I never thought I’d see the day when I’d find myself agreeing with Bill O’Reilly, but here we are in the Wacky World of 2017, dealing with the aftermath of yet another predictable gun massacre.
As the former champion of prime-time turned irrelevant blogger explained, “This is the price of freedom.”
Without even a hint of (intentional) sardony, Bill wrote, “Violent nuts are allowed to roam free until they do damage, no matter how threatening they are. The Second Amendment is clear that Americans have a right to arm themselves for protection. Even the loons”.
Read over that one more time: Bill’s tone doesn’t seem rebellious or even cynical, but feels detached and rather matter-of-fact – not cheerful by any standards, but polite at least. His comments naturally sparked condemnation, despite being exactly correct. After all, US law is indeed very clear: “loons” and their guns are pretty much free to reign terror over your country, and there’s nothing anyone can (or will) do to stop them.
So that’s that. Case closed. Why should anyone care – heck, why should I care?
After all, I’m an Australian living in Mexico. As John Oliver has explained to you all, Australia fixed its gun problem years ago. On the other hand, my adopted country, Mexico, is what you’d probably call one of those countries. You know, those countries where gratuitous bouts of violence are treated with a degree of ambivalence usually reserved for when a light sun shower interrupts a picnic. You could give those countries whatever label you like: third world, crap-shoot, developing nation, shit-hole, troubled nation, periphery, emergent, war-zone, fuck up, global south – whatever; they’re those countries where stuff just seems to suck. Those countries are the ones getting raped by western corporations, their children used as target practice by your marines, their natural resources pillaged and their workers exploited like cattle. Nobody really cares about those countries, so why should I care about the steady stream of US massacres, when the same thing happens all the time in all of those countries, including here in Mexico?
Now don’t get me wrong, I adore Mexico, but I can admit that once upon a time, long ago, most Mexicans as a nation came together and collectively accepted that the country is pretty much fucked, at least in regards to its epidemic of violent crime. That’s not a moral judgement: the average Mexican can’t do much in the face of the overwhelming violence the country faces, so acceptance of reality is a necessity for maintaining your own sanity. Sure, there’s always a minority of extraordinarily brave people always willing to put their lives on the line for justice, and I’ve met plenty of Mexicans who inspire me to be a better person with their bravery, perseverance and determination in the face of absolutely terrible odds. I know people who have been tortured for standing up for what they believe in, and others who quietly battle day after day with zero recognition for the ridiculously incredible work they do. Having said that, the average, mainstream punter is too busy trying to put food on the table to take a stand against the unyielding barrage of horrors that endlessly torment Mexican society. And I don’t blame them.
In fact, I’ve seen dozens of countries like Mexico – those countries. Countries where advocates of mass murder have few inhibitions; the government is a dysfunctional mess, the law is laughable and the police are dirtier than the little joke I was thinking of ending this sentence with, but decided at the last minute to ditch.
Besides, even if the Mexican government did want to curb the violence, it wouldn’t be able to do much: Mexico’s gun problem is largely a hand-me-down from its northern neighbour. This brings me back to our titular topic: the fact that the US is now one of those countries, too.
You could set your watch by the routine of these mass killings, and there’s no end in sight. But America is the centre of the world; so, like clockwork, every so often we all have to stop and hear a steady stream of news reports about whatever (ahem) deranged loner decided to spray a crowd with bullets this time.
Why should any of us care? After all, it’s all such a waste of time: the 48 hour media frenzy, the soul searching, the talking heads with their “blahblahblah–oh what a tragedy-blahblah–insert empty cliché here–blahblahBLAH” – what does it all amount to?
Despite the overwhelming majority of Americans supporting common sense gun control, your elected officials are hopelessly bought off. The ordinary voter seems to have little interest in punishing their representatives for this, and the average Joe on the street doesn’t care enough to do something as radical as protest. Your society, as a whole, is doing exactly what mainstream Mexico did generations ago: throwing its hands in the air in exasperation, and admitting this fucked up nation just happens to be one of those countries now. Like Mexico, your government is a dysfunctional mess, your legal system is terrible and your police – well, you might as well try putting out a fire with a jerry-can full of gasoline and pent up male insecurity.
Luckily, plenty of yanks already seem to be kinda okay with this. Bill is just one of many Americans who simply see the occasional gun massacre as “the big downside of American freedom”.
After all, everything has downsides. There’s a grimy little place around the corner from my house where I can get dirt cheap offal tacos at all hours. The downside is the diarrhoea, but I have the “freedom” to eat as much offal as I want. It’s no big deal, and just part of life.
