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After the recent terror attack in San Bernadino, a friend of mine, a prominent financial writer who I will call The Dragon, emailed me a graph showing the U.S. gun ownership rate compared to other countries. In the email The Dragon wrote, "We are a gun-crazy country, yet I see this as more correlation than causation. I don’t know about Yemen, but there are lots of guns in Switzerland and Finland (though roughly half the number per capita as the US), and they don’t have anything remotely resembling the mass shooting problem we do in the US. Is there something in the water? There is definitely something wrong with our culture."
Even though The Dragon and I are on opposite sides of the gun argument, I am a staunch second amendment supporter and he favors much stricter gun controls, I thought his question and comment on culture was a very interesting one and it got me to thinking…why is America so much more prone to gun violence than other countries? What makes the U.S. so unique in this regard?
After deep mediation and contemplation on the issue I have come up with a few theories about America's unique relationship with the gun. These theories range from the mythological to the musical, and everywhere in between. In no particular order, here are some of my thoughts on the topic.
EVERY MAN A KING
America : The First Culture/Nation of the New Post-Monarchist Age
For thousands of years, mankind lived within the culture of Monarchy. Kings or Emperors ruled the day for millennia. The King/Emperor was not just a ruler and head of state, but also a religious and sacred figure. Kings/Emperors were representatives of God on earth, mediators between the people and the divine. The "Divine Right of Kings", which states that the king derives their rule directly from the will of God and is not subject to any earthly authority, has been the overarching belief of cultures across the globe, from ancient Egypt and China to Rome and the British throne and everywhere in between.
While nations, such as the United Kingdom for example, changed their governmental and legal structures to diminish or disavow the ruling power of the monarch, the mythological power of the King, and the deference and reverence that came with it, still dominates the unconscious of the culture. The psyche of monarchist cultures remain imbued with respect for the sacred power and myth of the monarch even when the governing structures of the nation neuter their ruling power. This occurs even in countries/cultures where the monarchy is replaced with a seemingly polar opposite form of rule, take Russia post-monarchy which was ruled by singular heads of the communist party like Stalin, or even post-communist Russia with Vladimir Putin. China is another example, which over time replaced the leadership of an Emperor with that of Chairman Mao. In both the Russian and Chinese examples, the trappings of government and its ideology changed but the psychological dynamics of the culture did not.
Just like in Russia, China, or France, the country of the United States of America was born in rebellion against the King (of England), but unlike those nations, the culture of the United States of America was born in direct opposition to the cultural myth of the King. In American culture the Divine Right of Kings held no place, but every U.S. citizen was "endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights". This is the birth of the new post-monarchist age, where Kings lose their divine right, and ordinary citizens gain theirs. In American culture, the first of its kind, there is no one king, but rather there is a nation full of kings. Everyman as his own king, with his own God given rights, was a brilliant idea upon which to build a nation, but a difficult one upon which to build a culture because it brings with it a dark side, namely, when everyman is a King there are considerably more opportunities for individual tyrants to raise their ugly head.
Which brings us to the gun discussion. In this post-monarchist cultural myth, a person with a gun can be a benevolent king or a despotic one. The benevolent, gun carrying citizen-king keeps governmental tyranny from thriving, while the gun-toting, despot citizen-king imposes his tyranny upon those he perceives as weaker or not deferential enough to his divine right to rule what he believes should be his ever expanding kingdom.
Individuals swimming in the collective unconscious of the American culture can go adrift in seas of chaos without the moorings of the monarchist cultural myth and the psychological structures that accompany it. The monarchist cultural myth, while depriving the ordinary person of their rights by placing all of the power in one individual or royal family, brings with it an order and structure and even a connection with the divine that is totally lacking in the post-monarchist new age American culture. For those weak of mind or spirit, the evolution of this new age can go from 'everyman a king' to 'everyman a god', in the blink of a blood shot eye. The American culture brings with it no connection to the divine in the form of a ruler, only a deeper love of the self, and with that self love and belief in one's own 'divine right' comes with it the urge and instinct to get others to revere you as you revere yourself. In this new post monarchist culture and the mythological psychology that goes with it, the gun becomes a mystical tool that bestows to those that wield it the godly power to take lives with just the slightest movement of their finger.
In the United States of America, the first post-monarchist culture, the gun gives individuals the divine right of Kings, the power to make life and death decisions, once reserved for the lone ruler on the throne. This power, like all power, can be corrupting and disorientating. It is all too easy to be intoxicated with the power of the gun and kill when one sees the divine nowhere but in oneself. It is also all too easy under the spell of the power of the gun to forget that the 'other' is not an inferior to be ruled, but a person to be respected because they are divine in their own right.
