Ok...I was going to let my second post about gun violence and the Newtown shootings just fade off with the holidays with all the hope for the new year that came with Christmas as passing into 2013, but apparently that is a huge mistake as is made apparent by an article on Pam's House Blend commenting on an earlier Think Progress piece on this week concerning programs for arming teachers in schools....yes, this is really happening and people are signing up for it. In the wake of all that has occurred how can anyone think this is a good idea?! It sickens the hell out of me and points to a very deep problem we have in this country of being motivated to action by the worst of our emotions....fear. Fear has become such a factor in our thinking that our priorities have become greatly out of whack and it seems that not even a tragedy of the magnitude of Sandy Hook's is enough to wake us up from our collective nightmare. And nightmare it is....What the hell has happened to the American spirit?
We have allowed ourselves to become a nation completely bound by fear. It is the tool most used to great effect by politicians who want to pit conservative against liberal as if those labels mean "more American" and "less American". It is often in our world view when we look to the future and people honestly believe an apocalypse is right around the corner. It's in our news, it's in our entertainment, it's in the very way we think of each other as human beings and Sandy Hook has brought that to light for us in a very visible way. However, in fighting partisan battles over gun control, will the deeper issues that makes tragedies like Sandy Hook possible be overlooked? It has often been said that we are a "gun culture" but I would like to argue that we instead have allowed ourselves to become a "fear culture".
According to the story, and Ohio gun owner groups has begun an "Armed Teachers Training Program" Yes...you read that right. From the article:
In Ohio, the Buckeye Firearms Foundation, along with a group called the Tactical Defense Institute, is crafting a curriculum specifically designed for teachers and school staff. A local Fox affiliate has details on who is signing up– they report that more than one third of the applicants are women, and that “more than half of the applicants work in high schools”:
Who can read that and not shake their head in disbelief. Evidently the people who thought this idea was sound enough to sign up for it, that's who. And while many of us may shake out head in wonder and feel sad that this is our response to Sandy Hook, America is a nation of diverse ideas and I'm sure there are plenty of people who see nothing wrong with this at all......except for some obvious and glaring questions like: In a stressful situation like Sandy Hook in which no one really knows whats happening, what happens if a teacher mistakenly shoots a student running to her room to escape? Who says that teachers are immune too being the perpetrators of such violence? If kids can steal test answers, what stops them from getting their hands on a teachers gun? If a violent student sufficiently scares and armed teacher and they shoot...what then?
There are so many problems with this that I can't even list them all. It seems the only thinking and effort here are being put into the knee jerk fear reaction that someone is going to come and take all the guns away. The concern for the safety of kids is almost secondary. That need to prevent any type of gun regulation...even at the cost of a child's safety only points to a very deep fear in my opinion. And I think it's time we take a long hard look at how fear is being used to manipulate us and robbing us of what we really hold dear.
When I was in my late teens and still living at home with my parents a strange pall overtook our family. No one could see it happen because it happened so slowly and seemed to make so much sense at the time. Fear was beginning to grip the American Consciousness. It was the 90's...Bill Clinton was in office...and my dad began to tune into Rush Limbaugh. Limbaugh and those like him waved the flag of patriotism, while simultaneously fanning the flames of fear of old enemies. "Bill Clinton and his wife are both Socialists!" they screamed. "They are trying to dismantle America!"...."They are selling American businesses to Chinese interests! Soon you will be speaking Chinese "...."Soon America is going to look just like Communist Russia! All those Liberals want to control you just like the Communists!"
And so the alarm went out day after day for years. All with the assurances that you were hearing "the truth" from them in way that no other news source would report. In their own way they were branding themselves as freedom fighters and those messages went straight to the hearts of men and women who may have fought in wars in their lifetime. Men and women brought up on Cowboys, and John Wayne, and fierce individualism. Men like my father, who did his best to instill those values in his sons. And so we listened to and slowly drank a poison that closed our eyes to light, joy, common humanity, and the true meaning of being American. We were all simply afraid that the government was being taken over by people with the intent to destroy us...and Rush Limbaugh raked in the dough as the politicians he advocated for also became rich and powerful men.
