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We justly ridicule or hold in low esteem the sappy thinker – the sucker.



KABOOM: Circular Reasoning and Self-Fulfilling Paranoia


Excess and the Potential for Violence

by Jerry Murley

There is a family story about the Depression era in which a family elder was standing out in the garden one cloudy Sunday afternoon when a big black automobile rounded the bend and started down the gravel road toward the family farm. The man of the house hurried over to grab his shotgun and immediately shot a chicken in the yard. Of course the car was government issue, driven by a revenuer. One knows one is a thoroughbred Southerner when manure smells sweet, dirt occasionally looks delicious, and there is at least one member of the family tree connected to the illegal distillation of whiskey in the 20th century.

The news in past weeks has been full of heart-rending stories about the earthquake in the mountains of Italy and deadly tornados in Tennessee. There is no place like Italy – or Middle Tennessee – to so thoroughly blend the advantages of town and country. Some of the towns destroyed in Italy had defended themselves for centuries from marauders and competing political factions, yet they succumbed to the silent potential violence of stored energy involving shifting plates of the earth. When released all at once and unexpectedly, it wrought doom from below and above – not from outside intruders. The process is akin to the feelings suppressed by intimates until they explode in a violence of words that wound far worse than they would have had they been aired slowly.

There was a particular story on the radio in the past weeks that sickened me then and sickens me each time I think of it. The radio host conducted an admirably neutral interview with a gun store owner in Texas about the rush to buy guns and ammunition since the November 2008 election. The gun store owner was passionless in voice, as well, but not in his "second-hand" reasoning and justification for the mass behavior. Some gun owners have rushed to buy a life-time supply of ammunition, sometimes for assault weapons, in fear that the ammunition will be unobtainable or too costly later due to imagined potential administration policy and enforcement sometime in the near future.

There are reasonable arguments for possessing guns, or certain types of guns. There is a reasonable supply of weaponry. But the story about the current trend demonstrates the sappy reasoning and reckless behavior of a gun cult unchecked by reason and civil self-restraint. My wife's father has lived his life untainted by post-1950s mass culture, which makes him an exceptional example. He has a shotgun for which he saved $12 from a newspaper route during the Depression and bought at age 14. He used his gun to hunt rabbits and squirrels to help feed his family of seven. I have never seen him behave recklessly with a gun, nor does he talk irresponsibly about guns and their use. The shotgun that he has owned, used and maintained for 76 years is a valued possession, not just for him but for the whole family. It has roots in realistic, civil application for real human needs. There is not a drop of hokey ideology or puffed-up prowess in his reason for bearing arms. A man who defended his country with valor, leading men in the air above the Pacific, does not need tin-star, fake badges that can be purchased by any half-wit in the world to assert his masculinity and authority.

My own father has passed down a rifle and shotgun to me that he used for hunting as a young man. These guns carry a story and meaning and will be kept safe. Growing up, the path to manhood in my family entailed lively engagement in work, play and thought with earnest goals and a sense of humor – and without shirking commitments or convictions, without temper tantrums, and without doing harm to one's self or others. Guns were stored away in a closet and never used. The model man had the skills, courage, and equanimity to successfully negotiate; he had the common sense to know when to negotiate – and the stature and athleticism to put the outcome of a tussle in doubt. A real man stood and talked face to face with an open countenance – and without a Kevlar vest.

I personally know and respect good, educated, fiercely patriotic, physically fit contemporaries who are armed in ways far superior to the basic arms of an early American frontiersman. But there is no comparing the conditions and tenor of the emerging home arsenal of a modern "sportsman" with that of the hardy, self-reliant, early American militiaman – a man with a trade and aspirations. (So as not to idealize the colonials, I should add that they, too, sometimes contrived to act as an outraged, greedy mob.) How did we travel the path from restless second graders with pea shooters under a cloud of nuclear annihilation to the cancerous, unchecked paranoia that permeates the airwaves and stocks the closets and basements of minority outposts throughout the land. This is the real threat: a potential internal terror of sufficient scale with no sense of proportion at all. Have we no shame? This is a sad and ignoble state of mind and social evolution. It is the very antithesis of hope and honor. How dare we equate such thinking and behavior with the early Americans' need for domestic defense in the absence of strong government and a standing army. This is a perversion that should be challenged in every church and civic organization in the country – yet it is not. It is not even mentioned or hinted. The substance and intent of the home arsenal today would be unfamiliar in intent and destructive potential to our fathers and our fathers' fathers. It would be a source of profound bewilderment and embarrassment rather than a cause for envy. We well know how to choke this trend slowly and peacefully in its infancy with wise civic policy and personal witness and admonishment.

