What is that part of the American psyche that has long venerated the solitary figure with a gun? Romanticized as some kind of last-line defender of an ill-defined nationalist imperative, this character, viewed without the layers of myth, is in reality barely more than a grinning, half-wit man-child, a mad coward with a weapon of irredeemable violence in his hand, and with neither a sense of history nor capability of empathy in a reptile-like consciousness driven by the fear, mistrust and willful disregard of others, he is unable to assert or define his human self but through acts of sudden, awful violence. The stuff of nightmares. When we see this character take shape in one of us and play itself out in a modern tragedy like a school shooting or the like we collectively recoil in shock, but how is such an act any less rational or logical than, say, the swift and unholy extermination of a village of human beings on a frontier of our national memory simply because they too represented as something less than human in the mind of the murderer? We venerate the one, vilify the other; we say one is a hero defending himself and the other one is a monster, but each in fact is reacting to a terrific onslaught of uncivilized and rapacious voices in his head at the expense of the rest of the humanity, each is a sociopath, the dark side of the vaunted Individual, and today only the truly ignorant among us are able to absolve his or her self of this ancient mess.
And what of an armed, fear-driven vigilante in Florida? Another lone gunman who lives by fear over reason, one who eagerly initiates and engages confrontation he cannot ultimately manage but by his firearm? To the many ruled by fear, he too comes via myth-making to be a venerated icon, though the mantle they declaim is not fear but its exact opposite, heroic bravery. An angry, short-sighted, irrational populace weaned on end of the world fears, more myths of last-line defense, old orders of imagined stability giving way to a warned-of instability, myths projected and enflamed by coordinated industries of militarization, weapon manufacturing, and ratings/advertising driven proselytizers of terror. We are a culture whose central myths revolve around heroism, but when the evil obstacle that this supposed heroism must overcome is wholly fictionalized—is in fact a teenage boy from a long-subjugated populace who for centuries have been made to feel less than human—what is the real word for that “heroism”? What of the teenager's right to self defense, stalked as he was by an armed aggressor in the night? In fact the victim’s actions of self-defense could rightly be described as heroic, a standing up for himself, a standing up that can be perfectly well empathized with, understood within the context of a legacy whose central tenet is that one of his position—one of “these assholes”
—is not to stand up, is in fact to lie down and take it. In his case the heroism is, according to the manufacturers of myth, an affront, an unnatural aberration, and this truthful self-defense becomes to said myth-manufacturing class one more of so many great, supposedly self evident threats, and the cause of a new chapter of the sleek propaganda of nationalist self-defense, easy to create by those with the means of manufacture and further emboldened—in fact institutionalized—by vague yet venerated legalese, the irrational made code of law. When the code of law is on one’s side all bets are off, and we have seen the fearful and privileged hide behind (and profit greatly from) such codes of law for centuries.
Might there be another way? Is there a world in which fear-based societies and their weaponized instruments of control are relegated to a barbaric past? Though the moment tells us no, I believe the human soul tells us yes. The present game is rigged against soul but I have learned to bet on the underdog. And truth. Across even the thoroughly controlled record of recent centuries evidence points again and again to the manhandling and willful distortion of truth—reason-based new ways of seeing—by the so-called modern societies such so their ruling institutions of power, highly profitable to a few, be allowed to continue in a desired, unabated progression. But progression is not always progress. My thought is that when the whole of us open all our many faculties of seeing/knowing, truth and reason naturally prevail.
There is more than one sense of the word fire. On one hand there is the fire that serves to forever blot out life and light, the mythic, conquering fist made agent-less all-deadly projectile, but another, older sense of the word fire is that which warms us, unites community by creating a space which allows us to gather together, allows us to see in a dark. My prayer is that we carry the latter.
(Grateful poetic thanks due Cormac McCarthy.)