According to a recent CNN article, 1 in 6 Americans have personally witnessed gun violence, and 1 in 5 Americans have someone in their family that has been a victim of gun violence. These are unbelievable statistics. If you include the fact that witnesses or victims of gun violence will talk to everyone they know about their experience, and add the fact that every school child in America has had to participate in active shooter drills, this means that every single American has been terrorized by a gun. It is as though some foreign entity has set terrorists into our land to terrify all of us, and make us their pawns through fear—except that this so-called “foreign entity” is not foreign at all, it is us, we the people. We have done this to ourselves. As the classic comic strip character Pogo once famously said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”
When I was in high school there were no guns. I went to a multi-racial school with gangs and bad guys. The toughest boys had switchblades and would show them off in gym class; that was the top weapon. There were fights, and occasionally you could read in the paper about gang violence where someone got stabbed. But other than that my high school was peaceful, and was a wide open campus. Anyone could walk in from anywhere, but there was never a threat from an outside interloper. We were safe.
How did we get from then to now? It seems obvious that not much has changed as far as people’s mental state are concerned. There were violent and mentally ill people 60 years ago, just as now. There were conflicts in shopping malls and parking lots, just as now. But no-one got shot back then. Why? Because there were less guns. In particular, there were less assault weapons.
Who created this horrific situation? Was it the politicians, the gun merchants, evil interlopers from Mars? More to the point, why are we all passively putting up with this unparalleled situation like deaf and blind sheep? Let’s not denigrate sheep; sheep are smart. When it comes to guns and gun violence, we’re dumber than sheep. I particularly feel for our children, who through no fault of their own are forced to go to school in what amounts to maximum security prisons with armed guards. And some public figures recommend that we hire even more armed guards.
We are not in the midst of a traditional civil war. This is not Northern Ireland, or Yemen, or Syria. Real terrorists are not blowing up our schools or government buildings to achieve power or some political goal. And yet it is as though we are living inside a hot civil war, with armed insurgents everywhere. These shooters are not killing their perceived enemies, not attacking recognized adversaries from the “other side.’ They are, for the most part, killing at random, releasing their blind rage on whoever happens to be in range. Many of them are suicidal; they want to commit “suicide by cop,” as the saying goes, and take as many people with them as they can.
It is, of course, a crazy situation, one without parallel in history, ancient or modern. What is even more crazy, to my mind, is that we put up with it. We listen to our leaders mumble platitudes like “thoughts and prayers,” we trudge like zombies to funeral after funeral, and go about our business as though this is some kind of normal life.
“We have met the enemy and he is us.” I am reminded of the 1950s Sci-Fi classic “Forbidden Planet.” The plot revolves around a distant planet ruled by the Krell, an evil race. A genius human scientist, Dr. Morbius, lives on the planet and has studied the Krell, trying to understand their power to destroy. It turns out that the Krell’s weapon of power, a destructive force ray, comes from the “monsters of the Id,” which essentially are the murderous fantasies that lurked in Dr. Morbius’ own unconscious. The Krell had found a way to utilize these monsters emanating from Dr. Morbius to create a powerful weapon.
So maybe that’s it. Maybe the evil power of guns is something from emanating from the monsters of the Id within us, in our own society, manifesting our own terrors and fears. Maybe, in some backhanded way, the gun enthusiasts are right who say, “Guns don’t kill people. People do.” It’s also true that “guns don’t manufacture themselves, people make the guns.” Underneath the seeming normality and banality of our everyday lives as Americans, deep in the bowels of our own unconscious projections, there are monsters, and they are killing us. Maybe—and this is my pure speculation—these monsters are connected to the centuries of slavery and genocidal violence that helped create the country we have today.
Dr. Morbius on the Forbidden Planet tried everything to defeat the force ray of the Krell, but he couldn’t. The more he tried the more the Krell could use his unconscious murderous impulses. It is the same in America. The Id is with us; we are it. Pogo was right. The only way to fight this enemy is to look in the mirror and keep looking until we see what we are really doing to ourselves.
How long will that take? How much damage and death will we incur while we are doing that? Let’s keep counting. I read that in the first 100 days of 2023, there have been something like 150 mass killings—a record pace. It’s not going to get better on its own. It will only get worse.