January 23, 2012

Serio-Comedy: What to Say to A French Hotel Clerk About American Guns.

I told the hotel clerk foie gras was being outlawed in California. He said, "That country's crazy! You can own a gun, but foie gras is illegal?"  - M. Marsch, en Paris.
Simply explain to such a witty hotel clerk that in the United States, the almost total commodification of labor and identity, and the internal moral space hollowed out by the market-driven objectification of both the human individual and traditional social structures, which increasingly displaces both ancient socially evolved forms of identity, and self-created, liberated forms of meaning, all of which conditions are the inevitable products of hegemonic late-stage capitalism, means that we occasionally need to shoot our way out.  

The gun itself is a vestigial symbol of self-determination; in the very fineness of its machining, and the pleasing completeness of its design are densely layered symbols of power: weight, ease of manipulation, the parts fitting and working simply and almost musically; it is an empowering opportunity for skill building in the willful manipulation of lethal force- and even its colors and aesthetic designs, black, camouflage, create the illusion of  personal power, and potential aggression. This creates in others, perhaps in the sense, The Other,  the fear or contempt that is easily mistaken for respect, especially by the emotionally inexperienced.

American culture has conflated the gun and individual liberty, originating in frontier and political/ historical conditions that no longer apply.  This symbology is reinforced in an amazing flood of truly ubiquitous imagery- after the car, it is presented in American culture as among the most meaningful of objects (perhaps being displaced now by small, stylish computers.) Yet the more irrelevant the gun is as an actual tool of protection and food- in modern urban life, nearly total - the more fierce the attachment to its value as symbolic display.  As it becomes more useless, it becomes more fetishised.

The popularity of guns seems highest among the most impoverished and  powerless- or, alternately, like Dick Cheney on a sitting duck hunting range, an expression of the pleasure of lethal power- and with complete disinterest in the very ancient and challenging art of tracking hunting, except perhaps as masculine symbolism.   Resting on obvious social display in the pickup rack, an AR-15 rifle, for example, while not really appropriate for actually hunting, creates the illusion of negating the inevitable economic emasculation by our economic system- where critiquing the obvious source of which, Capitalism, is unspoken as heresy; and the soul-gnawing fear of being gobbled up inside and out by the bottom line, by impotence, by irrelevance, by isolation is consoled by the fantasy embodied in the power-granting object, the short-cut to respect, of the weapon. 

It is of course a fantasy never to be realized, as the lethal resources of any modern government, or indeed, any organization of power, exceed by many orders of magnitude anything an individual or small group of individuals could employ (and this is quite M. Marsch's point): the expression of the weapon then, with the extremely rare exception of actual subsistence or personal safety, is almost wholly symbolic, usually used in knocking small holes in paper in an action more cheaply and safely accomplished by a properly-shapened pencil, or more often, as actually shooting is quite expensive, either in digital simulations, or within the emotionally heated argumentative defense of gun ownership itself- and this employs a predictable displacement of "enemy" from real economic oppressors to those who would take away the tool-symbol-object-weapon, who are often and not co-coincidentally female.

When it comes down to its actual discharge in emergency, the result consumes some 11,000 American lives every year.  In these circumstances, the gun is grabbed almost always in catastrophic error, drunken rage, economic desperation, irrational fear, or in psychotic or sadistic exertion of personal power- and in a nod to gun owners, in Canada, with comparable levels of gun ownership, this extreme deadliness is vastly reduced. The difference seems to be within culture, and in a more socialistic economic organization, one which does not prey so heavily on the core of identity.

Nothing can anger this culturally-conditioned type of an American gun owner, as opposed to a genuine farmer, cowboy, policeman, soldier, or subsistence hunter, more perfectly than pointing out the truth of the political impotence of owning an actual gun. Which it is, of course; the fact of the gun has no effect on one's economic conditions, except negatively in its cost, and the  mostly likely result is to have the effect of scaring, or when lucky intriguing a potential mate, in the latter case one who is equally a victim of loss of identity and seeks the comfort of power by proxy, for a caricature of the same reason serial killers get marriage proposals. By contrast, gun ideology- built in such a complex, layered way on a foundation of potency symbols, fears, and physical pleasures (the "powbangzoom" of it, to coin a word, ) is an extremely effective political force; coded, most tragically, to advance precisely the capitalist economic and social conditions which concentrate power ever more completely in fewer, hyper-privileged hands, and which are the exact source of the loss of self-efficacy, especially masculine self-efficacy, for which the gun is obtained to replace.

Mais, en francais, s'il vous plait.


Blogger Laird of Madrona said...

How about, "Like most Americans, I don't have an opinion about guns."

January 23, 2012 at 12:48 PM  
Blogger Author said...

Or "Guns? Lead-bullet cartridge firearms have become passe. Did you mean phasers?"

January 26, 2012 at 1:41 PM  

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