A Random Rant on Guns and Arts

March 11, 2013 - 9:29am -- fraser

The shootings at Newtown, Connecticut, hurt most of us really deeply.  I would say all of us, but there are still folks who don't seem at all affected by it; in fact, there are some who have used the tragedy as an excuse to be characteristically stupid.  Wayne LaPierre, the dude with the NRA, is a certifiable nut-job for sure, but the folks who try to argue against the stuff he says often miss the point, too.  They all seem to assume that one key to solving the problem is to deny weapons to the mentally unstable. Knowing many who would be considered unstable, I have to tell you that I'm far more worried about some of the folks who are considered sane than those considered to be insane (check this out: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/18/health/a-misguided-focus-on-mental-ill...)--and I can say that because I'm genetically related to folks from both categories who scare me. As is often the case when we get scared, the focus has lighted on a group of people considered to be "other than" the rest of us--in this case, the mentally ill.  Though legislation can be powerfully useful, the challenge of the gun debate is to come up with something better and more sustainable than gun laws.

As a society, particularly one so dominated by dumbed-down media, we get intellectually lazy and don't look to find solutions to real problems, only the more politically expedient and media-friendly fixes to the symptoms.  Politicians and media outlets prefer it when we don't look too far upstream to find out why our water is funny-colored.  Those solutions are harder. Yes, I'm griping because it pisses me off when we refuse to ask the questions beyond the questions, when we are too narrow-focused to try to understand the stories behind the stories.

Sure, LaPierre wants everyone to think that violent video games and music are responsible for mass shootings because that directs attention away from the debate about how guns are sold and what guns are too dangerous for general public ownership. But I think the bigger question to ask has everything to do with how we teach people, particularly at young ages, to express themselves.  Yes, the entertainment industry probably bears some responsibility here.  But I think the real culprits are state legislatures around the country--yes, those good men and women who are looked to for leadership are to blame for hobbling mental health programs and for seeing education in terms of costs to bear instead of needs to meet.  These two issues are deeply connected.  

Every cut to school arts and writing programs denies kids the education of how to express their often overwhelming emotions in healthy and even useful ways.  The arts are increasingly denigrated in state education budgets because legislators, with their host of competing interests, are typically uninterested in funding programs that can be mischaracterized as frivolous or impractical.  Yet, part of what separates us from animals is our human capacity to create and express and make sense of our existence.  Cuts in arts education, and coincidentally in early childhood education, make our society look more and more like the Planet of the Apes, where the warrior classes end up marginalizing the artists, intellectuals, and scientists for not being tough enough.  The arts that teach us to find, appreciate, and create beauty teach us how not to give in to the war-first mentality; the arts that teach us to see, expose, and express the truth teach us to process the truth--granted, the truth is typically harder to face than our delusions and illusions. The real question is beyond the important questions of who should have guns and how many; the real question lies in chilling out the compulsively violent impulses that often make us more like gorillas than human beings.  

I'm just thinking, and I might be wrong.  I mean, there is no denying the power that I feel when I shoot the Coke can off of the stump (yes, I like to shoot).  There is also no denying the power that I feel in myself when I play a guitar riff well.  Somehow, mysteriously maybe, that feeling of power seems to have more lasting power, though it is harder to learn and execute.  

PS--Maybe one of the next things to talk about is the need for control and how the arts teach us to be in control of what we express, but with the awareness (and humility) that the interpretation of the arts is actually out of our control...hmm, let's think on this...