And then I realized I was gay. That one thing that should have had no relation to the anything I wrote above became the one thing that helped me wake up. Just having a secret I had to hide already put me in a place were I felt separate from my family...who's values I never before had a reason to question. I came out to myself and realized that if I was ever going to survive as a gay man, it would not happen in a home were being gay was still a sin and a sickness. And so I left on my own, met other people and different viewpoints. The end result of which was not only coming to terms with myself but realizing that I had also stepped out from under a very large and very dark cloud. Once I was out of range of the Rush Limbaughs and the fearful mindset that characterized life at my dad's home, I realized that none of the things I had been told were happening as they were being reported. Shadowy people were not taking down the Government. Government was happening as it had since its inception, with disagreements mistakes, and political squabbles America was going on...and furthermore....she was working as she was intended to more or less...even with her broken parts.
What I learned during that time in the Clinton era was that there were people with a very vested interest in keeping us afraid. They turned liberal into a word that was synonymous with communist and for a nation that was fresh off the heals of the cold war, this was still a message that could go right to the heart of some people....and it did. Overtime, our politics has only become worse, more fearful, and as a result, more polarized. But if it only stopped there perhaps I could see it as just an issue greedy men fighting for power....but it isn't...it's in us too.
This will sound like a tangent...and perhaps it is...but my husband watches a of zombie shows. For a while I would watch them with him, but after a time I began to notice a pattern develop. In the midst of the actual breakdown of the world and a whole host of zombies to fight, who did the characters most often do battle with?.....the other living humans. In show after show and movie after movie, the zombies problem took a backseat to fighting against other humans. It began to make me sad that at the end of the world this is how we would spend our time. It began to be no wonder how a pack of dim witted, slow walking monsters took over the world, we probably killed off half of our own for them. Is this really what humankind does in the face of utter disaster?
I thought of New York on September 11th and the way that New Yorkers pulled together and showed such courage and compassion. I saw the response of the nation to their grief and the outpouring of love and offers to help the recovery. I was in Italy not long after that day and remember vividly a parade down the streets of Rome with hundreds of Italians offering their sympathy and support to us because of the attack. It didn't even happen to them and yet they understood that events like that are a crime against all of humanity. It brought me to tears on the spot and I have never forgotten their kindness.
But here...at the end of the world...be it zombies, or Mayan predictions, or the turn of the millenium, or the book of Revalations(pick your doomsday)...we are told that we need to be deathly afraid of each other most of all.
Adam Lanza's mother was preparing for a doomsday. That is why she bought those guns in the first place. She was preparing for a day when she would have to send her sons out into a collapsed society to fight for food and water....just like the people in the zombie movies. She did not think that her neighbors or fellows would help each other in a time of crisis. Nor did she consider that her son's mental illness was as big a concern as what she feared was going to happen to society. Instead, it was her and her sons against the world. That is fear. That it one of her son's that killed her because of his own mental illness issues is not to be ignored either. But if Adam Lanza had never had access to weapons in the first place would we still be here talking about this today? Personally....I see that fear and worry that is the enemy we must fight against. All the gun control laws in the world will only be so helpful as long as we continue to look at each other as an enemy to be distrusted. Not really American, sometimes not human(like LGBT people are sometimes regarded)...definitely, "not us".
Gun owners...like those in my own family...are afraid that the absence of guns will mean that all the predictions that Rush Limbaugh and Fox news has been pumping out will come true. If you DON'T have an assault rifle is to expect President Obama to send the army to collect you and your family and put you in a FEMA deathcamp(remember those?). All the theories we regard as crazy are held by everyday common Americans and it keeps them up at night. I know that because they are in my family and I have watched as the father that used to laugh at saturday morning cartoons with me as a kid slowly became more fearful and more serious...and then there was no more laughing anymore....all joy for life was extinguished.
Ask any person who suffers from OCD what they know about fear. For us, an idea can get stuck in our heads that becomes so overwhelmingly fearfull that we adopt some pretty irrational methods for coping with it. We pray to counter "bad thoughts", we count to certain "good numbers" so that bad things wont happen, we do and then undo actions over and over all in an effort to make sure the fearfull thing we imagine in our minds never happens...like a friend who had to think only "good thoughts". She believed that if she didn't than something horrible would happen to her niece whom she loved. But when we finally find the courage to get treatment for OCD they teach us one simple fact of the mind....anything we fear, we get more of. So every scary thought we try to nuetralize with a ritual of some kind only makes it certain that the scary thought will happen again...and again...gaining more strength the more we fight to avoid our imagined fears. And so we are taught to turn learn to challenge those fears. Like a ship on the ocean we must turn into the wind or continue to be blown over. Only this way will we eventually habituate to our fears and deprive them of their hold over us.
