Monday, September 19, 2016

Word of the Day: Civilization

Today's word of the day: civilization. Some people in this country see evidence of the fall of civilization in the “invasion” of “barbarian hordes” from south of the border, bringing with them crime, violence and an “alien” culture. Of course, that belief is not at all that new, merely the extenuation of at least two centuries of paranoia and prejudice against any immigrant groups that were not Anglo-Saxon in origin.  Some people see many urban centers seemingly deteriorating and declare that this is proof of what America will become if it ever comes under the “control” of non-Anglo Americans. They see a constant battle between minorities and police, and fear for “civilization” if the police “lose control” if their “right” to shoot-to-kill is taken away from them. The “fall” of American “civilization” is also the fault of government, attempting to enforce equality before the law for all citizens, a difficult notion for some people too used to believing in their “superiority.” 

But I believe that the greater threat to “civilization” was recently profiled in the Washington Post. A man named Jim Cooley, a resident of the state of Georgia, is what one might call a gun “fanatic” above and beyond what one might call “acceptable” in modern civilization. On any excursion outside his home,  Cooley is certain to shock most fellow citizens when they see him toting an “AR-15 semiautomatic rifle, which he brings when going somewhere he thinks is dangerous, like the Atlanta airport, where he’s taken it loaded with a 100-bullet drum, or Walmart, where he thinks crowds could pose easy targets for terrorists.”

The story notes that “In a country of relaxing gun laws where it’s now legal to open-carry in 45 states and there are 14.5 million people with carry permits, every day seems to bring a new version of what open carry can mean. In Kentucky, it’s now legal to open-carry in city buildings. In downtown Cleveland, people carried military-style rifles during the Republican National Convention. In Howell, Mich., last month, a father went openly armed to his child’s middle-school orientation. In Mississippi, it’s now legal to open-carry without a permit at all. And in Georgia, which has passed a ‘guns everywhere’ bill and has issued nearly 1 million carry permits, Jim Cooley is staking out his version of what’s acceptable.” Any incident involving shootings in public places is merely called “collateral” damage, and an unfortunate, but “acceptable,” price to pay for this “right.”

“Open carry” is hardly new in this country. The “Wild West” was not called such for no reason; it seemed as if everyone carried a weapon (save possibly women and young children), and guns were shown where any potential enemy could see it and be “deterred.” The reality was that your typical face-to-face “gunfight” usually lasted a few seconds, with one or both parties running off in fear after firing off a shot; most killings were from ambush, in the back or in unexpected encounters with pathological killers, many of them former Confederate guerillas, and many of them “romanticized” then and later. 
In took a long time for the “old” West to become “civilized,” and that did not mean carrying around guns and using them at any perceived “threat” to person and property, or taking the law into one’s own hand, assuming the positions of judge, jury and executioner (i.e. vigilante “justice”), but to allow the law to determine guilt or innocence for criminal offenses, or to arbitrate property or “reputation” disputes. Responsible citizens fought hard to “clean-up” their communities’ images and make them “safe” for ordinary people with families to go about their daily lives without fear of close encounters with gun-toting Second Amendment fanatics. 

This is what “civilization” once meant. Most people in this country still believes this. While 14.5 million people who have “open carry” permits in this country sounds like a lot, and no doubt quite a few more who don’t have permits but also “carry,” that still leaves the vast majority of people who either don’t own guns, or don’t leave home with them. Perhaps like many people in this country, I believe that guns cause more problems than they “solve,” and going around with a gun in full view is asking for trouble, rather than deterring it. Despite anecdotal evidence of guns being used to prevent robberies, or used on robbers during home invasions, more often than not such incidents involve paranoid people with itchy trigger fingers and innocent people wandering around in the dark. The facts attest to the fact that guns kept for “protection” are much more likely to kill or wound persons known to the owner, or are “borrowed” by a family member who uses it for some mass murderous design.

These days we often hear the cry that “liberals” or a Democratic president are out to “take” people’s guns away from them. But it is only people like Jim Cooley who believe this. The AR-15 that Cooley carries around on shopping excursions is the “original” version of what became the M16A1 Army rifle. One must wonder what goes on inside the heads of people like this, what level of paranoia and fear they have to deal with every day. 

Or is it something much more “uncivilized”? Only a person with extreme psychological issues, who fantasizes that “something” will occur that will allow him to carry out his fantasy of killing people—probably minorities—carries around a semi-automatic/automatic rifle in crowded environments.  He knows that he may never actually encounter a situation where either he or others will be in harm’s way, but he wants you to know he’s ready to kill at a moment’s notice. Just give him an excuse. That’s all he needs.

To me, it is fanatics like this who are the greatest danger to the maintenance of “civilization.”  They don’t understand or respect the right of others not to live in fear of someone like this suddenly deciding that they are “the law.” They do not respect the concept of “civilization” at all, preferring the law of the jungle, a reversion to humanity’s worst, most animalistic instincts—the opposite of civilization.

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