There is a scene in Clint Eastwoood's western masterpiece, Unforgiven, where the character, English Bob, played by the inimitable Richard Harris, speaks of the point I am making about the difference between the monarchist culture and the post monarchist culture. In the scene, English Bob perfectly states the point about America being adrift without the stability and divinity of a King…or Queen. I'll leave it to the divine Richard Harris...
The best example of monarchist and post-monarchist cultures placed side by side would be to look at the difference between the culture of the United States and that of Canada. The U.S. grew out of rebellion to the King in a post-monarchist culture, and Canada grew in communion with the King in a monarchist culture. Canada is a much more demur, peaceful and less violent country and culture than the United States.
BLOOD BEGETS BLOOD
CULTURAL DNA, THE COLLECTIVE UNCONSCIOUS AND THE SINS OF THE NATION
Every nation is born of violence. One group defeats and destroys another group and comes to power. This is how nations and cultures across across the planet have come to be. The United States is no different. America was created with the brutal genocide of Native Americans and on the backs of African slaves. The United States of America is soaked in the blood of its formation, and the current American culture reflects the sins of its birth. The violence of today is a direct reflection of the violence that accompanied the founding of this nation.
But if every country is born of violence, why is the United States the only nation where gun violence seems to be so rampant? One main difference between the United States and its sins, and the sins of other nations, is time. Other nations are built upon cultures established thousands of years ago, so just like in regards to the monarchist culture issue, those nations may have changed governing structure, but they didn't change their underlying culture or their cultural psyche. As previously stated, China has been ruled by the communist party for the last sixty five years, but it's overarching culture (a monarchist one in the form of an Emperor) extends back for nearly five thousand years. The same can be said of France, England, Russia and countless other countries and cultures. The same cannot be said of the American nation or culture. Our soil is still soaked with the blood tribute of the unfortunates sacrificed at America's founding, and it seeps into our everyday existence through the collective unconscious of the American culture.
Older cultures have had the benefit of vast amounts of time passing between their present situation and the sins of their founding. Time, the best salve of all, allows for incremental catharsis and the healing of the foundational wounds and horrors that inhabit the collective psyche of cultures across the globe.
Another difference between America and other cultures is that America was the first culture born at the end of a gun. Guns didn't exist at the formation of British, French, Russian, Chinese or Japanese culture, or any other culture for that matter. America was born by the gun, with the gun and of the gun. For good or for ill, the gun is the symbol of how America came to be and what it is now.
The gun was a crucial object in the ritual blood sacrifice of millions, in the form of Indians and slaves, to the Gods of America's founding upon the altar of the United States, and was vital in bringing the country to full term and fruition. Due to the guns integral part in conjuring the country into being, American culture worships the gun as a sacred talisman, instrumental for the nation's and the cultures birth, survival and continued success. The mythic American Archetype is that of the cowboy with his six shooter...watch Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven for a fantastic mediation on American gunslinger archetype, guns and violence. Other nations have mythic archetypes as well, the Japanese and the Samurai with his sword, or the English with their knights in armor. The archetype of the gun-slinging cowboy lies at the heart of the American cultural psyche because he is the high priest of American individualism who wields the mystical gun in order to conjure up a new nation.
Through this prism of mythological cultural psychology, the scourge of gun violence which horrifies the people of America today can be seen as penance for the violent sins of our forefathers. The United States has flowered into one of the most wealthy and powerful countries to have ever existed in the history of mankind, but until we can fully come to terms with, and become conscious of, the innocent blood we spilled in order to fertilize the ground upon which this country has grown, we will never be able to escape the violence that continually haunts us.
LOTTO CULTURE AND THE DENIGRATION OF SKILL
THE CURSE OF THE KARDASHIANS AND KANYE
Modern American culture has no respect for skill and craft. Take a look around at popular culture and you see little to no reverence for skill and craft. Arguably the biggest stars on the American scene are the Kardashians, a collection of half-wits with no discernible skill whatsoever besides self promotion. It hasn't always been this way. Prior to the curse of reality television, actors, who had mastered their craft through years of training and work in the theatre, were admired for their artistry in film and on television. Ordinary people could admire the expertise attained by great actors after years of dedication and hard work. Now with reality tv, from Real Housewives and Honey Boo-Boo to Ice Road Truckers and The Deadliest Catch, everyone can envision themselves as being worthy of having their own television show just by being themselves. The thinking goes like this, "Me, Marla and our friends are so zany working down at the nail salon, they should make a tv show about us and call it Tough as Nails!!" No hard work is required, no skill or craft need be obtained. Just turn on the cameras and be outrageous and you can be a cultural phenomenon.
