Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Bang, Bang

Imagine you're the toughest, most macho National Rifle Association member. You think that guns should be allowed in schools, churches, bars, and sporting venues to scare away the bad guys. Now there you are, walking down the street, a sidearm holstered at each hip, an Uzi slung over your right shoulder and an AK-47 over your left. I come up behind you (or from the front or side), pull out my pistol and blow your head away.

Your armory was no defense; indeed, even if you could have somehow juggled them, adding a grenade launcher and a flamethrower would have aided you not a whit. Your safety did not rest on your arms—but on my lack of weaponry.

Of course, there is no such thing as absolute safety, for there is always a weapon around. If not the paring knife in the kitchen, there is always, as Clue players know, the candlestick in the dining room. Or that rock at the side of the road.

But relative safety (if not absolute safety) is the issue. I can only increase my relative safety (and you increase yours) by disarming other people as much as possible (even if we can't hide all the rocks from them). Which really means mutual disarmament. I'm safer if you destroy that Uzi and AK-47 and the rest of your stockpile, and you are safer if I destroy mine.


Upon the whole, I never beheld, in all my travels, so disagreeable an animal, or one against which I naturally conceived so strong an antipathy,” Lemuel Gulliver asserts near the beginning of Part Four of Swift's satire. What Gulliver has seen is a creature called a “Yahoo.” After giving the creature a blow with the flat of his sword, Gulliver is confronted by “a herd of at least forty ..., howling and making odious faces.” For safety Gulliver runs
to the body of a tree, and leaning my back against it, kept them off by waving my hanger [sword]. Several of this cursed brood, getting hold of the branches behind, leaped up into the tree, whence they began to discharge their excrements on my head; however, I escaped pretty well by sticking close to the stem of the tree, but was almost stifled with the filth, which fell about me on every side.
The land in which Gulliver is stranded is not populated only by these humanity-in-the-raw creatures, the Yahoos, but also by a race of rational horses, the Houyhnhnms. When Gulliver tells the horse that befriends him (his “master”) about destructive European warfare, his master thinks Gulliver has said "the thing which is not“ [the Houyhnhnms have no word for lying]. After all, says the horse,
nature has left you utterly incapable of doing much mischief. For, your mouths lying flat with your faces, you can hardly bite each other to any purpose, unless by consent. Then as to the claws upon your feet before and behind, they are so short and tender, that one of our Yahoos would drive a dozen of yours before him.
That humans have managed to create a world such as Gulliver describes with
cannons, culverins, muskets, carabines, pistols, bullets, powder, swords, bayonets, battles, sieges, retreats, attacks, undermines, countermines, bombardments, sea fights, ships sunk with a thousand men, twenty thousand killed on each side, dying groans, limbs flying in the air, smoke, noise, confusion, trampling to death under horses’ feet, flight, pursuit, victory; fields strewed with carcases, left for food to dogs and wolves and birds of prey; plundering, stripping, ravishing, burning, and destroying
can only be due, says the master horse, to a corruption of reason that “might be worse than brutality itself.”
If we could negotiate a disarmament that reduced mankind's means to fight others only to the weaponry that nature itself has given, such as the act of climbing a tree and shitting on one's enemies, we would be much better off. All we would have to do after a battle would be to jump into the nearest lake and wash ourselves off. We would be soaking wet—but alive.

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