And so I wonder if it isn't the same with all fear. Fear of the end of days...fear that America is constantly under idealogical attack....fear that America is sliding down some moral slope instead of just changing with time. The more we fear and box with our shadows is to find that we have only been hitting ourselves. So instead of acknowledging the fear that drove Nancy Lanza to by an assault rifle (which we imagine we can do nothing about)....we chose instead to heighten fearful response and arm teachers instead.
People think that the stereotype of the cowboy is what typifies the spirit of America. Guns-a-blazin, hyper masculine, gritty bravado. And the cowboys of those tales lived by their guns. But America is, and has always been more complex than that. The American spirit is found in courage, the ability to face our challenges face first....with or without a weapon in hand. Harriet Tubman characterizes what it means to be an American just as much as the fire fighters who charged heedlessly into the burning twin towers...or the priest that continued to give last rights as the buildings fell on him.
My dad used to watch WWII movies with this sense of awe and wonder. For him, those men embodied what it meant to be a man...and an American. But it was not their rifles that made them strong...some of them were just young men scared out of their minds. It was the belief that what they were doing was right... necessary...that they were defending their homes, families, and fellow soldiers by charging onto beaches loaded with mines and pill boxes. If asked and if there were not better way...I believe many would have gone empty handed. Hell...the principle of Sandy Hook had nothing but her hands and that did not stop her from putting everything out of her mind except stopping Adam Lanza from hurting her students. Or the teacher who hid her students in cabinets and told the shooter they were in the gym. She had to have been terrified, but she did what she had to do, and her class is still here today because of it.
But instead of fighting for each other...or even alongside each other, we swing at shadows cast on the wall by people who have much to gain by our fear. We put labels on things like "conservative" and "liberal" that really mean "enemy" and we have forgotten who we are. We see Americans of middle eastern decent with much the same eyes as we did Japanese Americans during WWII. No one is angry that the government can wiretap your phone because we just might catch a terrorist. And while conservative battled liberal, each fearing the other only slightly less than terrorists, corporations take advantage and increase their influence on the government.....but that's not as scary to us as letting gay people marry. No, for that we fight the "culture war". The congress votes for funds to continue to defend DOMA( and the denial of the constitutional rights of gay Americans)...and finds no time to approve relief money for those hard stricken by a hurricane. We shout bloody murder for fear of an impending "fiscal cliff" and then play political games to do anything about it. We have nothing to fear but fear itself.....and it's kicking our ass.
I think it's time we wake up and see the fear we are being sold as patriotism...or in the case of Adam Lanza's mother, as the prudent course of action in the face of danger. We need to take a long hard look at what it means to be an American because I don't think it was ever predicated solely on being "safe". Instead, I was taught that being American meant that if something bad happened we would face it with courage and determination....together, and not preparing to shoot our neighbor for a can of Spam.
Please America, stop being so afraid that you forget who you are...or how strong you can be in the face of the truly terrible. Newtown does not stand alone...all our hearts went out to them and we all grieve...but we can not let it make us into the very thing we fear the most. Please stop letting churches and politicians make you afraid of your neighbors be they gay or of a different race or political view from you. The fear that weaves it way throughout our collective minds is just a shadow that disappears when you turn a light....just like that chair that looks like a monster in the dark, so are many things scary until we get to know them for what they really are.
In closing, Turning on a light does not mean turning teachers into police officers or schools into fortresses...it means helping people like Nancy Lanza understand that crisis does not mean she is alone or that her neighbors are potential enemies. I could go on forever but I need to end this somewhere. I see us as Americans being afraid of so many things, even though we may not acknowledge that is is true. We need to acknowledge that we are more than simply a "rage culture" or a "gun culture" and acknowledge the fear that makes both of those possible. Fear perpetuates ignorance and flans the flames of hatred and distrust among us. It is time to turn or ship into the wind and face our fear or be consumed by it. Nor is courage solely a virtue of the "American Spirit". It is a part of the what is best in all of humanity. but it was everything I have seen is us as Americans at our best and I thing it's high time we remember who we really are.
Until next time dear readers....