Another mass shooting has occurred in the USA. This one happened in Las Vegas. 59 people were killed and hundreds were injured. It’s the worst mass shooting in American history.
I don’t expect even this will change America’s absurd gun laws. For whatever it’s worth, I’ve been in favor of repealing the Second Amendment since December 8, 1980 and became even more convinced of this position when seven members of the family of a close friend of mine were killed by an insane man with a legally acquired gun in 2011. This is the only position any intelligent American can take. There can be no coherent or sensible argument in favor of retaining the Second Amendment. None.
But the Second Amendment will not be repealed in my lifetime. Nor would that fix the real problem anyway. Still, my position is a matter of principle. I’m not going to change.
Yet even if the US suddenly came to its senses and repealed the Second Amendment tomorrow, that would be too little, too late. Can you imagine trying to get American gun owners to turn in their weapons? Just getting Ted Nugent alone to turn in his would be utter chaos. Which is why I simply state my position every time there’s yet another of these massacres and leave it at that.
It’s only a matter of time before some organized terrorist group realizes what easy pickings Americans are and uses our ridiculous lack of gun regulations to their bloody advantage. This won’t be the last mass shooting on US soil, or even the biggest. This new record will be broken before too long. Would a mass shooting that killed hundreds instead of just dozens change our collective minds? I very much doubt it.
There are two problems. One is America’s absurd and indefensible gun laws. The other is the human capacity for violence. Both are complicated.
America’s gun problem seems to me to mirror the world’s most dangerous problem. It’s like a miniature version of it. I don’t think you can address the small problem of America’s stupidity about guns without getting into the much, much bigger problem. Maybe we could have done so fifty years ago, but not anymore.
The bigger problem is that we are smart enough to create extremely dangerous weapons but too volatile to be trusted with them. We are basically chimpanzees with nukes and Uzis.
Taking away America’s guns — if that were even possible, and it’s not — could solve the short-term problem, but it wouldn’t address the deeper issue.
So, what do we do about the problem of being heavily armed chimps? If we don’t do something about it, it will kill us all.
Maybe that’s what happens to creatures like us. Maybe the reason we haven’t detected other intelligent lifeforms in outer space is because whenever a civilization like ours emerges, it destroys itself. Maybe the cosmos is littered with the remains of dead civilizations. I would guess that, even if not every civilization like ours destroys itself, dead civilizations are a common thing throughout the universe.
So, to me, this latest mass shooting isn’t just an issue for Americans, or even an issue about gun laws. It’s part of a larger pattern that we had better do something about if we don’t want to be another statistic for whoever keeps records of civilizations that started off and then ended before they could get very far.
You’ve probably anticipated where I’m going with this. If you figured I was going to say meditation is the key, you win. And yet, given that a mass shooter in Norway was a regular meditator, meditation alone is clearly not enough.
It’s impossible to say just what goes through someone’s mind in the build-up to a mass shooting. People make a distinction between mentally ill shooters and terrorists. I don’t see why you can’t be both mentally ill and a terrorist. In fact, I’d say that being a terrorist qualifies as one definition of mental illness. So, all this talk about whether the Las Vegas shooter was a terrorist or not just leaves me cold.
We call it an illness if it’s detrimental to society. Still, this illness may be part of the human condition. Some folks over on Twitter are wringing their hands over the way that, according to them, we are treating this shooting as if it’s a natural disaster.
But maybe it is a natural disaster. Maybe addressing the problem of human violence and human self-destructiveness is like addressing the problem of earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes. Violence and self-destruction may be something built into us by nature. Perhaps it’s something we do to ourselves as a failed way to maintain the overall balance of nature by limiting our own population. It’s hard to say.
But I do think that if you want to address this fundamental problem, you’ve got to realize that you are probably going against nature itself. And nature is a powerful adversary. Rationality alone isn’t going to undo something that’s hard-wired into all of us.
Some of us go crazy and kill lots of people. Most of us do not. Can we ever get to the point where none of us ever goes crazy and kills lots of people?
I’d say… maybe. Because it does seem that we are getting gradually better.
In the 1200’s Dogen wrote that the river that ran through Kyoto, then the capital of Japan, was clogged with human blood from all the fighting that went on there all the time. That was just how life was back then. I lived in Tokyo, Japan’s current capital, for ten years. The rivers there were polluted, but not with human blood.
If the humans that lived in Dogen’s time had had access to the kinds of weapons we have access to today, none of us would be here. So, humans have changed in the past 800 years. Which means humans have the capacity to change, to improve.
I only hope that our capacity to change can keep outpacing our capacity to invent clever ways to murder each other.
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October 1-4, 2017 Retreat in Hebden Bridge, England
October 7, 2017 One-day event in Manchester, England
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October 25, 2017 7:30 pm Battle with Shozan Jack Haubner at Against the Stream, Los Angeles, CA
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November 14, 2017 Lecture, Dawson College, Montreal, QC, Canada
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