Saturday, April 20, 2013

This week from hell

It would be unseemly, I suppose, to feel relaxed and happy after the week we all just experienced, so I hope I can be forgiven for sounding a bit grouchy in my first blog post in over a month. If you don't know, West, Texas is just a hop down the interstate from where I live, and I've stopped there many times to buy delicious Czech pastries. The disaster there on Wednesday has hit this area hard.

Like many people, I have also paid morbid attention to the events in Boston that reached the crisis point last night. The young man whom they cornered, bleeding and defiant, was the same age as my son. I can't even begin to comprehend what drove him to his recent actions.

By far the hardest disaster for me to witness this week, though, was the failure of the United States Senate to vote either for universal background checks on gun purchases or for an outright ban on weaponry that no civilized country can allow people to own. Notice that I said "can," not "should."

Perhaps it was unreasonable to hope for more. Making some progress on gun control, though, would have been an enormous morale boost at a time when the struggle to keep the machinery of death off of college campuses has dominated much of my past teaching term. I could not have coped with that struggle last spring, when the wound from losing Barbara was still raw and my daily teaching round required all my concentration and strength.

At the same time, though, the joy that I take in teaching was a major part of what got me through that incredibly difficult spring and summer. This year, having to work so hard against people determined to bring guns on campus has robbed me of much of that joy. I love teaching so much that I used to assume I would keep doing it until I could no longer physically make it to the classroom. Now I'm wondering if I will have the strength to keep fending off this insanity every two years until I am eligible to retire. This makes me very sad.

I know there are probably few gun rights advocates reading this blog, but to any who are, I have a very simple message. I know you believe that you are working to expand your freedoms. I need you to understand that you are destroying mine. I feel less free than I have felt in a long time, and even the limited freedom I have left seems threatened. We cannot live together in a democracy unless you are willing to compromise. Otherwise, in your efforts to oppose tyranny, you become tyrants yourself.

What I am trying to recover is nothing less than my freedom, my joy in what I do and, most importantly of all, my country. I care about those things too much to give them up. I've heard all your arguments. Please listen to mine.


  1. In what way has your freedom been deprived? Your argument sounds startling like the one that says allowing homosexuals to marry would threaten the marriages of heterosexual couples. You have a phobia, others aren't willing to risk their lives to accommodate your anxiety, and that makes them tyrants? Other than dictating the actions of others, what is it that you're no longer free to do?

  2. Wayne, I don't accept that what you're describing is a phobia. A phobia is an irrational fear. What I am expressing is an aversion to violence and a commitment to non-violent resolution of conflict, which is a way of life. I understand violence as an evil that can only be overcome by non-violence. To the extent that we live in a world that is controlled by violent thinking, we are not free to live life as it is meant to be lived. The more people who give in to violence by arming themselves, the less free all of us are.

    I cannot really feel free in a country with 300 million guns. It's not so much a question of freedom *to* as one of freedom *from*: I want to live free from the mentality that sees retaliatory violence as the only possible response to violence on the part of others. I am committed to living that way, and the American gun culture is diametrically opposed to that freedom.

    So the real issue is how we define freedom. Since there are many people who agree with me about what freedom is, we can only live together in society by compromising with each other.

  3. That does rather change the terms of the discussion, Robin. I appreciate your commitment to a world free of violence. I hope you appreciate the distinction between aggression and defensive force. I don't accept that defensive force and retaliatory violence are the same thing. "Retaliation" suggests vengeance and punishment, a form of violence one plots after being victimized. Defensive force simply stops the aggression. It may or may not be injurious and does not seek to punish. It's a mistake to equate the two. Fires and firefighters destroy each other and both do damage to buildings. Effectively, you're saying, "I object to all this destruction, so let's put an end to it by banning fire extinguishers." Such a ban does not banish fire from existence. To people who fear getting burned, your ban does not look like an act of compassion. It looks like a death sentence.

    In seeking to rid the world of aggression, you promote love. That's something I can support. Forcing others to passively sacrifice themselves to violent people, though, is not an expression of love. Quite the opposite. I believe it was Martin Luther King, Jr., who said something to the effect of, "When people are oppressed, and you choose not to get involved, you're not neutral. You have chosen the side of the oppressor by default." Violent criminals will carry guns wherever they like, regardless of what laws are passed. What we can control with laws is whether we will allow law-abiding people the means to deter, escape, or overcome attacks by these criminals. You've opted not to. Your intention may be loving, but your expression of it is murderous. By disarming the defenders, you've sided with the aggressors.

  4. Wayne, that's preposterous. I am not siding with aggressors and I am not murderous. Since you choose to phrase your comments in such terms, I will repeat what I said in response to your comments on Don Plummer's wall post on Facebook. You may have convinced yourself that your position is logical and consistent, but you are basing your arguments on assumptions I don't accept. You may be able to cite limited, selective evidence in favor of your views, but so can I. The answers are not as clear-cut as you seem to believe. That's why, in a democratic society, your right to arm yourself is not absolute. It is subject to the give and take that characterizes any civilized society. To return to my original point, that give and take is what really makes people free. Without it, we are only isolated individuals working in our own interest. That's not freedom; it is, rather, the condition that civilization frees us from.

  5. And you cannot cite Martin Luther King in favor of arming yourself and using defensive force (if that's the term you choose to use), which is something he would never have advocated himself. Your use of him in support of your views shows that you have not taken the trouble to hear him or to really think about what he had to say. Martin Luther King responded to oppressors with love and non-violent resistance. That has nothing to do with the argument you are trying to make.

  6. Wayne--you have slippery-sloped Robin, blowing his comments way, way, way, way, way out of proportion. In no way does he advocate taking everyone's guns away. In fact, in his blog post, he specifically used the word "compromise".

    We can find reasonable solutions to this problem. But we won't if people refuse to even listen. If you want to comment on Robin's blog, please understand his point and please don't put words or intent into his mouth.

  7. Robin, I appreciate your nonviolent resistance. When you persistently and peacefully resist, you are eschewing neutrality and getting involved. You are doing exactly as Dr. King hoped his listeners would do when he admonished them: "When people are oppressed, and you choose not to get involved, you're not neutral. You have chosen the side of the oppressor by default."

    Wayne, thank you for reminding us again of these words of that great practitioner and teacher of nonviolent resistance. What amazing things he and many thousands of people achieved by standing together nonviolently against oppression! Together they ended centuries of terror in the South without harming another human being.

    In King's honor and yours, Robin, here is a musical offering from back in the day:

  8. Thank you, Meg, for pointing out that what I am doing is standing up to oppression by taking on the gun lobby.

  9. I love the Gospel number, Meg. I actually quoted a verse from that spiritual recently, but I don't remember the context.