Everything Off Balance

Jesus (as Flannery O’Connor’s Misfit tells us) shown everything off balance. In “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” the Misfit expands on that hypothesis in his own personal testimony. I’ve found myself running that sentence, along with a close counterpart from just later in the story – “Does it seem right to you, lady, that one is punished a heap and another ain’t punished at all?” – since I found out about the Orlando murders.

103 casualties is a number large enough to be outside easy comprehension. It has caused immense outrage among a citizenry that no longer seems to expect change, but simply knows that the continuation of American gun policy is wrong.

There’s been more pushback than usual against the typical noncommittal response to this familiar situation; I’ve never seen so many people reject the “thoughts and prayers” hypothesis before. Perhaps those people who reject T&P recognize that Jesus shown everything off balance; if all that’s left to offer is T&P, then whatever faith we have has left us impotent. Christianity, in its degenerate stage, teeters ever closer to making the Crucifixion a perverted transcendental signified, an action which is read as empowering and emasculating at the same time. What a joy divine to feel the fuzzy texture of salvation in one’s grasp as responsibility is lifted, by the Almighty, from one’s human shoulders; one gets all of the reward without doing any of the work. One quick T&P session and the hard work is done, until some fresh maniac buys his AR-15 over the counter and racks up 104 casualties.

By now, in the middle of 2016, the arguments are over. The T&P crowd sits mutely in one corner, and the anti-T&P faction types away furiously in another. There is little more to say, other than to point out the hypocrisy or crookedness of elected officials, or the sensationalism of the news networks, or the vapidness of our neighbors who disagree with us – these are old entertainments, ones that hardly need a gun debate to stir the pot. Pointing out which senators have been bought by the NRA is an exercise ultimately as futile as pointing out which senators voted for the Iraq War; the blood has already been spilled. The Internet has created a new stage of grief for people to work through, in which a good cry or the tearing of hair has been replaced by a scathing tweet or a pointed screenshot. As I scrolled through my various feeds, I wondered if our national consciousness had changed or if I had simply done a better job of curating for like-mindedness.

In December, I thought about the great fairness that comes from a mass killing such as what we saw in Orlando this weekend, a potentially unique fairness. With better doctors and better treatment, the wealthy can steal hours away from cancer. They can manipulate the draft so that their children – who went to the right schools and had the handpicked teachers – don’t have to die in some other country, fighting on behalf of whatever the militaristic analogy is to fiat money. Yet no one in America can really be safe from a gun, from a sudden mass murdering spree. It could happen anywhere, to anyone, at any time. Everyone understands that death is crouching around any corner; no one is guaranteed so much as another second, much less another year, although the repeated fact of living second-to-second, year-to-year makes it feel that way. Guns disrupt that comfort. The more we hear the names of cities become metonyms for unspeakable violence, the clearer the ability of a firearm to discomfit our settlement becomes. Sudden gun executions never seem to happen to a senator’s child, or a lobbyist’s child, and until that happens nothing will change – heck, I imagine children such as those would have to die in some numbers just to force a discussion beyond T&P – but it could happen. Guns are maybe the last true equalizer in America; anything else can be manipulated, even a little, but you never know when someone will discharge his assault rifle into a crowd.

There’s a reason that this post does not attempt to be analytical, but only looks at the situation at large. We’ve decided as a people and as a nation that we’ll pay the butcher’s bill of our gun culture rather than change it. Even the people who hate guns and hate what they’ve done to communities and families and individuals nationwide would never take the kind of drastic, dramatic, unforgivable actions which would force a reckoning. The only way to convince someone who is down with guns right now that guns are, in fact, a public safety hazard is to kill someone they love with a gun. We are very far away from anyone taking that step (I hope – I think – I pray). Randomness may fill in the gaps, but that will take years, millennia. There are a lot of people in this country, and despite our best efforts to the contrary more people keep popping up/out.

I am pessimistic about change coming – something tells me that this fight will be every bit as hard as the civil rights struggles from the 20th and 21st Centuries, and look at how much work is left on those. We are so far from guns evaporating as a danger to our schools, and our clubs, and our streets. It’s the choice we seem to keep making, punishing some people a heap and some others not at all. I don’t doubt that in my lifetime – assuming, of course, that I am not cut down by some sociopath’s bullets – I will see restrictions on assault rifles. It’s simply a matter of how long selfishness, or mindlessness, or comfort, or some other worthless value will drive the national debate and the national direction.

I’ve seen more than one report that says when law enforcement got into the club, the sound of cell phones going off – mostly with messages from friends and loved ones trying to make contact, to ascertain the health of the dead – was unexpected and haunting. I hope we hear bullets when our cell phones go off, and I hope we see our own blood pouring out of us when we look in the mirror. I hope that we cannot console our loved ones because death has robbed us of our speech. I hope this comes to pass, because I don’t know how else are we going to convince ourselves that the ultimate fate of others are only the preface to our own. Maybe, like that wretched grandmother from “A Good Man is Hard to Find,” we’ll be lucky enough to recognize our connection to others just before we’re shot dead.


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