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When our kids were younger, I would clandestinely look forward to the annual trek to the boardwalk so I could satisfy my bumper car fix.  There, I could safely and legally smack the ever-living crap out of every driver who had cut me off over the previous year.  Some years required me to wait in line to go twice, even though the kids were ready to move on.  Now, two years into empty nest, I have no excuse to ride the bumper cars. Worse, it’s no longer just texting drivers that I need to slam.  It’s… well, others.

I don’t know where this whole blog thing will go, and I’m hopeful that it won’t just always be an exercise in verbal release; there are many positive and inspirational encounters I hope to describe as well.  But this is being born in the shadow of the Las Vegas shootings, which in time as we look back will just be another historical footnote.  So for the time being, yeah, think bumper cars.

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The folly of “reasonable” gun ownership

There is a longer, deeper perspective on the gun culture in the US, and it extends far beyond that gun culture.  Yet in the context of this regularly scheduled national soul-searching, the first step into that perspective is never even attempted because it is just too outlandish, the ask is too great, the mere mention of it invokes preposterous teenage eyerolling.  It makes liberals look nuts.  In the context of the discussion it is pre-empted at all costs, expressed most recently (but certainly not exclusively) by Michael Tomasky’s careful declamation of the disclaimer not with an asterisk/endnote, but prominently parenthetically instead, lest it be missed:

“(for the record: I don’t want to take away anybody’s hunting rifles, collectors’ items, or non-assault-style pistols)”

Practically everyone who is Left of insanity, from Colbert all the way to Hillary, faithfully and emphatically injects the hunting caveat when discussing “sensible” gun legislation.  (After I posted the first version of this the NY Times published Confessions of a Sensible Gun Owner.) It is critical to do so lest you be seen as, well, crazy.  Declaring and affirming the hunting caveat ensures that the speaker or writer is “reasonable” and that the rest of the argument can therefore be taken seriously. Hunting is sacred, sacrosanct, off-limits, you don’t even hint at curtailing it, it’s a way of life, a tradition, a generational bonding opportunity from father to son that is so part of the culture that to even challenge any aspect of it ends the discussion right there and then.  You just don’t go there.  So I won’t.  Well, maybe I will a little: I don’t find anything sensible or reasonable about hunting.  Oooh.  Bold. Anyway, hunting is only emblematic of the deeper perspective.  Hunting’s twin sister fishing is where the real action lies.

I am somehow engaged in a Facebook “conversation” that has lasted now for over two years.  It began when an otherwise well-meaning contributor posted a video of a 4-year old boy catching a fish with his toy plastic rod and reel.  The comments section cascades with attaboy accolades from proud fishermen, but here and there individuals, surely non-fishermen types, pop in with reactions to the fish’s struggle for survival, the boy’s callous handling of the squirming fish, and the off-camera adults’ encouragement. What strikes these sensitive types is the boy’s disregard of the fish’s struggle and his complete detachment from the alive-ness of the fish, all at the behest of the nearby adults.  It stands in stark contrast to typical FB posts depicting children’s generally loving interaction with animals.  Is the boy being taught to disregard the fish’s struggle or is he already desensitized?  My contribution essentially posed that question, and I was (and continue to be) met with a resounding, “It’s just a f—ing fish!!”

At this point, I’ve no doubt tipped my hand, and the hunting apologists are ready to pounce with the usual defenses.  All life requires death. Plants are alive. Animals kill. The attempt is to lure the discussion into a “where do you draw the line” debate. To be sure, many have tried (Steven Wise’s “Drawing the Line” is perhaps the best well-known.  See his summary below.).  I for one don’t believe there is a line, and the attempt to define one is folly.  There is, however, a curve.  And somewhere along the curve you try to impose the least amount of harm to those around you, giving the benefit of the doubt as to the degree of their sentience.  You don’t harm or kill if you don’t have to.  And you try to be aware of your indirect actions, that your choices do harm and kill, brutally and horrifically, they inflict misery on an unimaginable scale, even if the “f—ing Others” and the gruesome and unspeakable method of their torment are systematically and meticulously hidden from you.

The incredulous, unanswerable question after Las Vegas (and Orlando and Sandy Hook and…) was how could the shooter just shoot indiscriminately?  Surely to the shooters, they’re just f—ing fish!

I’m not proposing that sensitivity to life, all life, no longer discounting certain life with our age-old disqualifier “It’s just a f—ing Other” will prevent the next Las Vegas, rather (to bring this back) that it might re-frame the entire gun debate.  The US gun culture, so foreign and bizarre to the rest of the world, thrives not because the NRA is an evil self-serving entity (although it is) but because “It’s just a f—ing Other” is an accepted corollary to our core American theorem of individual liberty. A gun — hunting rifle, collector’s item, non-assault style pistol, and as we know too well, full military style automatic assault style machine gun — essentially celebrates “It’s just a f—ing Other.”

The longer, deeper perspective accepts the inevitable accusations of outrageously diminishing the misery of the victims and their families by even suggesting such a comparison is possible.  But the elimination of the concept of the dispensable Other that seems to have plagued humanity since the beginning represents the necessary human evolutionary achievement that remains so distantly elusive.

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Source: Steven M. Wise, Drawing the Line: Science and the Case for Animal Rights