We could go further, and say that if Mexico had its own version of Bill O’Reilly, that fictitious yet somehow despicable individual would presumably argue that cartel violence is the price of freedom. But we don’t even need to resort to hypothetical, when the don’t-give-a-shit attitude is already pretty much implicit White House policy. Remember, now is not the time to talk about solutions.
So as the US gets ready to start its new life as one of the world’s somewhat fucked up countries, let me lay down the ground rules. Now that you’re a member of the Those Countries Club, you can’t do the following:
1. Hope things will improve (they won’t)
2. Expect anyone to care (they don’t)
That second point is particularly important, and something almost self-evident for journalists like myself who have spent plenty of time writing about those countries. The reality is that nobody gets too hung up about violence in those countries for the same reason that there aren’t endless news stories about cancer and diabetes. People die from them all the time; so much, that it’s just not a big deal anymore. Besides, what can you personally do to stop the war in the Democratic Republic of Wherever, or feed the famine-stricken babies of some screwed up country you couldn’t possibly point to on a map? The only time you talk about the poor African child soldiers of Iraqistan is when you’re trying to sound smart and worldly around the water cooler. Heck, in much of the world, America’s gun violence is already being quickly relegated to half-hearted water cooler talk. If it hasn’t caught on already, you Americans will soon slowly start feeling the same about your own country. Over time, you’ll all be desensitised to the senseless yet endless stream of killings.
Inevitably, the shock will evaporate, and you’ll soon respond to massacres with little more than a melancholy shrug. To get a taster of what it feels like, read a news story about drug violence in Mexico, and see how much of an emotional reaction it elicits. It can probably be summed up with the following simple sound:
This might not sound romantic, but it’s love in the Dr. Strangelove sense. The strange love at the heart of that film wasn’t a passionate love, but an acceptance of our own self destruction, born of the dehumanisation of humanity in its final convoluted moments. The personification of this mechanisation of thought, Dr. Strangelove himself, used his dehumanised logic to arbitrarily decide who lived and who died. Today, we’d call Strangelove an active shooter.
Then there’s the broader society and government depicted in the film: a mechanical, lumbering mass of incompetence that’s largely submissive to the desires and machinations of Strangelove. Just as the robotic and brittle government couldn’t respond to the chaos of the real world, the real world staunch Second Amendment advocates and other tunnel vision thinkers make humane solutions to gun violence unimaginable.
After all, you’re one of those countries now.
If any of this upsets you, then I’ve done my job well (for a change). If you feel offended by my callousness, then give yourself a pat on the back. America’s gun violence should be upsetting, and the callousness with which its treated by your politicians and media should be considered just as offensive as anything you’ll read in a clickbait rant by a random blogger you’ve never heard of.
The problem isn’t that you’re upset now, but that you weren’t anywhere near upset enough ten minutes ago.
Even before reading this sorry excuse for gutter journalism, you should have already been totally disgusted by the pitiful level of public debate. You aught to be sickened by the fact that your country can suffer massacre after massacre, but nobody will give a shit in a few weeks. And if I’ve made you angry, then good: you’d better be angry. You’d better be seething.
You’d better be so damn angry that you’ll get out of your seat and do —
Oh, and that’s my word count done: time to wrap up and clock off.
Yup, sorry but at this point I have about as many solutions up my sleeve as the Trump administration does. Fewer guns and more mental health programs would be my recommendation, but don’t you remember Sarah said that now isn’t the time to discuss solutions? Besides, what’s your solution?
I’m gonna guess most of you weren’t really about to do anything just then, except perhaps savour one little moment of intellectual self-gratification. Well I’m not giving you that, because I’m sick and tired of bullshit: I’m not interested in empty platitudes like “thoughts and prayers”, and feel good moments like when everyone “comes together as a nation”, not to mention what a joke it would be for anyone to feel inspired by this cynical little turd of an article.
In all seriousness though, I originally wanted to end with something insightful or uplifting, but frankly, I’m rushing to get this one out because I know it has such a short shelf life. In another day or two, nobody will care about the latest mass shooting, except for the ruined families abandoned like garbage by their elected representatives, their media and the public at large. It’s a damn shame, but it’s not like anyone genuinely plans on doing anything about it. After all, that’s how it works in those countries. So, given that nobody cares what happens in those countries, why should anyone care about America’s gun violence anymore?
First published at dissentsansfrontieres.com.