to the cries of joy rising from the town, Rieux remembered that such joy is always imperiled. He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen chests; that it bides its time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city.

Arendt’s Considered View on Evil and its Banality

“It is indeed my opinion now that evil is never ‘radical’, that it is only extreme, and that it possesses neither depth nor any demonic dimension. It can overgrow and lay waste the whole world precisely because it spreads like a fungus on the surface. It is ‘thought-defying,’ as I said, because thought tries to reach some depth, to go to roots, and the moment it concerns itself with evil, it is frustrated because there is nothing. That is its ‘banality.’ Only the good has depth and can be radical.” (Letter to Gershom Scholem July 24, 1963)

Kierkegaard on Assistant Professors

“Yes, you assistant professor, of all the loathsome inhumans the most loathsome….”

“A ludicrous sullenness and paragraph-pomposity that give an assistant professor a remarkable likeness to a Holberg bookkeeper are called earnestness by assistant professors….”

“When an assistant professor, every time his coattails reminds him to say something, says de omnibus dubitandum est [everything must be doubted] and briskly writes away on a system in which there is sufficient internal evidence in every other sentence that the man has never doubted anything-he is not considered lunatic.”

But the presence of irony does not necessarily mean that earnestness is excluded. Only assistant professors assume that.

“There is nothing at all for assistant professors to do. The assistance of these gentlemen is needed here no more than than a maiden needs a barber to shave her beard and no more than a bald man needs a barber to ‘style’ his hair.”

“It can be assumed that in the present generation every tenth person is an assistant professor….”

Monday Links, Accumulated

  1. Fuck Nuance (Abstract: Seriously, fuck it.)
  2. Raising Children Without Religion May Be A Better Alternative, Suggests New Research. (One of the underlying studies suggests that “religious humanitarianism is largely expressed to in-group members” because “a strong religious in-group identity was associated with derogation of racial out-groups.”)
  3. The Green Street Project is a nice interactive thingie that gives you an in-depth tour of the economic history of a single Manhattan block.
  4. Central bankers aren’t sure they understand how inflation works anymore. (Original gated version.)

Friday Links, Assembled

  1. Estimating the reproducibility of psychological science: “Thirty-six percent of replications had significant results….”
  2. Swing Voter
  3. #BlackLivesMatter protests Mayor Bowser’s new policing policies. See also: Peter Levine on #BlackLivesMatter and Hillary Clinton.
  4. Visualizing Economic Complexity
  5. Interview with Matt Damon on The Martian.