The same is the case with popular music. In this era, hip-hop rules the day and dominates American culture over every other musical form. What makes hip-hop so quintessentially American is that it is the first musical form to require no musical skill or craft whatsoever. The biggest stars in hip-hop, Jay-Z and Kanye West as prime examples, play no instruments and are unable to sing a single note. What difference does that make? Well, in terms of artistry, it makes a lot of difference. It used to be that musicians would spend years and years arduously honing their skills and mastering their craft, be it an instrument, their voice, or both. With the discipline required to reach a certain level of musical proficiency, comes a certain amount of artistic integrity, and respect for the art and the artist. With hip-hop, one need not spend years and years alone in their room learning how to play an instrument, one only need to master the art of self aggrandizement and marketing. With true musicianship, the artist masters their craft first, then uses that skill to create and then goes about selling their creation, with hip-hop, one creates the image first and foremost and then sells from there. Hip Hop is less a musical art form, and more a symptom of the broader cultural disease of malignant narcissism, delusion and psychosis.
It is important to note here that I am not saying that hip-hop is culturally irrelevant. Hip-hop is extremely culturally relevant and has been for decades. What I am saying is that hip-hop is musically and artistically lazy and inferior. That is part of why it is has become so culturally relevant, because the broader American culture glorifies the cheap and easy path (the path of hip-hop and reality tv), and denigrates the hard path, namely that of acquired musicianship, artistry and skill. Think of it this way, if you take a Van Gogh painting and a Matisse painting and make a collage of them, it doesn't make you Van Gogh or Matisse, or even a painter, it only makes you a maker of collage. You may be great at making collage, but that doesn't mean you are an artist, it only means you excel at a fringe craft requiring little or no skill. You may call yourself an artist and may think of yourself as an artist and you may demand others call you an artist, but you are no artist. You don't have the skills of the artist, you don't have the discipline of the artist, you don't have the vision of the artist and you don't have the soul of the artist. You have the soul of the snake oil salesman and the carnival barker.
It is also important to note here that hip-hop culture should not be conflated with black culture. While hip-hop was certainly born out of black culture, it is nowhere near the entirety of black culture. So by pointing out that hip-hop culture is artistically lazy and antithetical and disrespectful to skill and craft I am not calling black culture lazy and antithetical and disrespectful to skill and craft, but I am calling the overarching American culture lazy and antithetical and disrespectful to skill and craft. Quite to the contrary, black culture has created some of the most seminal music and musical forms (Jazz and the Blues to name just two of many) humanity has ever known. It has also given us some of the greatest and most influential musicians to have ever walked the earth. Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Billie Holiday, B.B. King, Miles Davis, Sam Cooke, Art Tatum, Albert King, Freddie King, Prince, Michael Jackson and even Jay-Z's wife Beyonce, are just a small sample of the impeccable musicians who have worked their asses off to master their craft and hone their skills. These artists have won a hard-earned and well deserved respect with their dedication to craft and commitment to artistic mastery.
Whether it be reality tv or hip-hop culture, what is really being sold is not the old way of masterful artistry and the artist, but rather the new way, which I call the "Lotto Culture", which is that the watcher and listener can project themselves onto the tv or hip-hop star and envision themselves becoming rich and famous with minimal effort. The dream being sold is that one need not have talent or discipline or hard work or years of training, because it only takes the creation of an image and sheer force of will to succeed in hip-hop or reality tv. In terms of the "Lotto Culture", one must only sit back, buy a ticket and be lucky, and unimaginable wealth will be all yours. There is also a conflation in our culture between success in reality tv and hip-hop and the success of real actors and musicians. For instance, you can turn on your television and see Meryl Streep, and you can turn on your tv and see Kim Kardashian, but that does not mean that Kim Kardashian is the equal of Meryl Streep, even though our culture pushes that idea. In the same vein, Kanye West is on the radio but is not the equal of Same Cooke, or Jimi Hendrix, or Prince or…any other real musician. Kanye West, being both a hip-hop star and a Kardashian by marriage, is the perfect poster boy for this "Lotto Culture", and he behaves accordingly.
So what in the world does reality television, hip-hop and the "Lotto Culture" have to do with gun violence? It all has to do with the disrespect and disregard of skill and discipline. To hurt or kill someone with your bare hands, or even with a knife, usually requires a certain amount of skill and frankly, courage. Martial artists study and train for years and decades in order to master their art and sharpen their skills. These years of training instill discipline, and with that discipline comes respect, both for yourself and for others. This discipline and respect is the key to unlocking the wisdom of when it is appropriate for the martial artist to unleash his skills. In opposition to this, the gun requires no discipline, no skill acquisition, no respect and no wisdom. The shooter may have great skill, but it certainly isn't a requirement nor is it necessary in order to kill someone. It is also worth mentioning that you can get into a fist fight and lose and not die or even have serious damage done to you. But losing a gun fight usually ends with someone in grave medical condition, and most-often dead.
