I’m going to compare rational thoughts or ideas to what I am calling, for the sake of argument, “religious” ideas or thoughts. Those are not two mutually exclusive ideas, religion and rationality, but for the purpose of this post I am going to treat them as such. The way that we talk about and think about guns and violence in our culture is essentially magical thinking. There are a lot of ridiculous, reductionist sayings like, “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun” are rampant in our society. That’s not the only way. There are actually many, many ways to stop a bad guy with a gun, some of which are just preventative. We don’t need have to have a 2:1 gun to person ratio to be safe. But there are many millions of people who think that more guns make us more safe. They usually disregard all suicides and gun accidents, and then try to make a qualitative argument from the remaining gun deaths. How many mass shootings is too many? When compared with the overall population, the odds are still very low that you’ll die in a mass shooting. That argument is statistically sound, but wholly irrational. We can nearly eliminate mass shootings like most of the rest of the world has but we choose not to because we believe we are safer the way things are now. We would somehow be less safe if we gave our guns away because the government would take over. There’s an assumption that our country is safer with all the guns because places with guns aren’t safe. The numbers don’t demonstrate that, if we are sticking with a qualitative statistical argument. Killing people who threaten our property is a sickening moral compromise we make. We make allowance for killing in so many ways and in so many levels, the most obvious of which is our commitment to war.
We assume our cops can kill. Other countries don’t do this. We assume we can kill if someone breaks into our home. Other countries don’t do this, or they don’t extend it to ubiquitous handgun use and concealed carry. We assume the mass shootings will continue, because anything that restricts weapons to some will make it harder for the good killers to get guns. We assume that violence is the answer, it makes us honorable, it makes us safe. We assume that people without guns can’t be free. It’s just all a bunch of bullshit. It’s magic thinking, like the cargo cults, or the heresy of prosperity theology. The sound rational, humanist argument is this: We can reduce violence by reducing access to guns, so we should. More humans will live that way. We can make a moral case as well: Death through violence can be reduced if we reduce guns and war.
That’s not even getting to war yet. There’s this strange marriage of violence and Christianity, which flies in the face of Jesus’s entire mission. I have heard Christians point to David, his “heart for God,” and his use of violence to expand God’s Kingdom. It puts David’s military conquest in a superior role to Jesus’s ministry of love. It doesn’t hold water, it’s absurd theologically, but it’s a convenient way to think. It is convenient on this end of drone wars and special ops. We don’t have countries flying drones overhead bombing us on a regular basis, we do that to them. We don’t have special forces in our country assassinating political or religious leaders, we do that to them. We can because, well, who can stop us? Is that the only reason? No, there are lots of other reasons. Financial, political, and more. My guess is, it would be nearly impossible to untangle military power from the world without global chaos. I’m arguing here, there’s no moral reason to engage in this kind of violence around the world. It’s wrong that we moralize it by saying all kinds of absurd things. They hate us. Do you kill everyone who hates you? It’s better that the war is over there and not here. That’s such a stupid truism. What military in the world has the capacity to invade the United States? As if we have a Naval force just waiting to develop the moment we stop bombing Iraq. It’s all just a bunch of bullshit. Any country, any person could use that same justification, and they’d be just as wrong. Imagine if France started bombing Mongolia because some 40% of their population (higher than the percentage of Iraqis who are fighting against the US) were radicalized haters of the French way of life. Would they be justified in blowing up that country’s infrastructure, overthrowing their political establishment, installing a new government, and placing troops there? We just happen to have the power to inflict violence on them without their being able to do it back to us.
Can we just be honest with ourselves and say this is wrong, and we are the monsters of the world for this kind of thing? Nobody else is doing this shit, nobody else is lining up to invade Iraq for the third time, and here we have this hope in it. Like it’s going to help us here back home, it’s going to help free Iraq from the shackles of whoever is in charge there now, it’s going to eliminate evil from the world by killing the human containers of said evil. There’s such a positivity about war across our country, way more than what makes sense. Somehow the media gets to avoid showing injuries and death of our troops. We don’t see what an American solider’s body looks like. We get the sanitized, “support our troops,” version of what’s happening over there. I don’t think that’s supporting our troops, sending them over there and ignoring the suffering our troops endure and the suffering they inflict on the enemy we created. There’s such a celebratory way of talking about war, how our heroes are defending our freedom and such. I hear defenders of the troops (as if being against war is being against the troops) saying that they hand out chocolate to children. That they spread Christianity there. I am sure there are better ways than Marines preaching Jesus to their Iraqi-Muslim translator in the middle of a war zone. My freedom isn’t threatened by any Iraqi, terrorist, Muslim, civilian, really anyone a thousand miles away. There’s just no logic in that slogan, the “protect our freedoms” narrative. But somehow it still works.
I wish, I hope we can flip around the narrative on the armchair generals who play the ‘wise old man’ act talking about the necessity of war. The guys who invoke Hitler into every argument about war there ever was – so what about Hitler? If we somehow consider Hitler as this singular evil, nevermind everything else that was happening in the entire world for the 50 years before him, and then say, we should go to war because there are people like Hitler… Then yes, we must go to war! But you have to ignore the way that otherwise good, moral, Christian nations can turn to despots in times of desperation. You have to ignore the situation, the calamity that puts a whole society into such a broken, desperate place. And then say, what about Hitler? There will be other Hitlers if we keep dragging countries into the hell of war, starvation, a hollowed-out political system, people with no hope. Then there are the others who invoke 9/11 every time someone talks about the war overseas. Look at the time some people attacked us within our own borders. Yes, it is horrifying what a couple dozen people willing to die, and kill others can do. Don’t drag my country to war for it. That kind of logic is just so intensely, utterly wrong. It just shouldn’t work anymore. We have enough information, I think, and enough sense to say that this war thing is a bunch of bullshit. It’s not making our country safe, it’s wrong on every level, we shouldn’t be doing this, and anyone who says otherwise is the coward. The coward is the one brave enough to say, “to support our troops I think we should bring them all home.” And saying, too, “to make the world safer, we should stop starting wars.” There’s this mythic hope in the goodness of war, and it’s time we stopped believing the lie and started waking up to the truth. If you live by the sword you will die by the sword.