One pities the phantom foreign invader with sappy designs of overrunning the American countryside. In truth, I am pretty sure that foreigners know that we are by and large nuts about fire power. Why would anyone want to dominate a people who handle rattlesnakes at Sunday service and weigh two times the normal weight for their forefathers? I am quite sure that we could cheat any would-be invaders out of their ill-gotten gains in no time flat, just as we scam one another on a daily basis without blinking an eye.

We justly ridicule or hold in low esteem the sappy thinker – the sucker. This is something realistic people on the right and left of the political spectrum can agree upon. The sappy thinker not only endangers himself, he endangers others as well. It is far more likely that an American will be maimed or killed in or by an automobile due to another average American hopped up on prescription drugs or talking on a cell phone in their tinted-glass SUV, as they run a red light or rear-end another car, than that an American will be attacked by a band of home intruders requiring several guns and a bullet belt to convey the message that he or she is armed and crazy enough to shoot. (However, I do concede that statement is relative, depending on the neighborhood.) Most of us would much rather have a TV and stereo stolen than to chance shooting and killing a low-level, unarmed burglar by mistake. In fact, for home defense one needs but one shotgun and one shell, because after you shoot that one shell you don't want the intruder taking a loaded gun from you and killing you, your family, your neighbors, or someone else in some other neighborhood.

Let's add it up: Paranoid Americans are hoarding money and gold bricks in their home basements and then they are hoarding guns and ammunition in their homes, too. Now which home do you think would be the prime target for a burglary. Well, one would think the one with all the loot and weapons, but unfortunately for us all, the burglar of our imagination from some foreign place doesn't know which house has all the loot, so he just picks a few at random until he finds one. If he's lucky, he ends up with arms to last a lifetime. Sappy thinking and behavior creates the potential for actual violence in a trigger happy world that can't constrain its mouth, its buying habits, or its aggressive actions.

Protection of home and person is one thing, but the rationale given in the radio interview for this hoarding of weaponry is quite different from a simple defense of one's home and loved ones. The hoarders are frightened of a democratically elected government which shows every indication of proceeding with transparent, civil, principle-driven pragmatism.

Now, I know (because our dim-bulbed legislators say so) that here in Tennessee gun owners with permits need to carry their concealed weapons into restaurants. Perhaps that is a better idea than leaving a gun in the car to be stolen by the man who will then mug the gun owner or other patrons as they return to their cars. Perhaps, those gun owners need to make sure that waitresses and waiters don't get disrespectful – despite the gun owners' habits of skipping out on or low-rolling tips. Perhaps the waitresses and waiters need to carry a concealed weapon in the restaurant to protect themselves from the surly customer who is packing heat. On and on the circular thinking goes, ad infinitum – ad absurdum.

Reasonable people don't need to scream at their legislators or bombard them with an orchestrated email campaign from "the people" about instruments and policies of self-destruction. No, reasonable people need to talk to those they know well who claim to have good reasons but in fact have very sappy excuses for establishing a personal armory. Patriotism does not consist in giving hateful excess a pass. Nor should spiteful excess be met first with scorn. Rather, it should be met with civil, Christ-like composure, articulate logic, personal compassion, and an unassailable example. Christianity is nothing if not a way to influence and lead by good model. Patriotism – and friendship – calls out destructive excess. So if your family arsenal does not fit on a simple gun rack, you might consider whether your personal gun ownership has reached a excessive level. Let's not get twisted in our thinking and actions by the sappy puppies of the horn-honking, tea-party ilk.

I, for one, am for vigorous defense of the premier amendment – and spirit – of the Constitution: the right to bear reason – the right and responsibility to bear reason and ethical thinking as a counterweight to incivility, disrespect, and trigger sappy thinking and behavior from cynical media personalities and from personal friends, neighbors, and loved ones. Let's use the brain and mouth and conscience as instruments of common sense and decency – if we have the opportunity and still have the teeth to do so. Fire away with reason.


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