A gun user also does not need courage. To kill someone with your hands or with a knife means you must get close to them in order to hurt them, that means they are close enough to you to hurt you. In a fight things happen. You can be the greatest trained fighter in the world but if you break your hand on a guys skull, or you blow out your knee, or the guys friends jump in, or he maces you or something like that, then all bets are off. A fist fight brings with it inherent risk for both fighters. The same is said for using a knife. Knowing where to attack on the body with a knife, and when, takes years of hard work and training to fully grasp. Killing with a knife also means you have to get right next to your opponent/victim, and when that happens things can go wrong. Your opponent may be unarmed, but when you are that close to them, they could disarm you and now you are the one who is at the disadvantage. In contrast, no courage is needed to kill with a gun. You can kill someone with a gun and not even be within ear shot of them. You can shoot someone without even trying to hit them, which is not something you can do with a knife or your fists. Guns, like hip-hop and reality tv, provide a short cut to power. This "Lotto Culture" short cut is a form of cheap grace, which eliminates the development of discipline and the nurturing of respect for oneself and for others that come with it.
THE ONLY THING WE HAVE TO FEAR IS…EVERYTHING!!
Fear is epidemic in America. It is ironic that we sing about ourselves by saying we are the "Home of the Brave" and yet we act completely the opposite of that. We are afraid of everything. We have been trained by politicians and the media to be afraid of everything. We used to be told to fear the God-less communists conspiring to get us and infiltrating our nation. Now we are told to fear the God fanatic terrorists who are conspiring to get us and are infiltrating our nation. Blacks are told to fear whites, and whites to fear blacks. Everyone is told to fear immigrants and immigrants are told to fear everyone. We are taught to fear the known and the unknown. Fear your neighbor, fear a stranger, fear the criminal, fear the cop, fear the rich, fear the poor. We are perpetually fed a steady and hearty diet of high fructose fear syrup.
We are so inundated and overwhelmed with fear that we become fatigued, and as any fighter will tell you, fatigue makes cowards of us all. Fear forces us to think emotionally and not rationally. Our fear and emotion leaves us paralyzed and cowering under our beds until we can take it no more and frantically scream for politicians to do SOMETHING to protect us and "our way of life" from whatever we are told is menacing us. That 'something' usually involves taking a chainsaw to the constitution and writing gigantic checks to the military industrial complex. The empty tough talk of these politicians manipulates us into not only accepting, but demanding, the reduction of our liberties, all in the name of security, or more accurately, the illusion of security.
It used to be that we weren't so afraid. "Our way of life" is something that you hear a lot in regards to security and the war on terror. "Our way of life" is actually a transient thing of little value. It means going to the mall, eating junk and watching football and Dancing with the Stars. People have not fought and died for this country in order to save "Our way of life". They fought and died to defend our constitution and the rights that constitution tells us were bestowed upon us by our Creator. When politicians say "Our way of life" it is code for the "Lotto Culture", meaning we don't have to actually do anything in order to maintain our creature comforts. It is why they told us we should all go shopping after 9/11, so that we would all go back to being fat, happy and asleep, while those in power gutted the constitution. It is why the powerful, from both parties, take the easy road of slashing our constitutional rights rather than asking us to change "Our way of life". We used to be the type of people who wouldn't sacrifice our liberties for "Our way of life", but rather sacrifice "Our way of life" for our liberties. That time is long gone. We are now a nation of frightened children, led around by our noses by those that use fear to manipulate and control us. They keep us fat, stupid and scared and keep the "Lotto Culture" of short cuts and cheap grace alive and well by promising us security in exchange for liberty. As Ben Franklin said, "He who would trade liberty for some temporary security deserves neither liberty nor security." So it is with the "War on Terror" and so it is with the Second Amendment and the "Gun Debate".
In conclusion, from the founding of American culture in a post-monarchist and gun centric age, to the modern era and it's denigration of skill in the form of vapid reality television and vacuous hip-hop music, combined with the incessant trumpeting of fear to the masses, we have created a perfect storm where gun violence prospers. As a nation we are so thoroughly manipulated and controlled by fear that we as a people have become emasculated and are forced to rely on the gun as both a mythic totem and a phallic symbol to desperately try and regain and reinvigorate our withered masculine energy.
Far, far too many people have died in mass shootings here in America these past few years. I know I am not alone in hoping that we never see the horror of another mass shooting here again. But I also know that regardless of whatever legal or political maneuvers are undertaken to curb gun ownership and violence, the symbology, mythology and psychology of our unique American culture will insure that America will continue to be doomed to remain under the bloody spell of the Way of the Gun.
If you found this article to be interesting, I encourage you to check out these similarly themed postings as well.