This month I found myself returning to Los Angeles from San Diego on the Pacific Surfliner – looking out at pristine beach views, families swimming and picnicking, a few straggling surfers looking for waves, sporadic teams of beach volley ball and the meticulously spaced lifeguard stations with red flags fluttering. The quintessential Californian beach scene beyond which the deep blue ocean disappears to the horizon. There is always something calming and yet thought provoking about looking out over the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean. It was then, in that mood that I thought I should write this June edition full of optimism.
I had strong intentions of giving more than a cursory nod to the following notes of high optimism. Something we all desperately need. Our communication systems, now linked by satellite to a gadget in everyone’s hands bear the promise of world peace. Perhaps I’m dreaming, but all it really takes is for young millennials to reach out to their counterparts in far off countries creating a world wide web of trust and friendship that cannot be subverted by crazy, self-serving politicians. Despite having created the incubating ground for some of our worst diseases, our breakthroughs in medicine have come at just the right time to subdue the superbugs that are on the horizon. Our understanding of genes and genetics, though still limited, has made us embark on a holistic path, where soon we may not need to cut to cure. Our breakthroughs in interplanetary space exploration, and the extraordinary mental acuity in physics and mathematics it takes to deliver HD pictures of the dwarf planet Pluto while travelling at 31,000 miles per hour is the sort of thing that will find solutions to problems as yet unknown.
Breakthroughs in new energy may provide for completely clean energy in cars and planes. Whether it’s a contact lens that monitors blood sugar, a solar driven flight across the Pacific Ocean, or a 3D printer recreating a patient’s heart so that doctors might better understand the intricate task ahead of them – there is much to marvel at and much to provide for unfettered optimism. And why? Because all these advancements are the grand arc of civilization for the whole world as one community. Our success, and in some cases our future survival, bends this grand arc to common purpose. It is predicated on NOT jealously guarding geographical, racial, ethnic and religious boundaries. It is a world of science driven by inclusiveness and toleration. We have reached the point where everyone knows and can recognize it. Those still swimming against the tide for petty personal gain, or sovereignty of one opinion over another, or those driven by fanaticism are ever more in the ‘kiddies pool’ – making lots of noise but inconsequential in adult world trends. Then we were jolted into somberness once more.
The attack at PULSE nightclub in Orlando, Florida took a huge ‘one-two’ punch at unfettered optimism. Unfortunately, there is not much about this attack that is new, aside from the large toll on human life. Any time a human being takes the life of another there is something mentally unstable about it. This is as it should be. Our natural processes don’t allow for it. In the taking of life, in an individual civilian context, the mental instability is completely obvious. When brainwashed into thinking that the whole world is against you by radical and fanatical disaffections the mental instability of the disseminator and the receiver is completely obvious. When fighting a long and protracted war, even in legitimate terms, soldiers returning have deep psychological scars that leave some with mental instability that is completely obvious.
In the wake of this attack, here are things which in my estimation we should NOT do. Firstly, we must not succumb, even in this election year, to making this tragedy in Orlando into a political football. Already, the camps are forming over what was said and what was known. Already, the message of love and peace resoundingly voiced by the LGBTQ community in Orlando and reaffirmed by all those celebrating Gay Pride throughout the nation this month has been subverted to political purpose, grossly dishonouring the fallen and those still too critical to complain. In particular, I would think that those on one side of US politics – they know who they are – who have long held disdain for this community or any cause towards equal protection of the law, should ‘sit this one out’. Just three states up the Eastern seaboard, North Carolina’s HB2 is a politically sanctioned, legislatively voted, ‘homegrown terrorism’ of its own. There is ample evidence to support this that makes any retraction of the point impossible.
Secondly, the family of Eugene Stoner, the inventor/designer of this weapon claims that he would be horrified to know that it had come into civilian circulation. It was designed to directly combat the AK-47 and in its final form as the M16 is a military grade weapon for use in the armed forces only. If you collect this gun, it has nothing to do with gun ownership, much less self-defense, hunting, a constitutional right or anything else. You may as well collect ICBM’s in your back yard, and complain of freedom being eroded if sensible people object. Having said that, there is no real use in showing yet another picture of a ‘big hairy’ gun. This one is responsible for only a fraction of the gun violence in the USA. I refer my readers to the July 2015 edition of my blog.
But here’s the thing! No one but the militia, (our armed forces) is supposed to bear arms of this kind – which is exactly in keeping with the text of the Second Amendment. Those textual originalists – who suggest that everything in the modern world must be defensibly found in the thought processes of the founding fathers before the Constitution can apply – are hypocritically, but not surprisingly, absent in this conversation. Not reissuing the ban on these weapons, when the legislative prohibitions timed out, was one of the most egregious mistakes of a series of ‘do nothing – know nothing’ congresses that have sat in divisive and childish deadlock since 2004. The opponents of sensible gun regulation have forgotten the language of their own making. The case District of Columbia vs. Heller (2008), a decision written by the late conservative icon Justice Scalia, clearly suggests that with ‘a personal right to gun ownership’ (a brand new ‘right’ mind you – not apparent to two centuries of brilliant constitutional scholars prior to 2008) would come a ‘sensible course of regulation.’ I do approve of the Senate rules allowing for a filibuster, a grand mechanism for the conscience of a sole clarion voice of dissent. I don’t particularly subscribe to the tactic of taking over the Senate floor in an act of civil disobedience. The inability to act by voting their conscience is the real outrage. The now typical kneejerk reaction to mass shootings and the complete apathy towards the hourly gruesome tally of gun violence is equally an outrage. It is not the Senate who must vote their conscience any more. It is we the American people. In a Constitutional Republic, the people can and should replace their representatives, for not representing them.
Thirdly, we must put this attack in perspective, and realize that disaffections of lone wolf citizens, and the presence of radical terrorist groups – doesn’t automatically provide the exact correlation between the two – even if one or other claim it, after the fact. Unthinking politicians will incite their unthinking supporters with just this kind of fear mongering, but it will be supremely dangerous to do so, in the long run. Whether originating in the Middle East or on the campaign trail in the US – religious war of any kind is de facto a state of mental instability. Allowing these terror groups to claim every deranged killer as one of their own is not a useful force in diminishing their influence. Alienating over 1.6 billion people for some vacuous political rant is stupid. Alienating the 3 million Muslims residing in the United States is insanely stupid and short-sighted.
Fourthly, I think we should not publicize the names or photographs of killers. They should be assigned a cold, hard number and only publicized locally whilst the information might be useful to investigations. Notoriety is often the driving force of a deranged felon, and so we should deny them that glorious infamy. I’m not sure how this is practical, but it’s almost perverse to keep seeing the picture of the killer and profiles of everyone with whom he associated, and not remember as widely the innocent lives lost. There is something wrong with our hunger for this and the media give us exactly what we want, like raw meat to lions.
Fifthly and lastly, to come full circle. We must remember that the majority of persons on this planet still have an infinite capacity to fashion a new world of hope, resilience and strength, in which solidarity across national boundaries and genuine affections are held high. To return to the optimism of the first part of this blog – which is possible even in this context, it is because we are one world together. The international outpouring from Brussels, Paris, Madrid, Sao Paolo, Berlin, London, Beijing, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Sidney and countless other cities here at home, show that common solidarities will prevail.