Before we hear the same empty platitudes and our most recent national nightmare recedes into the background let’s take a moment to wrestle with the reality that is our culture and national identity at this moment in history. We spend a lot of time talking about things at the margins, afraid to engage on the toxic mix of trends that make us a uniquely scary society. A place where the chance of violence is not some nebulous thing that exists out there in the ether of war and petty base needs criminality. It’s there when we walk out the door, on our devices, and in our collective imagination. A seething hatred just under the veneer of normalcy, waiting for a glib excuse to exercise itself in the public domain.
First we need to stop kidding ourselves about guns. There are hundreds of millions of them spread out among the country; more than one for every man, woman, and child. People collect them, carry them in public, memorialize themselves holding them on social media. They glorify them as a paradoxical emblem of freedom – a source of liberation in hands of one and of misery for the other.
We have a sick culture that fetishizes what are essentially killing machines. So let us stop kidding ourselves about what we really mean when we talk about guns and gun control. The debate has nothing to do with sport. It has nothing to do with what some perceive to be a fundamental right promulgated in a era when no one could envision where technology would lead the weapons industry. There is nothing high minded at all about gun advocacy. It an indefensible set of beliefs that thrives in the far reaches of our media ecosystem where conspiracy theories live and millions fashion themselves as John Rambos in waiting for some kind of convoluted and illogical rapture only the dumbest and most cynical among us could ever fathom. Gun love is the elixir for the saddest strain of melancholic America.
Second we need to talk about our adoration of celebrity in all its forms. It’s a giant magnet pulling at the strings of our society, forcing us into its gaping maw. It’s like a giant spotlight that either consumes our attention or acts as a siren motivating our actions. It exercises power on a scale we’ve never seen before. Every time we have a shooting our thoughts turn to mental illness, but we never examine it through the lens of celebrity. America doesn’t have more mentally ill people than other countries. There is no epidemic unique to our nation. We do however have a craven need for attention. It’s embedded in the fabric of our culture, omnipresent in everyday life. Our entertainment culture glorifies the outlandish and unattainable at the expense of the sane and rational among us.
Third and finally we allow apathy to win the day. Our attention is so limited that we can only focus on a tragedy for a short time, let alone consider its origins or advocate for solutions. We don’t change anything because we’re too lazy to do it. I’m consistently amazed by the sheer number of solvable problems that the majority could largely agree on, but we lack the will and dedication to make it happen. We thrive on not caring enough. Everything is political. Every minor issue is fodder for televised debate, acrimony from those that don’t have to wrestle with the stakes. This is our national nightmare, forever in reruns.