Guest commentary: Guns and personal significance
By: From Greg Hull, Lake County News Chronicle
The battle lines are being drawn, the troops are rallying, and the ranks are closing. The PR firms on both sides of the issue are cranking up their publicity machines, with all the predictable slogans.
Are restrictions on gun sales really going to accomplish what advocates want?
Once again, I’m afraid that the factors publically identified as the cause of a horrific event are not the real cause, and the solutions being proposed would do little or nothing to prevent future heartbreak.
Following the economic melt-down of 2010, a noted speaker on ethics and philosophy was asked to address a gathering of leaders on what caused the collapse, and what could be done about it. His answer, in short was: “We have spent the last few decades sending our brightest and best minds to schools where they were taught that there are no absolutes in morals and ethics. Then they went out and acted as if that was true. Why should we be surprised?”
Now, after decades of telling people they are cosmic accidents, the products of blind time, chance and matter, nothing more than detritus of an impersonal universe, others are taking guns into public places and acting as if is true.
So why are we surprised, and why do folks think guns are the problem? The reality is that the shootings at Columbine, Aurora, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood and Sandy Hook may well be harbingers of a problem more systemic and fundamental than access to guns and the availability of mental health services.
We all need a sense of personal significance and worth. Without it, we succumb to despair. A life without a sense of meaning and purpose becomes intolerable. We must have a vision of something greater and grander than ourselves in order to keep getting out of bed each day and putting one foot in front of the other. Without such a personal vision (articulated or not) life becomes little more than, as Shakespeare said, “a tale told by idiots, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
This vision and purpose comes from different places for different folks. Some find it in their religious faith, while others find it in work, family and relationships, social causes, or personal accomplishments. Others do it through wild hair colors, tattoos and piercings, and apparel. The latter especially scream out “NOTICE ME!” What else explains the vast visual adventure one can have watching people in the food court of any mall on a cold Saturday afternoon?
Others pursue a sense of importance and significance by attempting to acquire the status of “celebrity”. Consider the infantile antics of supposed adults, who will stoop to behavior too embarrassing to describe in a seemingly insatiable need to be on the home page of Yahoo News every day. Such folks appear to mistake being a celebrity with being significant as a person. The same can be said of many professional athletes, politicians, TV personalities, and public leaders.
Being a celebrated person evades and eludes the vast majority of those who pursue it, of course. It must. If everyone was a celebrity, no one would be noticed. If someone doesn’t have the looks, talent, connections and lack of personal dignity necessary to make the front page, their chance of having their significance affirmed is negligible.
Lacking that, there is one venue left: Notoriety. They can do something that is infamous, shocking or stunning which will make people take notice of them. For one moment, they can have their 15 minutes of fame and their name in the history books, even if it’s a footnote reference to a heinous act
Such thinking confuses being notorious with being a celebrity, and being a celebrity as evidence of one’s personal significance and worth.
The bar is continually rising for which acts are truly notorious. If killing one innocent person in public made the headlines years ago, now one must kill dozens. If destroying one innocent adult life was once breath taking, now one must destroy children. If the event isn’t stunning and spectacular, it won’t affirm the conclusion of the twisted logic which motivates it in the first place.
The slaughter of innocents, whatever the setting and means, is profoundly unsettling. Not only at the awful loss of life, but because of what it bodes for the future, and for our society. What is disconcerting is the thought that these events are merely the first gusts of wind before the larger storm.
Having relegated faith and morals to the personal and private (and by implication irrelevant) sphere, why should we be surprised when we reap a whirlwind?
Desperate people do desperate things. Outlawing thirty-round magazines and “assault-style” rifles won’t change that.
Greg Hull is owner and operator of Hull’s Sawmill, and a philosopher-at-large. His marksmanship is poor enough that friends have suggested he get a larger magazine for his hunting rifle. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org